About an hour outside of Barcelona, nestled in the rugged mountain terrain, stands the imposing monastery of Montserrat. Founded in the 11th century, this Benedictine monastery has witnessed, and played a part in, centuries of Spain’s stormy political history, as well as being an especially important part of the history of the Catalan region:
“Santa María de Montserrat has always played a remarkable role in preserving the Catalan language, not just through its use in sermons and religious education, but also as an instrument of culture and communication. The abbey provided sanctuary to many Catalan academics, politicians and activists during Franco´s dictatorship.”
To arrive at this holy sanctuary high in the mountains you can easily take a train from Barcelona and then (depending on the season) hop on a smaller funicular or cable car to get to the monastery itself. The journey takes about 90 minutes and is easily done entirely by public transit.
The highlight of the complex is the Basilica, which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The current structure dates to 1811, though the facade dates to 1901.
The faithful journey to Montserrat to pay homage to Mary, specifically Our Lady of Montserrat, popularly known as La Moreneta (the Dark One). Some believe this status was carved in Jerusalem, but it is a 12th century work that darkened over time (from candles and environment) and was then painted black over the years.
The Montserrat complex also features a small museum. While many of the works there are a reflection of the monastery and its surroundings, I was surprised to stumble upon unrelated works by Picasso, Monet and others within it as well. Late in the day, the museum was practically empty and we had the opportunity to enjoy the art without any one else around.
Montserrat is an easy day trip fro Barcelona. We visited during the off-season, late on a January afternoon and the complex was emptying out for the day. Because of the season, the ability to go further up the mountain by transport was restricted, though the trail was open for hiking by foot. The complex also features a cafe and gift shop.