Santa Maria Monastery of Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain

Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine monastery located on the mountain of Montserrat, in the municipality of Monistrol de Montserrat (el Bages), at an altitude of 720 m above sea level. It is a symbol for Catalonia and has become a pilgrimage point for believers and a must-see for tourists. The current abbot is Josep Maria Soler i Canals.

The monastic complex, together with the dependencies and the annexed services, conforms a small population center that, according to the census of 2006, had 68 inhabitants.

The origin of the monastery is uncertain, but dates back to 880. It is known that, around 1011, a monk from the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll arrived at the mountain to take charge of the monastery of Santa Cecilia, so the monastery was placed under the command of Abbot Oliba, of Ripoll. Santa Cecilia did not accept this new situation and Oliba decided to found the monastery of Santa Maria in the place where there was an old hermitage of the same name. From 1082, Santa Maria became its own abbot and ceased to depend on that of Ripoll.

This hermitage had become the most important of all those on the mountain, thanks to the image of the Virgin, who had been worshiping it since 880. The monastery soon became a sanctuary, which benefited him as donations and alms allowed it to grow steadily. At the end of the 12th century, the regent abbot requested that the community of monks be extended to twelve, the minimum required for it to be considered an abbey.

The following century was the beginning of the struggle for Montserrat to gain its independence from the monastery of Ripoll. During the Schism of the West, the priory of Montserrat was faithful to the Pope of Rome, although the monastery of Ripoll supported Benedict XIII of Avignon. King Martí l’Humà advised Benedict XIII to convert Montserrat from a priory to an abbey, and to set as its first abbot Marc de Villalba, who had been in Ripoll since 1408. On March 10 of 1409, a papal bull of Benedict XIII created the abbey of Montserrat. However, Ripoll continued to have certain privileges over Montserrat. With tenacity, his first abbot obtained a bull of Pope Eugene IV, on March 11, 1431, which definitively freed Montserrat from all bondage.

In 1493, Montserrat again lost its autonomy. King Ferdinand the Catholic sent fourteen monks from Valladolid to the monastery, and Montserrat became dependent on the congregation in this Castilian city. In the following centuries, the Catalan and Castilian abbots were succeeded, as well as the non-resident commander abbots, notably Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, future Pope Julius II. In the same year 1493, a friar of the order of the lows, former hermit of Montserrat, Bernat de Boïl, accompanied Christopher Columbus on one of his trips to America, which led to the expansion of the cult of Our Lady of Montserrat on this continent.

The century XIX was especially tragic for Montserrat: was burned twice by the troops of Napoleon in January 1809, when the general Desveaux, with 800 men, came to the monastery, but pursued by subjecting the French detachment was destroyed, and as of July 25 of 1811 when they took the forces of marshal Suchet, and 1812. In 1835, he was subjected to the foreclosure following Mendizábal’s confiscation, was sacked and set afire, and many of his treasures were lost.

The exclaustration was short lived and in 1844 life was restored to the monastery. The congregation of Valladolid had disappeared, so Montserrat regained its ecclesiastical independence. From 1858, under the guidance of Abbot Muntadas, the entire building had to be restored, since there were only walls left. Since 1862, the Montserrat community has belonged to the Congregation of Subiaco (today Congregation of Subiaco – Montecassino) of the Order of San Benet, of which it is one of the main monasteries.

During the Franco regime, after a period close to the new regime, the monastery took on a Catalanist attitude, starting with the enthronement celebrations of 1947, and with Abbot Aureli M. Escarré, and became a nucleus of anti-Franco resistance..

Since then, the monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat has continued to grow, and at the moment (2008) contains one of the best libraries in the country, with almost 300,000 volumes and 400 incunabula. The current congregation is composed of seventy-six monks, spread between Montserrat, the Miracle, and Cuixà. In addition, the monastery contains the children who make up the Escolania de Montserrat, considered the oldest singing school in Europe, since it was founded in the 13th century.

Among many other awards in recognition of his religious and cultural work, in 1983 he was awarded the Creu de Sant Jordi, and in 1997, the Gold Medal of the Generalitat de Catalunya.

On April 15, 2016, the monk of Montserrat Manel Nin was consecrated as Exarch of the Byzantine rite Greek Catholics.

The whole of the buildings of the monastery of Montserrat are protected as a cultural asset of local interest. Mainly, they are two blocks of buildings: on the one hand, the basilica with the monastic rooms, and on the other, the buildings designed to serve the pilgrims and visitors. Other elements that make up the complex are the chapels that surround the central complex, the hermitages, the stations of the Viacrucis and the Mysteries, the monumental statues, the monuments to illustrious Catalans and the Marian bottoms.

The ark
The basilica of Montserrat is a single nave, built in the 16th century with a still Gothic structure. The pilasters, balustrades and ornamentation, however, respond to Renaissance models. Of the old Romanesque complex, only one portal, which is now located, entering the church, is at the beginning of the right side of the cloister built in the atrium of the basilica. It is made up of five degrading archivolts, four of which rest on columns from an impost (partly restored); the last impost protects the entire portal and is partially destroyed. The iconography found in the sculptural decoration opposes the Old and New Testaments: Samson with the lions and Adam and Eve, on the one hand, and scenes of the Virgin Mary and the life of Jesus, on the other. There is also a variety of animals and monsters, and plant decoration. On the eardrum there is an image of the Virgin from a later period.

After the fire of 1808, only the nave was left, and all the decoration and works of art were lost. It was completely restored in the 19th century by Puig i Cadafalch, with a mottled ornamentation, between an eclectic and a neo-Byzantine style, with modernist elements that altered the original line of the basilica. The walls and vault were covered with paintings, stucco arches, paintings and sculptures by late 19th and early 20th century authors such as Josep Llimona and Alexandre de Riquer (author of the great paintings of the presbytery) were added. around the shrine).

There are several chapels around this single nave. The nave is supported by central columns, with wooden carvings by Josep Llimona. On the head is the main altar and the choir. Above the main altar hangs a lamp with an ivory crucifix of great artistic value; is a Florentine work of the first Renaissance and arrived at the monastery in 1920, coming from Rome. It has been attributed to Lorenzo Ghiberti and a recent study has been published that attributes it to a young Michelangelo.

The headboard area, which includes the dressing room, was designed in a neo-Romanesque style with three apses; the central one is profusely decorated with elements typical of 11th- century Romanesque architecture (blind arches, Lombardy bands and semicircular windows) and the 12th century (rosettes). This work was executed by Francisco de Paula del Villar, and in its creation was collaborated by Antoni Gaudí.

The facade of the basilica of Montserrat has a stone bottom carved in ashlars, with the sculptural decoration superimposed, as well as silversque facades like the one of the University of Salamanca. The bottom is horizontal and divided into three vertical stripes. On each strip a door is opened with a sculptured eardrum and the strips are separated by Corinthian columns that support an entablature.; these columns are at a more advanced level than the doors, thus creating an undulating rhythm. The upper part of the facade is arranged vertically and does not occupy the full width of the facade, as in the lower part, but in the center. Here, first, are the figures of Jesus with the twelve apostles with individual canopies; above it is a large rose window, flanked by columns and reliefs, and on a higher level a clock. Finally, there is a cross. The entire facade, except for the background, which can be seen on either side of the upper part, is profusely decorated with reliefs, columns of different types, entablatures, vases and pinnacles.

The façade of the monastery of Montserrat overlooks Plaça de Santa Maria, the center of the whole of Montserrat, around which the main buildings (monastery, library, gothic cloister, museum, pilgrims’ offices) are distributed. The façade contributes to the monumental nature of the complex and centers the axis of the urban space with a rectangular, horizontal body that reproduces on the first floor the three semicircular arches that at the bottom give access to the atrium. On one side stands a square tower with square windows on each floor, except at the top, where large semicircular arch openings open. The façade is complemented by three reliefs by the sculptor Rebulldepicting Saint Benedict, the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary by Pope Pius XII and Saint George.

Of the old Gothic cloister, only two wings remain, which overlook the Plaza de Santa Maria. They are formed by two floors of galleries separated by a space framed by two ledges where small rosettes were opened. The first level is made up of pointed arches supported by figured capitals and stylized columns, grouped into four beams, which rest on a broken base only to allow access to the gallery’s interior in two places, near the angle. which form the two wings. The capitals represent subjects of the profane life, as well as the shields of Montserrat and the one of the construction abbot. The second floor consists of galleries of lowered semicircular arches supported by fine columns.

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Outside are distributed several squares that serve to sort the group of buildings in the steep orography of the mountain. Santa Maria Square is the main one and gives access to the monastery; it is also the work of Puig i Cadafalch. From the square you can see the new facade of the monastery, built by Francesc Folguera with mountain stone. To the left you can see the remains of the old Gothic cloister.

The Abbey Oliba Square houses the buildings used to house pilgrims and tourists, with the so-called cells and a three-star hotel. The square is presided over by a bronze statue dedicated to the founder of the monastery, a 1933 work by the sculptor Manuel Xuclà.

Inside the basilica of Montserrat there are different sculptural elements, such as the tomb of Bernat de Vilamarí. It is a marble funeral monument that has, in the central body, the funeral vessel with the cover decorated with the lying figure of the deceased reclining on a pillow. It houses a semicircular arch with a bas-relief depicting the Virgin with the Infant and two angels on each side. Under the grave, separated by columns, are three female figures. Two large solid pillars flank this central body and in each are two pairs of niches that house female figures (saints with their attributes). The whole set is crowned by the figure of God flanked by two angels. All decorative and architectural elements are typical of 16th-century Renaissance sculpture.

The tomb of Don Juan de Aragon is a funeral complex made of Neapolitan marble that represents the figure of the deceased in the center of the composition, kneeling, hands together and with his knightly weapons, placed on his own grave.. This one is supported by two Atlanteans who simultaneously hold the family coat of arms. The whole set is framed by a semicircular arch that generates a short barrel vault supported by two Solomon columns with Corinthian capitals and two pillars with plant ornamentation resting on a baseboard decorated with a followed garland and angels. Between the capitals and the starting of the arc there is a frieze with cornices full of vegetal decoration. The arch generates the vault decorated with panels that mimic the marquetry, and houses the theme of the Epiphany.

Located inside the monastery church, in the room, there is the image of Our Lady of Montserrat. It is a Romanesque sculpture showing the Virgin holding the baby Jesus on her lap; both are crowned. The right hand of the Virgin carries the ball and with the left holds the child, who blesses with the right hand and with the other holds the pineapple. The image is 95 centimeters high by 35 centimeters wide. It is made of polychrome wood. “La Moreneta” is one of the most well-known and revered black virgins. The staircase is accessed by a staircase richly decorated with sculptures by Enric Monjo, mosaics and paintings by Josep Obiols.. The throne of Our Lady is a remarkable piece of silverware. At the back of the throne room is the so-called circular cabin, whose vault is decorated with paintings by Joan Llimona.

The new Montserrat Organ, inaugurated in 2010, is placed beneath the transept, on the left side of the basilica, where the choirs and celebrants leave, and replaces the old 1958 organ, which continues to be located on the the back of the basilica.

Cloisters and refectory
The cloister of the monastery is the work of the architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch. It is two stories supported by stone columns. The lower floor communicates with the garden and has a fountain in the central part. Ancient pieces, some from the 10th century, can be seen on the cloister walls. The very large garden includes the Romanesque chapel of Sant Iscle and Santa Victoria, access to the novitiate and choir buildings and various sculptures, such as the marble of the Good Shepherd by Manolo Hugué or some of the sculptures by Josep de Sant Benedict did in the eighteenth century for the bell tower of the monastery, and they never settled there.

The refectory dates from the 17th century and was renovated in 1925 by Puig i Cadafalch. The central part houses a mosaic depicting the Christ of Sant Climent de Taüll, while on the opposite side you can see a triptych with scenes from the life of Saint Benedict, painted by Josep Obiols. The monastery has an important museum divided into three sections: the prehistoric section, in which several archeological finds are exposed from the same mountain of Montserrat; the museum of the Bible East, with archeological materials related to the Bible, and the art gallery, with works from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Among the paintings in the museum are works by Greco, Caravaggio, Dalí and Picasso.

The Virgin of Montserrat
According to legend, the first image of the Virgin of Montserrat was found by a shepherd boy in a cave in 880, after seeing a light on the mountain. When the bishop heard the news, he tried to move the image to Manresa, but could not do so because the statue was too heavy. The bishop interpreted it as the desire of the Virgin to remain in the place where he had been found, and ordered that the chapel of Santa Maria be built, which is the origin of the current monastery. The first historical news that has of the existence of the stature of the Virgin of Montserrat is of the year 1327, when it is mentioned in the “Red Book” of the abbey. In the 16th century, the carving passed from the old chapel to the basilica. In 1691, it was saved from the fire burning the high altar and was also protected and hidden during the French invasion in 1809. Throughout the nineteenth century, the image was displaced away from the monastery following the vicissitudes. policies of this century.

The Virgin Mary who is venerated today is a cut Romance of the twelfth century, wood of poplar. It represents the Virgin with the infant sitting on her lap and is about 95 centimeters tall. In his right hand he holds a sphere that symbolizes the universe; the infant Jesus has his right hand raised in a sign of blessing, while on the left he has a pineapple. Except for the face and hands of Mary and the infant Jesus, the image is painted gold. The Virgin, on the other hand, is black, which has earned her the popular nickname Moreneta. The blackening of the carving is thought to be due to the candle smoke which for centuries has been burning on his feet as a sign of veneration. The, Pope Leo XIII officially declared Our Lady of Montserrat patroness of Catalonia. He was also granted the privilege of having his own mass and craft. Its festival is celebrated 27 of April.

The bells
The abbey of Montserrat has two bell towers, the first being the so-called “abbot’s tower”, built on the right side of the main facade of the building, a tall and very imposing tower that does not have a bell. At the rear of the facade (around the atrium) is the bell tower of Santa Caterina, with an octagonal floor plan, which has a total of twelve bells, ten for liturgical use and two for hourly use.

The harmonic set was designed by Father Gregory Mª Estrada, a total of ten tuned bells in the tone of Fa Major, eight of which were manufactured in the 50’s of the 20th century. The set was completed in 2005 with the addition of the two remaining bells offered by the Vilaseca – Roca family.

The eight minor bells are hung on the bell tower windows and are almost invisible from the outside. The two majors are in a metal structure on the same tower. The latter are the second and sixth largest in Catalonia.

Above the tower are also the hourly bells. The whole set is perfectly audible from anywhere in the venue.

Leave the car at the picnic area to the right leaving Monistrol de Montserrat, near the football field. We take the path that climbs along the margin, ignore the turning to the right and we arrive at the Camí de les Aigües (GR 5). We turn left and follow the track to the east, ignoring the detours that we will find. The first rises to the right to a water reserve, the second goes down to the left (towards Monistrol) and the third, signposted, is the shortcut to the Three Quarters (GR 96). We pass the Pla de Sant Bernat and continue to rise above the river Llobregat. We ignore a turning on the left that goes down to the Gomis Colonyand go up the stairs to the junction with the GR 96, very close to the Coll de Baranes. The path follows a water pipe and is losing its slope until it joins the Camino de la Santa Cova. We turn right and go up the wide stairs to the monastery. We go back the same way or, if we prefer, we go down with the air or the zip. In Coll de Baranes we have the option to go down the shortcut of the Three Quarts.

Paths of access to the monastery
Frequently for a few years, the accesses to the Monastery are cut off due to heavy rainfall or fire.

Wildfire near the site in 1986.
Forest fire of July 4 and 5, 1994 that affected the whole massif.
Rainfall in December 1995. They damaged the road to Cova Santa and denied the landing of Santa Maria Square.
Rainfall from June 10, 2000 in Montserrat. Cut off access roads and cable cars. Even the exterior of the Monastery was damaged. There were floods and a bridge break. In the four surrounding counties, five were killed. Old musical instruments and scores were damaged.
Rainfall from October 10, 2010 in Montserrat. Cut off one of the accesses to the Monastery.
Wet November 15, 2018. The C-58 and the road to Can Maçana in the direction of the Monastery of Montserrat also had to be cut for landslides; and to the BP-1103 and the BP-1121 an alternative step was taken for the fall of rocks. The Montserrat Rack was also affected by a landslide.

All these episodes have meant that for years the Department of the Interior has developed protocols for action in the area against certain risks such as rains.

Last abbots of Montserrat
From 1858 until today, the abbots of Montserrat have been

Miquel Muntadas (1858-1885)
Josep Deàs (1885-1913)
Antoni Maria Marcet (1913-1946)
Aureli Maria Escarré (1946-1966)
Gabriel Maria Brasó i Tulla, assistant abbot (1961-1966)
Cassia Maria Just (1966-1989)
Sebastian Bardolet (1989-2000)
Josep Maria Soler (2000 -…)