One good mont deserves another

Trip Start Mar 10, 2008
Trip End Aug 12, 2008

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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Catalonia,
Friday, May 30, 2008

[J] Another day, another hill to climb. But this one's a little farther away (30 miles or so) and just a little bit higher (around 4,000 ft above sea level). Today we took a day trip to Montserrat, a mountain near Barcelona which is the remote setting for an oft visited monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Why does the monastery get so many visits? Well, besides the beauty of the location, there's a special lady there to see.

The church at Montserrat (which means "serrated mountain") houses the Virgin of Montserrat - a statue of Mary and the inftant Jesus. Nothing strange so far, right? We've seen enough Marys with babies on this trip to last a lifetime. So what's so special about this particular one? What makes it a site of pilgrimidge for hundreds of thousands each year? Should I pose some more questions to myself as I lead up to the details or should I just get on with it? I thought so.

The Catalan name for the statue is La Moreneta, which means "the little dark-skinned one." The Virgin of Montserrat is one of the black Madonnas of Europe. She is made out of wood and believed to have been carved in Jerusalem in the 12th century. She has been named the patroness of Catalonia. The story goes that back in 880 AD some local shepherds saw some lights and heard angels' voices near a cave at Montserrat. When they explored the cave, they found an image of the black virgin. Both the cave and the statue that was brought to the mountain to commemorate the cave findings are places of pilgrimidge for, well, people who make pilgrimidges. The statue is enclosed in a glass cylinder, but the orb that Mary holds sticks out from the glass so that visitors can touch it.

We got in line to see the statue and do the orb touching thing since that's what everybody does when they come to Montserrat. Like the old saying goes, "When in Monterrat, do as the Montserratians do." I would estimate that 90% of the people in line were tourists, 8% were people actually wanting to make a pilgrimidge to see the statue, and the other 2% just lined up because other people were in a line. We were hoping it wasn't going to take too long to wait in the line because we wanted to be back in the sanctuary by 1 pm to hear the boys choir sing. We entered a door all the way at the right side of the front of the church not knowing exactly where it was going to lead us.

It turns out that the line ran all the way along the side of the church, through the gated-off chapels. There was actually a service going on in the church, so we had to stay as quiet as possible. I figured eventually the line would go down some stairs to a basement area or cut off to the right to go back into a nave, but instead we went the entire length of the church and then started climbing up some steps. Now we had already stepped into the church to check it out before the service started, but there was something that we had failed to notice: the location of the statue. Turns out it is dead center of the altar at the front of the church and the balcony is open to the sanctuary. Well, of course the line takes longer than we were hoping and by the time we got up to the statue and turned around to look out, the place was packed. I guess a few other people had heard about the boys choir singing at 1:00.

We got our pictures with La Moreneta and touched the little orb that sticks out through the glass. I made a wish that the Chiefs would win the Superbowl and we headed down to try and find an opening in the crowd below. If I could make one suggestion to the monks... You might want to put a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the orb because there are a ton of hands grabbing a hold of that thing every day.

We didn't actually know anything about the boys choir (except that they were singing at 1:00), but I have found a few other tidbits about them. They are called the Escolanía, there are 50 members, and they are one of the oldest and most renowned boys choirs in Europe. The choir dates back to the 13th century, but I think they may have changed members a few times because the boys didn't look that old. They have recorded over 100 albums of choral music. If they ever do a Choral Idol, these guys have a good shot to win it all (pause for the mental image of Ryan Seacrest saying, " Choral Idol."). If you want to hear the boys belting out your Gregorian chant favorites, click on the video.

We made the walk around the mountain to the grotto, Santa Cova, where the virgin was first seen and we found an odd sight in the small chapel. There was a bench where people had placed a bunch of different objects on it and the wall behind it. These things ranged from driving school permits to crutches to ski poles. I guess that people bring objects out here to leave as a way of thanking the virgin for helping them pass a test, recover from an injury, etc. I didn't see any bowling balls, though. So either she doesn't help bowlers or that ball is just too heavy to lug out there.

After treking around on the mountain a little more, we jumped on the train and headed back down the steep tracks to make our way back to Barcelona. The views from the region's highest point were fantastic and I was much more wowed by them than the legends and stories of the mountain. Oh, and if the Chiefs do win the Superbowl, it would be a much bigger miracle than the appearance of a figure in a cave.

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