A TOUCH OF HISTORY As fascination for the Montserrat Monastery holds true today, intrigue is woven into the history of the abbey. Legend has it that angels came down from the heavens, and using a golden saw created the jarred-edge mountain, explaining the descriptive names given by the Romans, Mons Serratus (Saw-Toothed Mountain) and by the Catalans, Monsagret (Sacred Mountain). The Romans erected a temple on the mountain in honor of the goddess of love, Venus, but when the Roman Empire fell, people lost faith in the pagan gods and abandoned Montserrat. With some uncertainty, it is believed that in 1025 the monastery was founded by Abbot Oliba of Ripoli as the hermitage of Santa Maria de Monstserrat. As stories of miracles and wonders performed by the Virgin spread, the monastery received many pilgrims, while growing in splendor as an independent abbey. Flourishing, the abbey became a cultural center, producing several important composers from the Montserrat Music school. The French War brought destruction and the monastery was abandoned until 1844, when restoration work began. In 1881, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed the Image of Our Lady of Montserrat as Patron Saint of Catalonia. The Spanish Civil War saw the monastery su¡er abandonment once again, but it was thankfully saved from destruction by the government. AN EXPERIENCE TODAY Situated on the widest pinnacle of the geographical wonder, the attraction, intrigue and fascination of the Medieval monastery is understandable. While the scenic views and stunning landscape are certainly to be appreciated, it is the allure of miracles and mysterious claims from inside the abbey that attracts pilgrims and visitors most. The abbey is operated by about seventy Benedict monks, who are true to the custom and rule of St. Benedict in receiving and attending to the needs of those visiting pilgrims.

The abbey is rich in history and culture, hosting marvelous works of art (including Picasso) with a museum filled with diverse collections and housing an extensive library. The famous boy’s choir is one of the oldest in Europe and is comprised of thirty boys, all residing at the abbey and performing daily. It bears architectural significance, boasting a mix of Gothic style, Renaissance shapes and traditional Catalan architecture. Interestingly, Antoni Gaudi, as an architectural scholar, contributed to the building and the blueprints of his work are on display. The Catalan style of jewelry-making that developed after the Spanish Civil War is represented by ornate hanging candles. Upon entering, the sense of spirituality is instantaneous and moving. The main attraction is the wooden statue, Our Lady of Montserrat, that sits on an altar covered in Venetian mosaics in the basilica. The crown-bearing Virgin Mary holds a sphere in her right hand, symbolizing the universe. The child has his right hand out in blessing and holds a pinecone in his left as a symbol of fertility and everlasting life. It is tradition by some to kiss or touch the Virgin’s hand while opening your hand to Jesus. The nickname, “Black Madonna” is due to the dark tone of her skin, which is attributed to the aging of the wood over time and the e¡ects of candle soot. Beyond the statue is one of many chapels, where visitors light candles asking prayers to the Virgin Mary. One thousand years after its founding, the Virgin Mary still reigns supreme here, and the modernized abbey continues to attend to the needs of pilgrims and visitors alike. It is believed that the spiritual strength of the abbey empowers it. One way or another, it clearly continues to pique the interest of its many visitors, both near and far. Liesl Noel is a gifted writer from South Africa. She’s spent years traveling the globe with some of the world’s most influential people prior to becoming a proud mother, middle school language arts teacher and talented freelance writer. HISTORY, ART AND BEAUTY ARE EASY TO COME BY ON THESE SAILINGS TO BARCELONA


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