We took our last excursion from Barcelona yesterday. We caught a local train out of the Espania station to the Montserrat Monastery about 35 miles out of town. The trip took about an hour and once we were out of town, there was the Spanish countryside to see along the way.
A Little About The Monastery
The history of Montserrat is fascinating and started in 880 when a small group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky in the Montserrat mountains. In the same moment the children heard angels singing and the music filled their hearts with a radiant joy. Overwhelmed by the experience the children ran home to frantically recall the experience to their parents. The parents were skeptical but knew their children were trustworthy and honest and so they went to where the children had experienced the visions to see if they could see what all the fuss was about.For the whole month following the first visitation the parents were also witness to the same heavenly experiences and were left with only one conclusion. The visions were a sign from God.
A local vicar was brought to the scene and witnessed the same as the children and parents had. The visions occurred in the same location in a cave on Montserrat mountain. When this cave was explored by the religious elders of the community they found an image of the Virgin Mary. And from that moment on the cave became a holy sanctuary for religious pilgrims.
Today the site of the visions has been marked by a Holy Grotto on the mountain. You can walk to the Holy Grotto and see first hand where these events took place. The Holy Grotto has now been ordained a holy place and is visited by pilgrims and visitors from all over the world.
The Black Madonna in the Basilica Montserrat Monastery
Whether you are religious or not, visiting the Black Madonna at Montserrat is a spiritual and worthwhile experience. You will join in line with a group of people, many of whom have come as pilgrims to the statue – the atmosphere is electric. Chances are you will have to wait to see the Madonna. However all of this can serve to enhance your visit – make the most of the opportunity to take in your surroundings. The stairway leading to the statue, plus the room and altar in which the statue sits are ornate, golden and pay tribute to the wonder that is the Virgin herself. The statue sits behind a sheet of glass. However, one of her hands that is holding a sphere (which symbolizes the universe) is not behind the glass. It is tradition for you to kiss or touch the Virgin’s hand whilst opening out your other hand to Jesus.
The History of the Black Madonna
The whole of Montserrat is built around facilitating the worship of the Black Madonna in the Basilica. The Black Madonna was believed to have been carved in Jerusalem at the beginning of the religion. It is a wooden sculpture. It is one of the most famous Black Madonna statues in the world and in 1844 Pope Leo XIII declared the Virgin of Montserrat the patroness of Catalonia. Black Madonnas can be found all over the world, If you are interested in the history of the concept of the Black Madonna and its various depictions, it is worth a visit to the Montserrat Museum where there is a whole section dedicated to it’s art and history.
As you enter the doorway to the Basilica that will take you to the Black Madonna statue, you will pass the chapels that lead to the Virgin. The first chapel is in honor of Saint Peter, the second is in honor of St Ignatius of Loyola, the third is on honor of St Martin and the fourth is in honor of St Joseph Calasantius.
In 1944 it was decided that a new room, known as the ‘throne room’ would be built with a stairway leading to the statue. The work of sculptors, architects, artists and jewelers was recruited and the project was headed by the architect Francesc Folguera and the painter Josep Obiols to build the room and altar in which the statue is placed.
The new building work was scheduled to be completed on 27 April 1947 – a day to be known as the Enthronement. However, work finally finished in 1954.
As you enter the room where the Virgin sits, it is worth noting the doors – they are made of repousse silver and were created by Josep Obiols, Rafel Solanic and Manuel Capdevila. The Black Madonna herself sits on an incredibly ornate throne which is covered in Venetian mosaics. At either side of the Virgin you will spot eight silver lamps – these represent the eight dioceses of Catalunya and Montserrat. Above the Virgin’s head there are Angels that were created by the sculptor Marti Llaurado.
On leaving the altar of the Black Madonna, at the bottom of the stairs, you will be given the opportunity to say a prayer in the chapel of the Image of the Mother of God. This chapel was completed in 1885 under the direction of Francesc de Paula del Villar i Lozano who was helped by a young Antoni Gaudi.
Later Gaudi was the creator of the most famous attraction in Barcelona proper the Sagrada Famila Church which to this day is still under construction long after his death but in line with his exact visions.
Our Trip and The Other Sites
Now that we have told you a little about the history of the monastery let us tell you a little about the trip there and what you will be able to see and do other than visiting the basilica.
When you arrive in Montserrat, there are actually two stops Montserrat and Montserrat Aeri. Each has its own form of transportation up the mountain to the monastery. We would highly recommend the Aeri adventure. It is a gondola ride via cables up the mountain which is 1236 meters or 4055 feet up. This is not the highest point but we will discuss that further when we talk about the funicular trains.
There are a number of things to do once onsite, visiting the basilica and the Madonna, visiting the cathedral which is exquisite, having lunch in their cafeteria and visiting the museums. After you have made you way around these sights there are two funicular trains that you can travel on. The first is the Santa Cova train which will take you down to the grotto where the children first saw the light that led to the building of the monastery and the second is the San Joan which will take you to the highest point of the mountain where you will have a view of all of Catalonia.
We found this to be the high point of this visit to Spain and should we ever return to Barcelona it is a trip I would take a second time. For anyone visiting Catalonia this would be a number one priority.
Details and Cost
The train that goes to Montserrat leaves from the station called the Placa Espayna which was very difficult for us to spot. You see, we never thought of the train station as being underground, so when the taxi driver pointed toward a large building, we figured it was the train depot. Two cab rides later, one over to the main train station and one right back to where the first cab dropped us off, we kept trying to tell the driver that we wanted the station that would take us to Monserrat. He patiently pointed to this little booth that had a large MONTSERRAT sign above it. We paid, thanked him and got out once again. We thought the small booth was maybe where we would buy the tickets and they would hopefully point us in the direction of the train station. When we got around the other side of the booth … it was a very small elevator. Needless to say the entire station is underground. There is not station proper above ground. The entry was a very small 4 or 5 person elevator on the corner of the Placa Espanya boulevard with pictures of Montserrat on it but if you were not looking for that you would never find it. NOTE: In our defense, there are these small booths on almost every corner selling lotto tickets, juice drinks, magazines, etc. And in Barceloneta (a beach community) there are NO elevators to an underground anything!
Once you locate the “secret elevator” entrance that goes down to the station, follow the signs (which are easy to find) that say R5 line. When you arrive at the turnstiles, there are a number of very helpful ticket agents who will explain the various ticket combinations and options. They have a good command of all of the major languages and you will have not problems here. Once you decide on your ticket options they will help you purchase the tickets from the automated ticket vending machine and steer you toward you train. You will catch the next train out and be able to stay as long as you want, using your return ticket for any train. You do not have a set time you have to return, but the last train coming back is around 7:30 pm.
Our best advice on ticket options is to buy a ticket called the ‘Tot’ which covers everything you can do in Montserrat. You will get a cafeteria meal (not great, but filling) a visit to the museum, rides on both the Santa Cova and the San Joan funicular trains, all for 1 price — if you purchase this Tot ticket, you will not need to open your wallet again. The cost, including round trip train fare, is 46 Euros per person. Otherwise, everything is charged separately. If you want to eat or use the funicular rides, you have to pay for those options once onsite and the cost will be much higher than the Tot ticket. We saw many people who were onsite having to pay the premium prices for the two funicular train rides, and that was each way for each ride charged separately. The only cost you will have with the Tot ticket is any souvenirs you might buy.
We hope all of you have the opportunity to see this wonderful place. It has so much to offer with the trip through the countryside, the panoramic views and sites traveling up the mountain and last but certainly not lease, the moving visit to the Madonna, the awe inspiring basilica and cathedral.