Monday, 2 April 2012

Montserrat - Home of the Black Virgin & Pride of the Catalan People

If you have an extra day in Barcelona, consider visiting Montserrat, a popular pilgrimage site in Catalunya and home of the Black Virgin.

(Note: Do not get confused with the other Montserrat, which is a Caribbean island.)

The word "Montserrat" literary means "jagged" (serrated) mountain in Catalan which describes the rock formation of the mountain that is visible from a distance. Montserrat is famous for its Benedictine monastery, a boys choir which is the oldest in the world and hiking trails that lead to amazing discoveries. Montserrat is the pride of the Catalan people.

Most people visit Montserrat on a day-trip and the best way to get to Montserrat from Barcelona is by train which you can read about here.

My trip to Montserrat began in the afternoon at Placa d'Espanya. I wanted to start early in the morning, but had to go to Barcelona Nord bus station first to get tickets to Madrid for the next day.

The platform at Placa d'Espanya where trains depart to Montserrat every hour. Look for the Montserrat booth at the station which has lots of information on how to get there. 

The train ride was smooth and I dozed off a couple of times but quickly woke up in case I missed the stop. After about an hour in the train, I got off at the Montserrat stop and took the funicular (mini train) up to the mountain. 

According to Mateus of San Jordi Diagonal Hostel, the best way up the mountain is by funicular and back down by cable car. In this way, you'll get to experience both ways of travel and see panoramas from both angles. 

The funicular station in the heart of Montserrat. 

It was around 3pm by the time I reached Montserrat and had about 2 hours before darkness starts looming over the sacred mountain.

So I quickly took bearings of the place with help from this signboard:

Signboards are in Spanish or Catalan. I don't know the difference. But whatever it is, there's no English and I had to figure it out myself. Well, at least it's not in Arabic or Mandarin which does not use alphabets.

Since my aim at Montserrat was to pray for family members and loved ones, for Liam and his business, etc. I headed straight to the basilica where the Black Virgin is.

Renovation works on the basilica were under way. 

After stepping into the huge doors of the compound, I entered a courtyard which leads into the basilica proper.

Notice the lovely architecture. 

The magnificent sanctuary. The Black Virgin is located in the small cave-like crevice behind the sanctuary. Can you see it?

This is the arch formed by sculptures of angel musicians and singers who are supposed to accompany the pilgrim who has come to seek the Mother of God's intercession. I thought the idea is so cool!

Behold the Black Virgin which represents Saint Mary as the "Mother of God in Majesty". She holds the sphere of the universe (orb) in her right hand, whilst with her left she presents the Child Jesus, who in turn holds a pine cone, a symbol of life and richness. Pilgrims come from far and near to rub the orb with hope that their prayers will be answered.

After rubbing the orb, turn around and you'll see this: 

This is the view the Black Virgin sees as she sits perched at the top of the sanctuary. 

At the back of the Black Virgin sculpture is the Chapel of Thrones that is reserved for those who wish to pray for a while after seeking the intersession of Saint Mary.

It was hard to pray in this chapel when tourists are walking around snapping photos. Had to wait a while for them to leave before I had the whole place to myself. But then when the silence got to me, I quickly left. 

After leaving the Chapel of Thrones, I passed the Path of the Ave Maria on my way out:

Each lamp that shines along this path, and the candles that burn here are symbols of the prayers and devotions of pilgrims after seeking the intercession of Saint Mary.

It was already getting dark by the time I stepped out of the basilica. So I headed to the cable car station to take the cable car down to Montserrat-Aeri station.

Here are the ticket prices (cable car and train) in Euro from Montserrat to the various destinations:

And here's the view from the cable car as it made it's way down the mountain ...

... to the Montserrat-Aeri station where I waited for the train back to Barcelona.

It was around 5.30pm by the time I got to Montserrat-Aeri station and the weather was freezing. There was no warm closed area where passengers could wait and I thought I was going to freeze to death. My 3 layers of clothing certainly wasn't enough!

The station was deserted except for the 5 of us - 3 American guys, an Austrian lady and Malaysian girl (me!).

After waiting for about 30 minutes in the freezing weather, the train finally arrived. There are a few trains plying the same route but heading to different destinations. So make sure you take the correct train back to Barcelona, or risk heading to god knows where.

Montserrat is a fascinating place to visit, whether you're a pilgrim or otherwise. My only regrets are missing the melodious Gregorian chants by the boy's choir and exploring one of the hiking trails into the mountains - all because I started my journey to Montserrat in the afternoon.

Anyway, those are good excuses to make another trip back to this fascinating mountain.


JIPP said...

It's so beautiful esp the hills at the back. Too bad you didn't get to do the hiking. I'm sure the view must be someth to die for.

Julie Lim said...

Hi Jipp,

You're absolutely right - the hills command views that are breathtaking, based on photos I've seen. Now I only need to see the view with my own eyes!

khengsiong said...

You seems to travel everywhere...

eh... do you know of any position as travel writer? *blink blink*

Julie Lim said...

Hi Kheng Siong,

In my opinion, the best way to start out as a travel writer is to pitch your articles to travel mags and newspapers.

window tinting honolulu said...

Breathtaking pictures and temperate pictures. Traveling is very rewarding where you can reach different place and see different cultures and hear languages.

Julie Lim said...


You're absolutely right! Travelling expands a person's horizons and there's a very interesting world out there waiting to be explored!

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