Sunday, August 14, 2011


Though I am quite adaptable to my surroundings, and have been actively embracing my "inner city" since moving to Barcelona, in my heart of hearts I am still a Montana girl, and need to regularly escape to people-free, open landscapes. So yesterday, I took a day trip to my closest get-away, Montserrat, via train.  Montserrat (Serrated Mountain) is an iconic mountain range for Catalunya. It's 40 km. northwest of Barcelona, and home to outdoor recreation and a famous monastery.  It's subsequently a popular first name for girls (shortened to Montse).


 The monastery was founded in 1025 to commemorate a vision of the Virgin Mary seen on the mountain.  Presently, a community of about 80 monks live here.  Pilgrims flock to this monastery due to a 12th century Romanesque wooden sculpture of Mary holding the infant Jesus.  This is the more anthropologically-sound story of the famous sculpture.

The more fun version entails that 50 years after Christ's birth, St. Peter deposited this sculpture carved by St. Luke into a mountain cave.  It was lost in the 8th century after being hidden during Muslim invasions, but was found again in 880 along with visions and heavenly music.  A chapel was built to house it, which became a Benedictine monastery in 976. Visions and pilgrims abounded, and soon the Virgin Mary of Montserrat became Catalunya's main cult image.

The sculpture is housed above the alter in the basilica.  This is the facade of the basilica with its carvings of the apostles and Christ (1901):

To see the Virgin Mary sculpture, you enter through a narrow hallway skirting the edge of the church. Sculptures and artwork adorn your way.

Hmm...this sounds like the "positive classroom management" my Education classes taught me to say to my students:

Here's St. Peter. Haven't seen him since Antakya!  

This is St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who supposedly underwent his religious transformation here at Montserrat.  Talk about small world: there's a town called St. Ignatius not too far from where I lived in Montana, which is situated against what are known as the Mission Mountains. St. Ignatius and the range are named for Roman Catholic missionaries who established the Jesuit St. Ignatius Mission in the mid-19th century in that part of the Flathead Valley. Making connections all the time!

This arch was beautiful.  It's made of angel musicians and singers who are to accompany the pilgrim as he gets closer to worshipping the mother of Jesus.

  Climbing the stairs, getting closer.

 The stairway walls are covered in depictions of holy virgins.

And here she is, less than a meter high. She's made of poplar wood. Years of candle smoke have blackened both her and Jesus's face, giving her the name of La Moreneta (the Black Virgin).  

 In her right hand, she holds the world, signifying Jesus' power over the universe.  Her left hand does not touch Jesus, presenting him as the "blessed fruit of her womb."  Jesus blesses with his right hand, and in his left, holds a pine cone as a symbol of fertile abundance or fecundity.

As you leave the basilica, you walk through a passageway lined with candles that people light, after visiting and praying to Mary.

 And now, a visit inside the main part of the basilica. It's hard to see, but the little Virgin Mother is seated above the alter watching us.

Now for the part of Montserrat where I am personally more likely to feel God's presence: nature.  I left behind the church to hike up to the highest peak in the range, keeping my eye out for climbers along the way.  Beyond the religious site, there are great hiking trails and climbing crags in this range.  As soon as I meet other climbers, this will be my "home crag." It's a 2-hour commute door-to-door with public transport.

 Small churches are hidden throughout the mountains. Here's the Sant Jeroni hermitage:
The Catalan flag was spray-painted along the stairs leading to the spectacular view over Catalunya. And to accompany your viewing of Catalunya, a popular Catalan sentiment:  

From the highest peak, Sant Jeroni (1236 meters).  The rock is a conglomeration of limestone, pebbles, and sand. 



Looking down on the monastery:
Climbers!! The only ones I saw all day, but it's August, which for Barcelonans means vacation (climbing somewhere else, like Mallorca) and hot.

And with a storm rolling in, time to head back to the city.

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