Standing near the summit of Montserrat mountain (the name is translated as “serrated mountain”) is the Benedictine Abbey, which is noted for the sculpture of the Virgin of Montserrat, also known as the Black Virgin.
The monastery is located just 30 miles west of Barcelona, and can be reached easily by road, by cable car, or by train. Montserrat is just over 4,000 feet above sea level, and at the highest point, Sant Jeroni, gives a view over the whole of the region of Catalonia. On a clear day, it is even possible to see the island of Mallorca.
Many young people from Barcelona and the surrounding area are encouraged to make an overnight hike to the top of the mountain at least once in their lives to see the sun rise and take in the amazing views.
The statue of the “Black Virgin” – which is the Virgin Mary, together with an infant Christ – stands 38” high and is located in the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, which is next to the monastery. Montserrat’s Boys Choir – known as the Escolania – performs at religious ceremonies, and every day at noon sings the hymn, known as the Virolai, to the Black Virgin. Some people believe that the sculpture was carved in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago, but it was probably carved in the twelfth century.
Together with Saint George, the Black Virgin is the patron saint of Catalonia. The name Montserrat is a popular name for girls in Catalonia, and is often abbreviated to “Montse”.
During the Spanish Civil War, some 860 priests and religious men and women were killed in Catalonia by anarchists. Twenty two of them were monks from the Montserrat Abbey.
When General Franco ruled, the Abbey was a haunt for politicians, artists, and scholars, and Franco’s men were often waiting for them on the road a few miles away.
In April 1947, a mass was held in the Abbey to celebrate the enthronement of the Black Virgin, and prayers were deliberately said in the Catalan language in order to defy the government. Over 100,000 people attended.
Later, in December 1970, artists and academics staged a sit-in at the Abbey, in protest against death sentences given to 16 Basque Separatists. Police sealed off the Abbey and removed the 300 protesters, but the government eventually reduced the death sentences to terms of imprisonment.
When you visit Barcelona, it is well worthwhile taking the short trip up to Montserrat in order to see the historic Benedictine Abbey, together with the amazing views from the mountain top.