Montserrat – a journey and a destination | Sun.Star. (A chronicle of my journey to Montserrat, as published in Sun Star Daily)
The mountains of Montserrat
MONTESERRAT, located near Barcelona, Spain, is the site of the Benedictine monks’ abbey and the Shrine of our Lady of Montserrat. It is considered as the main spiritual and religious center of Catalonia and a natural park. Thus, its rich history, religious significance, and natural wonder make it a destination not just for religious pilgrims, but for tourists as well.
While the travel books and websites say that the abbey and the shrine are nestled in the majestic mountains of Montserrat, there are no ample words or pictures to convey the kind of awe and reverence you feel when you see the magnificent Montserrat mountains, the spectacular views and rock formations, and the grandiose basilica. The mountains’ bright hue in the morning alone is a joyous splendor that welcomes and renews every traveler or pilgrim.
A one-hour train ride via the Catalan railway and a cable car (Funicular Aeri de Montserrat) brings you to the foot of the Montserrat Mountains. From there, you need at least one day to explore the Basilica, museum, mountains, trails, and shops.
The facade of the Basilica of Montserrat
Inside the Basilica of Montserrat
The Basilica holds the major highlights of one’s visit to Montserrat. It houses the miraculous La Morenata or Black Virgin, which is centrally located above the Basilica’s altar. Pilgrims who wish to venerate the Black Virgin line at the right side of the church. It will be a long stretch, but the ornate hallway of the basilica will enchant those in line and definitely shorten the wait.
Another experience not to be missed when visiting Montserrat is listening to the highly acclaimed Escalonia Boys’ Choir during the Salve religious service. They bring the heavens to earth at 1 p.m. daily, but regrettably, not during their holidays.
One can also linger in the basilica’s beautiful courtyard – admire the charm of its walls, flooring and archways; offer prayers by lighting candles; and embrace the tranquil hope emitted by the flicker of the beautiful multi-colored votive candles.
The cafe at Montserrat
Museum, shops, and café. The museum houses the works of Dali, Monet, and Picasso, among others. While the shops provide a wide selection of religious articles, artwork, books, music, and other interesting pieces that will serve as invaluable recuerdo of your journey. The café serves a decent brew and delectable salads, sandwiches, meals.
View of the Montserrat Mountains from the Basilica
The rugged mountains and trails of Montserrat
Mountains and trails. From the foot of the Montserrat Mountains where the monastery, basilica, museum, and shops are located, the Sant Joan funicular ride will take you to a higher elevation of the mountains. The adventurous can explore the mountains while the sedentary can marvel at the amazing rock formations and breathtaking views from the deck.
The Santa Cova (sacred cave), which is the site where the Black Virgin was discovered, is another highlight of Montserrat. The devout may pray along the way, as the trail to Santa Cova is lined with the depictions of the Way of the Cross.
But take caution, the trail is not for those frail in spirit and those weak in the legs and feet, as well. The walk, said to be around 40 minutes or 20 minutes if using the funicular ride, is arduous enough to raise your pulse rate, heart rate, and respiratory rate (personal note: I had to research the time it takes to reach the Santa Cova, because honestly, while the spirit was willing, the legs and feet were screaming otherwise, after more than 40 minutes of panting up and down the mountainous trail, with the Santa Cova still not in sight).
But, while the difficult trail will leave you almost breathless, the spectacular views will definitely take away whatever breath you have left. And for those strong-willed but physically-challenged to reach the sacred cave, the Gothic-style crucifix would be a respectable point to stop, commune with nature and with God, ruminate on the journey that was and that will be, and then gradually, restore the ego and head back to the funicular ride before it closes.
Audiovisual presentation. This should not be missed. The presentation tells the story of Montserrat through beautiful pictures and music, woven together in amazing cinematography. It starts from the Laudes, the first prayers offered upon the rising of the sun and ends with the Vespres, the last prayers whispered upon the setting of the sun. The poignant pictures and music will lift your spirits, warm your heart, and beget your tears.
And it is but fitting that there are no words spoken during the presentation. For indeed, there are no words sufficient to capture and convey the faith, hope, and love of the devout.
Montserrat will hold a special memory perhaps only a fellow pilgrim or traveler will understand. It has to be experienced and felt by the heart, for one to know that it was, and always will be, one of the journeys worth taking in one’s life time.
It defies the banal and perpetual “it is the journey, not the destination,” philosophy. Like most other journeys, you will learn, Montserrat will always be about the journey and the destination. The confusing navigation through the train station, the one-hour train ride, the exhilarating and height-defying cable car ride, the long queues, the intense heat, the arduous walks – all will lead you to a spiritual, spectacular, and beautiful destination – a fulfilling end to a memorable journey.
A happy sign after missing the train from Montserrat
El Rincon Bar near the Montserrat-Aeri train stop
Postscript: Unlike the journey to Montserrat which should not be taken in haste, the trains from Montserrat leave hurriedly and promptly. However, should you be one second late, do not despair. Head to your right and follow the signs, “Bar” and “El Rincon.”
You will find yourself in a humble but spirited place. While waiting for the next train, you can have tapas, paella, cerveza, or sangria with the Montserrat mountains as a beautiful backdrop. Bask in this simple pleasure and take in the beauty of Montserrat at sundown. Its rose-tint in the afternoon is a calm presence that will bid you a nostalgic farewell, for the time being. Until the next journey, salud!
Montserrat mountains at sundown
*Most photos by – Cheryl Arnan