40 minutes far from Barcelona, a peculiar mountain range emerges from the land. Its outline, shaped by big rocks resembling huge needles eroded and smoothed by the winds along millenniums has become a symbol of Catalan geography. But not only this mountain is patrimony of the nature of Catalonia, but it is also a cultural landmark of the country carved out through history and legend.
Legend states that in 880, a group of young shepherds observed a great light descend from heaven and settle right up the mountain of Montserrat. This heartbreaking vision was continually repeated the following weeks. The parents of the children also saw it and when the rector of the nearby village was notified, the vision was repeated and he himself could also see it. There are documents that refer to this legend dating back from 1239, which denotes that Montserrat was place of pilgrimage since very long ago.
The vision of this magical phenomena is a legend, but what is fact is that an icon of a Madonna with her son sitting on her lap was found in a small cave in Montserrat. Legend again tells that people tried to move it to the village, but it was so terribly heavy that the mission was impossible to accomplish. It was decided to leave the icon there and build a sanctuary to worship it. The place became a place of pilgrimage. This small sanctuary is what it’s nowadays known as the Holy Cave and is one of the highlights of the visit to Montserrat.
La Moreneta – The Black Madonna
The icon found on the Holy Cave was a small wooden statue from the Romanesque period. The Madonna is seated with her son on her lap and holding a ball with her right hand. But what is particular of this image of the Madonna and her son is that they are black. Scientific studies have proven that the black color of their skin was the result of the darkening of the paint caused by smoke and incense, but the Madonna remains black as this special treat has become characteristic and even gives name to the Virgin: la Moreneta (the little brunette). In the XIX century, the Virgin of Montserrat was proclaimed Saint of Catalonia and, nowadays, the statue of the Saint, proven by scientists to be original from the XII century, is placed on a silver altarpiece at the Basilica of Montserrat.
The Basilica and the Moreneta are visited by thousands of people every year, either pilgrims or tourists, who worship the Madonna and kiss the ball the Virgin is holding as a sign of adoration and devotion.
Adoring the Virgin is one of the reasons why people visit Montserrat, but the mountain and the Basilica facilities offer many other activities to the visitors which make Montserrat a cultural and leisure center of Catalonia. We will talk about all you can do in Montserrat in our next post.