Flying into Barcelona, we had a long list of things we wanted to cram into our short visit. Our daughter, Nicole, had lived a few months in Barcelona during a work-study program, almost a decade ago, and she raved about the city at any opportunity. More recently, she and her husband, Robert, had returned to the area for a portion of their vacation. With her insights into the city, one of the top things she recommended was a visit to Montserrat.
The Cathedral, monastery, shops and hotel are located at about 4000 feet, near the top of an incredibly beautiful saw-toothed mountain range. The history of all this began with the Black Madonna statute, believed to have been carved by St. Luke in 50 AD. It had been hidden away in a cave at Montserrat. It was discovered in 880 AD by shepherds, who had seen lights and heard music coming from the cave. When attempts to move the statute were unsuccessful, it was decided to build a chapel at the site, 3 other chapels were added during the 9th century. The Monastery was first built in the 11th century. In the 1800's, almost all of the monastery, the chapels, and an extensive collection of art and books was destroyed on the orders of Napoleon. Due to the popularity of the sanctuary, it was quickly rebuilt. There are 80 Benedictine monks living in the monastery, next to the spectacular basilica which contains the Black Virgin, with the facilities hosting millions of visitors each year.
Having visited Tourist Information in Barcelona, we purchased an all inclusive deal for our trip. Included in a ticket for 27,50 euros, we had unlimited metro passes for the day to get to and from the train, round-trip train seats from Barcelona to Montserrat, tickets for the rack rail train to the monastery (or we could have opted for the cable car), tickets for both of the funicular trains that moves at a 56 degree angle to take you to other spots on the mountain to hiking destinations, plus an audio-visual program. Yeah, I know I sound like a TV ad, but couldn't get over what a great deal that was!
Arriving at the monastery level, we took the Funicular de Sant Joan to the top of the mountain, just in time for a rain storm. Deciding not to hike in the rain, we retreated back to the monastery level for a lunch break, a few hundred other people had the same idea. When the rain stopped, we explored the grounds at this level, and wandered into the Cathedral, beautiful! Mass is held several times a day, and if you're timing is good, you can hear the boys choir sing at 1 PM, on most days. Next, we boarded the Funicular de St Cova, which takes you to another site on the mountain, and a trail that leads to shrine built into the mountainside. The walkway has little incline, provides phenomenal overviews and every few hundred feet, there are biblical stories in sculpture.
There is also a world-class museum at Montserrat (for an additional charge) but we decided to bypass that. It was a full day, in a spectacular mountain setting, glad we didn't miss it. Next we are ready to explore Barcelona.