Montserrat – June 15th, 2016
Catalan Pre-Coastal Range
“What’s the world for if you can’t make it up the way you want it.” – Toni Morrison, Jazz
Why This Mountain?
The reason Montserrat is a peak is a very interesting story. At a certain point in our planning, TJ and I realized we did not both want to do all the same mountains during 52 Peaks. We had planned all the mountains together so the realization that we had slightly different paths to follow was actually a bit painful. The day we came to this crossroads, I had a phone call with a psychic. Speaking to a psychic is not a normal practice for me, but I had been having a rough time and my business partner persuaded me to simply talk to this guy. Honestly at this point, I would have probably done a rain dance naked if it was guaranteed to make me stop hurting. At the very end of the call, the psychic told me he kept seeing an image of me in a monastery. Two hours later, TJ and I have the call where she changed some plans and I realized for the first time on 52 that I could do my own peaks too. TJ had really wanted to do some advanced mountaineering in Peru and I didn’t feel comfortable with my skill level. I saw this conversation as a sign that I didn’t have to do those mountains. Something I had really wanted to do was the El Caminito trail in Spain because it’s one of the 20 most dangerous hikes in the world. I was going to get close to Spain, but not close enough and missing out on the El Caminito when I was so close had been bothering me. I decided I was going to go to Spain. I googled best mountains in Spain and Montserrat was the first mountain on the list. On the way to the top of Montserrat is a 2,000 year old monastery! This should give you goosebumps – it all happened in the same day! I believe the universe gives you signs and when I get a sign that big and flashing, I go full speed. There was no question after that day that I was destined to see Montserrat. I can’t wait to find out if there is a special reason why.
Mountain & Route Facts
Montserrat (Catalan pronunciation: [munsəˈrat]) is a multi-peaked mountain located near the city of Barcelona, in Catalonia, Spain. It is part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range. The main peaks are Sant Jeroni (1,236 m), Montgrós (1,120 m) and Miranda de les Agulles (903 m). The Caribbean island of Montserrat was named by Christopher Columbus after the mountain.
It is well known as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary and which is identified by some with the location of the Holy Grail in Arthurian myth.
“Montserrat” literally means “saw (serrated, like the common handsaw) mountain” in Catalan. It describes its peculiar aspect with multitude of rock formations which are visible from a great distance. The mountain is composed of strikingly pink conglomerate, a form of sedimentary rock. Montserrat is Spain’s first National Park.
Historical and Cultural Information
The Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey is Catalonia’s most important religious retreat and groups of young people from Barcelona and all over Catalonia make overnight hikes at least once in their lives to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. Virgin of Montserrat (the black virgin), is Catalonia’s favourite saint, and is located in the sanctuary of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, next to the Benedictine monastery nestling in the towers and crags of the mountain. The Escolania, Montserrat’s Boys’ Choir, is one of the oldest in Europe, and performs during religious ceremonies and communal prayers in the basilica. The Basilica houses a museum with works of art by many prominent painters and sculptors including works by El Greco, Dalí, Picasso and more. The Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, a publishing house, one of the oldest presses in the world still running, with its first book published in 1499.
Since the 12th century, pilgrims have been drawn to the mountain to venerate the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna (La Moreneta). In 1996, 2.6 million visitors came to Montserrat.
According to Catholic tradition, the statue of the Black Virgin of Montserrat was carved by St. Luke around 50 AD and brought to Spain. It was later hidden from the Moors in a cave (Santa Cova, the Holy Grotto), where it was rediscovered in 880 AD.
According to the legend of the discovery, which was first recorded in the 13th century, the statue was discovered by shepherds. They saw a bright light and heard heavenly music that eventually led them to the grotto and the statue.
The Bishop of Manresa, present at the discovery, suggested that it be moved to Manresa, but the small statue was discovered to be so heavy it could not be lifted. Thus the Virgin had indicated her will to stay on Montserrat to be venerated there.
By the 9th century, there were four chapels on Montserrat, of which only one remains – St. Aciscolo’s, which is in the monastery’s garden. In the 11th century, the abbot-bishop Oliba founded a monastery on the mountain of Montserrat, next to one of the chapels. Many miracles were reported through the intercession of the Virgin Mary at Montserrat.
According to historians, it was then, in the 12th century, that the statue of the Madonna and Child was made. The Madonna statue soon earned widespread fame as numerous miracles were associated with the intercession of the Black Virgin of Montserrat.
Many of the first missionary churches in Mexico, Chile and Peru were dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat and many saints and popes have visited the shrine over the centuries. St. Ignatius Loyola made a pilgrimage to Montserrat after being injured in war, and it was soon after that he wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises.
Due to the great numbers of pilgrims that flocked to Montserrat throughout the Middle Ages, the monastery was enlarged from its original humble size. In 1592, the grand basilica of Montserrat was consecrated.
In the late 18th century, almost the entire sanctuary was destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion. But due to the widespread devotion to the shrine, it was soon restored.
In 1881, Montserrat’s Black Madonna was crowned in accordance with Canon Law and proclaimed patron saint of Catalonia by Pope Leo XIII.