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Published: December 22nd 2008
Well as most of the CELTYL lot took their flights home or moved on to travelling elsewhere Francesca and I found ourselves the only two left in Barcelona. We'd made plans to visit the monastery at Monserrat today so I was up early making a packed lunch and heading off to meet Francesca by the metro stop. We reached Placa d'Espanya where we could supposedly get a train to the monastery. We found the trip was made very simple for us by the tourist stands offering an inclusive ticket for the train and cable car. We were handed our tickets, timetable and map and then wandered around the placa and sat in the sun until it was time to catch our train.
We took the train so far then took the vernacular railway instead of the cable car which proved to be a lot of fun as it took a winding route up the mountain affording us wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.
We began our trip with a visit to the monastery and basilica. The basilica houses the famous Black Virgin or 'La Moreneta' as it is known in Catalan. According to Catholic tradition, the statue of the Black Virgin
of Montserrat was carved by St. Luke around 50 AD and brought to Spain. It was later hidden from the Moors in a cave (Santa Cova, the Holy Grotto), where it was rediscovered in 880 AD.
According to the legend of the discovery, which was first recorded in the 13th century, the statue was discovered by shepherds. They saw a bright light and heard heavenly music that eventually led them to the grotto and the statue. By the 9th century there were four chapels built at Montserrat and in the 11th century the monastery was founded. Due to the great numbers of pilgrims that flocked to Montserrat throughout the Middle Ages, the monastery was enlarged from its original humble size. In 1592, the grand basilica of Montserrat was consecrated.
In the late 18th century, almost the entire sanctuary was destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion., but such was the widespread devotion to the shrine, it was soon restored. In 1881, Montserrat's Black Madonna was crowned in accordance with Canon Law and proclaimed patron saint of Catalonia by Pope Leo XIII.
The monastery is still home to about 80 monks who when we arrived were just beginning mass in the basilica. We
had a little time to explore the interior of the basilica and look at all the elaborate carvings and beautiful stained glass windows before the mass began and we left. I was annoyed to see just how many tourists continued wandering around taking photos during the service, it seemed so disrespectful and I was surprised there weren't any rules preventing a disturbance of the mass.
Back outside we sat on the wall in the sun and had an early lunch. We next went to the museum which was quite cool. We started with a video which thankfully was mostly music and pictures so language wasn't much of a problem. We walked around the exhibits which included a model of the monastery and surrounding area and a very cool fake library with mirrors either end that gave us the impression of being in a huge library (the reason for this is there are some ancient books on display). The rest of the museum tour was interesting. There were large circles painted on the floor declaring a different language and the overhead speakers provided information about the monastery. It was quite amusing to see people standing on large coloured dots, going up
on tiptoe to get closer to the speakers on the ceiling.
We decided to walk down to see the site where the Black Virgin was originally discovered. The walk to the Santa Cova proved to be much longer than we had first thought. As we set off downhill we saw people returning looking very red faced and worn out. The walk was very pleasant though. Along the path we saw statues and carvings depicting the life of Jesus from birth, to the crucifiction and resurrection. The statues are known as the Rosari Monumental, and include work by Antoni Gaudi and Josep Llimona.
At the end of the trail we found the Santa Cova, a tiny pink building covering the original cave where the statue of the Black Virgin was discovered. Inside the building the original cave wall still remains with a replica statue seated in an alcove which has been turned into a mini altar. In a back room we found what I stupidly mistook for dressing up costumes, which didn't seem to make much sense. On closer inspection all the items in the room proved to be offerings to the Black Virgin and in many cases evidence of
'miracles'. There were many wheelchairs and sets of crutches obviously no longer needed by their owners.
We slowly walked back up the mountain. We reached the funicular de Santa Cova and decided to save our legs and take the funicular up the rest of the way. We found our tickets were valid for the funicular as well so after taking the first trip back up to the site of the monastery we went onto the funicular de Sant Joan, which climbs to an altitude of 1000m. It was incredible to reach the top of the mountain range. We followed the main trail further up the mountains and the views were simply breathtaking. We wandered off the trail a little and climbed up onto a rock which seemed to be one of the highest points. Eventually we went back down the mountain and set off for home. We had a fairly long wait for the train and once we reached the main station had another long wait for the main train back to Placa d'Espanya. We were all quite glad for a chance to warm up in the evening sunshine though as the first train had been freezing. We took the
metro back to Urquinaona where we said our final goodbyes. I returned home for my last evening in Barcelona which was spent trying to squeeze everything back into my suitcase again.
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