On our journey by water through the Eastern Caribbean, we dropped anchor for a few days in the island of Montserrat, known as “The Emerald Island of the Caribbean” due to its resemblance of coastal island and the Irish origin of many of its inhabitants. In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island “Santa Maria de Monserrat,” after the Virgin of Monsterrat in the monastery of Montserrat, in the mountain of Montserrat, not far from Barcelona.
On day two of our Spanish holiday, we decided to visit this legendary, ragged hill. (Montserrat means “serrated mountain.”) After a well-needed nights sleep, we grabbed pastries from a local spot a few feet from our hotel entrance and walked to the Universtat Metro Station. From there, we took the Metro to Plaça d’Espanya train station where we took the R5 to Montserrat. One more train change onto the Cremallera for a 20 minute ride up to the famous Benedictine monastery.
Upon arrival, we were first impressed by the striking rock formations, the serrations in the stone which were formed by the sinking of the lands around the rock, exposing these peaks to the erosive powers of nature. Or, as a hymn puts it, they were carved by little angels with golden saws. Take your pick.
The first hermit monks built huts on Montserrat around 900 A.D. The monastery was founded in 1025. A choir school followed and is still functioning, making it the oldest music school in all of Europe. We were blessed to listen to a small concert in the basilica while there. Speaking of the basilica — Although there has been a church here since the 11th century, the current neo-romanesque church was built in the 1850s, and the facade in 1968.
The following video was recorded by one of the birthday girls on their iPhone. I apologize for the vertical orientation. The person responsible has been adequately scolded. 🙂
The most important attraction at the monastery is La Moreneta, a small wooden statue of the Black Virgin which was discovered in a Sacred Cave in the 12th century. Tradition states it was carved by St. Luke, brought to Spain by St. Peter, hidden in a nearby cave during the invasion of the Moors, and discovered by shepherd children in medieval times.
Montserrat is also home to a very nice museum whose collection is the product of donations by devout Catalan Catholics. There are works by Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Renoir, Degas and numerous local artists. We were especially happy to see an excellent exhibit on the “Phos Hilaron: Icons of the Orient” (the Orthodox churches).
Just before we returned to Barcelona, we rode 820 feet further up the mountain on the Saint Joan Funicular. Once on top, I followed at 20-minute hiking trail up to the Chapel of St. Joan. The views were amazing.
When we finally arrived back in Barcelona, the sun had set and we were ready for dinner. I had made reservations at a restaurant recommended to me by a fellow airline passenger, 7 Portes. There was a wonderful ambience and the food was very good. I partook of the local Catalan dish, Paella Parellada, a rice and seafood dish. Mmmm! An after dinner walk back up La Rambla transported us to our hotel where a well-deserved rest awaited.