Saturday, February 7, 2015

Montserrat Monastery

Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery is located high above the rugged mountains of Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain. We made a day trip to visit this fascinating monastery which took us away from Barcelona for the meantime. The visit required us to be up early, head to the market that's yet about to open, fill our stomachs with an energy breakfast and buy our take-away lunch. If there's one thing we couldn't let happen, it is us getting hungry. :p

In this Euro trip, we had no concrete plans for the activities that we intend to do each day. We only had a list of things or places, spread throughout the days that we were in a country. And since we were only two, it was easy to tweak our agendas as we went along. As a matter of fact, flexibility had brought us to the monastery in finality. It was when the Filipino couple we met in Park Güell highly recommended it to us. They had nothing but only good words about the monastery and in those words, it's almost as if they were indirectly saying, we shouldn't miss it for the world. And boy, we were glad that we didn't!

Getting There

Our provisions, you can easily spot.

We went to Placa Espanya train station to catch the train to Montserrat. Placa Espanya is both a railway and metro station and thus, it is convenient to get to from anywhere in central Barcelona. From what I can remember based on my feeble memory, it was a long walk from the metro platform towards the railway platform. Again, don't fret because there are ample signs and the crowd will lead your way.

The train to Montserrat is the R5 towards Manresa. This is a commuter train and it has a different ticketing system from the metro. We bought a return ticket which includes the cable car to the monastery. Yes, a cable car! Did I just mention that the monastery is on top of a mountain range?

The train ride to Aeri Montserrat train station took an hour. It was a refreshing commute, along the sleepy yet mesmerizing Catalan countryside. You bet, my face was glued on my window the whole time. Upon seeing the mountain above, I knew we were already near!

And we're going up that mountain! At first glance, you wouldn't realize that there's a monastery on top of it. The only clue you have are the cables that look terrifyingly thin in the photo for dear life. If you're scared of heights (which I am sometimes), you can choose the rack railway. The railway is in a different train station, Monistrol de Montserrat one stop farther from Aeri Montserrat. In any case, you can just go there for any last minute apprehensions.

The surrounding views took my breath away and surprisingly, my acrophobia. Taking the cable car was never a wrong decision.

Just when we thought we had seen enough breathtaking views during the cable car ride, we had no idea about the much more glorious views at the monastery itself. The juxtaposition of the man-made architecture and the massive rock formations by nature, is beyond words. Never I had felt so tiny being in the midst of something gargantuan. 

It was high noon when we arrived at the monastery which meant it was lunchtime. Before attempting to face the crowd in the Basilica to listen to the boy's choir, we decided to eat our grub first outside. By the time we got to the Basilica, it was already packed and we had to contend with the vertically-blessed people. That's when camera zoom function comes in. Although, I didn't understand a single word, the children's voices were like listening to angels sing. If that's how an angel would sound like.

After listening to the boy's choir, we noticed a queue on the right side of the Basilica and we eagerly joined in. Then, we knew it was the queue for the Black Madonna. Along the way, we saw beautiful statues and carvings. I entertained myself by reading the few written descriptions but now, they have already been pushed back to the farthest corner of my memory. Sorry. In the little time we had in front of the Black Madonna, we said our prayers. From that point, you can see a grand view of the Basilica. Only in Europe, I see such opulence in churches and it only goes to show how much influence Christianity had back then on this continent.

The Black Madonna, also known as Our Lady of Montserrat dates back to 718. It is said to be originally carved from Jerusalem and was later given to the Bishop of Barcelona. With the invasion of the Saracens (a term used to refer to the Muslims during the Crusades) threatening Barcelona during this time, the statue was then hidden in a cave in Montserrat. People had eventually forgotten about it until a group of shepherd boys discovered it 200 years later. The boys had witnessed lights and heard singing voices coming from the mountain, which led to the discovery of the statue. A church was built for the statue and it became what is now the present-day Basilica. There are many accounts of miracles attributed to the Black Madonna and that the monastery continues to be a pilgrimage for the believers. However, the statue may no longer be original because of the wars and turmoil that happened in the past.

Exiting from the Basilica, we found an area where you can light candles. A color signifies a prayer intention like for family, health and success. Like any Catholic church, candles are to be paid on honesty basis and payment is most of the time referred as donations. As for us, we fumbled on our few remaining coins because we ran out of small bills and it's a shame that we underpaid. Uhm.

There is a hotel in the monastery called Hotel Abat Cisneros which has long provided accommodations to pilgrims. I think non-believers would also have an equally marvelous time as well. With such stunning views, a rare serenity in this fast-paced world and even an exhilarating walk on the mountains are enough considerations. Montserrat is actually more than the monastery but it is also highly regarded as a nature park. To get to higher elevations for more splendid panoramic views, you can take funicular cars that can climb steep inclinations. We didn't go anymore to the other peaks due to time constraints.

We spent 3 hours and a half in the monastery, fully pleased with our experience. The weather was incredible. The clear blue skies and the bright sunlight made our photos more striking than usual, even with mediocre cameras. As a precautionary advice however, please slather on a good amount of sunscreen.

Please don't look at me but notice instead the convenient signs. It's that easy to get around. Off to Barcelona we go!


Our return tickets include the cable car rides. Priced at €19.00/Adult.
Taking a note of the cable car and train timings also comes in handy.

No comments:

Post a Comment