Montserrat, or Serrated Mountain, gets its name from its jagged profile. About 45km outside Barcelona, its winning combination of spiritual significance, dramatic pink peaks and breathtaking views has led to it being made a Spanish national park. It is also home to the famous monks of the Benedictine Abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat, and the mysterious black Madonna idol the in the holy grotto of the Virgin Mary.
The history of the sanctity of the mountain stretches as far back as classical times, when the conquering Romans built a temple in honour of Venus here. After the fall of the Empire, the holiness of the mountain once again became a focus in the 9th century when numerous people reported experiencing heavenly visions and hearing beautiful music in a cave on the mountain. This cave came to be the holy grotto of the Virgin Mary; today it houses La Moreneta, the sacred black statue of the Madonna and Child which, according to tradition, was brought to Catalunya from Jerusalem in the 9th century. She is more likely a 12th century Byzantine carving; but the origin of the Benedictine monastery itself does date from the 9th century, with small hermitages appearing near the shrine in the 880s AD, giving the story some credence. By 1025 these humble hermitages had expanded to form the monastic settlement still thriving today.
Montserrat and the Holy Grail
Throughout the centuries there have been those who claim that the mountain was the hiding place of the Holy Grail mentioned in Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Arthurian legend Parzival. In this 13th century epic poem the Holy Grail is a stone that fell from Heaven and was hidden in the castle of Munsalväsche, and many people, including the Benedictine monks themselves, have claimed that he was actually referring to Montserrat. This belief was so strong that it even prompted the superstitious and power-crazed Nazis to lead a search for the Grail at Montserrat. The expedition was headed by S.S. leader Heinrich Himmler, who took a squad of Nazis up the mountain hoping to discover the grail and harness its supernatural powers.
During the Spanish Civil War the monastery rebelled against the tyrannical Franco regime, defiantly continuing to speak in the banned Catalan language and offering a refuge for persecuted victims of Franco’s dictatorship. This earned the Abbey a reputation of loyalty and patriotism and endeared the monks even more to the hearts of the Catalan people.
Montserrat is visited by large numbers of pilgrims, hikers and curious tourists each year and is a fantastic daytrip to make from Barcelona. Trains go daily from Barcelona to Montserrat and a cable car runs up to the top – or more energetic mountaineers may follow the hiking trails. There is a real sense of myth and history surrounding this ancient holy place, and the gorgeous setting only heightens its grandeur.