Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey on the mountain of Montserrat, in Monistrol de Montserrat, in Catalonia, Spain (just west of Barcelona). At 4,055 ft, Montserrat is the highest point in Catalonia and Sant Jeroni is the highest point of Montserrat, where you can see almost all of Catalonia and even the island of Mallorca on a clear day.
We took the Cremallera i funiculars de Montserrat (rack railway) to the top (and back down, obviously). If you look in the larger picture below, where the two mountains meet behind the station – that’s where we’re going! As you will see by the photo below in the center right, we will be traveling from 152m (just under 500 ft) to 700m (almost 2300 ft). “It is the only way to get to Montserrat that leaves you right in the middle of the monastery, a 15-minute journey with a privileged and spectacular view of the mountain.” There are other modes of transport that will take you higher and also lower on the mountain, but this is what our tour offered and it was perfect for the short time that we would be in this gorgeous place.
Here is a little about the history of transportation used for the climb over the years:
“A line on this route was originally opened in 1892. Competition arrived in 1930, in the form of the Aeri de Montserrat, an aerial cable car that also carries passengers to the monastery. A narrow road also reaches the monastery. After poor financial results and an accident in 1953, the rack railway line was closed on 12 May 1957.
However over time the Aeri and road became unable to handle the increasing number of visitors to the monastery. After many years of planning, a program began to rebuild the rack railway in 2001, and the line re-opened in its modern form on 6 June 2003. In its first 12 months of operation, the Montserrat Rack Railway carried 462,964 passengers. – READ MORE ABOUT THE RACK RAILWAY AT MONTSERRAT
“Montserrat, whose name means serrated mountain, is ideally located to play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Catalonia. It is Catalonia’s most important religious retreat and groups of young people from Barcelona and all over Catalonia make overnight hikes at least once in their lives to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. Virgin of Montserrat (the black virgin), is Catalonia’s favourite saint, and is located in the sanctuary of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, next to the Benedictine monastery nestling in the towers and crags of the mountain. The Escolania, Montserrat’s Boys’ Choir, is one of the oldest in Europe, and performs during religious ceremonies and communal prayers in the basilica.
The Basilica houses a museum with works of art by many prominent painters and sculptors including works by El Greco, Dalí, Picasso and more. The Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, a publishing house, one of the oldest presses in the world still running, with its first book published in 1499.” – READ MORE ABOUT MONTSERRAT
“Montserrat is a unique mountain in the world. It is a place that is not only spectacular from a geological point of view, but because there is a Benedictine monastery with more than a thousand years of history. The Montserrat monks dedicate their lives to work and prayer, and they look after the sanctuary of Our Lady as well as welcoming pilgrims and visitors.
Besides ceremonies of worship that take place daily in the basilica on Montserrat, you will find wideranging cultural activities and interesting itineraries on the mountain, which will show you the richness of nature on this exceptional mountain.” – READ MORE ABOUT MONTSERRAT
The four trees in the small garden in front of the cloister (above, left) refer to the Virgin Mary. The palm symbolises beauty; the olive tree – peace and fertility; the cypress – silence and prayer (as it reaches to the sky); and the laurel is the symbol of honor. Without the tour, they just would have been a nice grouping of trees to us. With the tour, we saw that nothing is random here. Everything has meaning.
Hover over each of the photos above for the caption to appear if you’d like more information. We easily could have spent days here to really explore what we saw in hours. I got some help from google before writing this, since I had a hard time remembering what each of my photos were.
The pictures above are of the entryway to the Montserrat Basilica, which was breathtaking. The sculptures of Jesus and the twelve apostles are fabulous and the ornamentation continues on the doors and out onto the “Marble paving of the atrium. Father Benet Martínez designed the white and dark grey paving, which has a border of aquatic animals surrounded by a Latin inscription that refers to baptism and the Virgin Mary. It faithfully imitates the one Michelangelo did in Rome’s Campidoglio.” – READ MORE
The left photo below is the Basilica. The center photo is zoomed in to show the alter where the Black Madonna sits. You can see the bright red and blue clothes of the folks who are visiting that part of the Basilica. There was a very long line to get to see her, and our tour didn’t allow that kind of time, but I’m sure it would have been a very moving experience. Here is a little bit about the Black Virgin:
“The Black Madonna is sometimes referred to by other names, including ‘The Virgin of Montserrat’ and ‘La Moreneta’. The statue sits behind a sheet of glass. However, one of her hands that is holding a sphere (which symbolises 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.” – READ MORE ABOUT THE MONTSERRAT BASILICA
In the photo below you can get a great view of the unique spires, or rocks of one piece that make up “the massif of Montserrat”. Such a beautiful backdrop to the buildings before it where the Boys Choir – L’Escolania – are located. They are renowned around the world for their high standards of music and have been around since 1223. Unfortunately, our tour times did not align with their daily performances, so we’ll just have to come back!
We decided on this excursion at the last minute. After my cousin’s recommendation and a little research, we really wanted to go, but we had to cut a few things in order to keep our sanity and also not break the bank. At the last minute, we decided we had to see it, partly because – well, it was going to be awesome – and partly because of the ease of disembarking the cruise ship when there’s an excursion involved.
We left our stateroom, went down and met with our fellow excursionists like we had in days past. We joined our already-loaded luggage on a tour bus and headed out for Montserrat. There was no lugging, no searching through hundreds of bags for ours and no searching for a cab. The biggest advantage was that since it was only 8am and we couldn’t check into our hotel until 4pm, our bags were with us all along while we were in-between accommodations. There was a short cab ride involved at the end of our excursion, because they dropped us at a different hotel, but ours was close by so it went without a hitch. It was a win, win situation. And we didn’t realize what a win it was until we ascended a mountain to this fabulous monastery way (way) up top and gazed upon its beauty and the view from its perch so high.
By the way, a word about not breaking the bank: If you are anything like us, this was a once in a lifetime trip. Don’t skimp. Don’t go home with anything on your “I wish I had done this” list. We would love to return again, mostly for more time in each of the stops we made this trip. But life is short. Take time to do it right the first time, just in case… Plus, there may be new places you’d like to explore, instead of returning to one you’ve already visited.
We spent about six hours on this tour, which included travel time, and we barely scratched the surface. If my blog peeks your interest, please check out this website with posts from Montserrat. It contains a very detailed description (with photos) of each of the things to see while you are there, along with a little history.
Montserrat – One of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Next up: Park Güell (Barcelona)