If you are planning to visit Montserrat, the most popular tour, and therefore the most crowded, is the one that covers the area of the monastery, basilica and surroundings.
This guide aims to focus on the most curious, unknown and often controversial aspects that often go unnoticed by the 2.5 million people who visit this sanctuary annually.
The tourist / ecclesiastical complex is located at 720 meters (2,362 Ft) above sea level and is made up of: the Monastery of Santa María de Montserrat, the Basilica, the choir, the museum and other facilities such as restaurants, the tourist office, the cells of Abad Marcet, etc …
Plaza Santa Maria and Gothic Cloister
It is the main square from which you can access the enclosure formed by the monastery and the basilica, designed by the modernist architect J. Puig i Cadafalch.
On the right, stands out the viewpoint with five arches where we can find representations of different founding saints such as Santa Teresa de Jesús or Juan Bosco.
On the left side, we see the Gothic cloister from 1,476 whose last restoration was carried out in 1955.
In the cloister there are several sculptural elements that attract our attention: many columns are adorned with plant and animal motifs, in some points we find the symbol of Montserrat (a mountain and a saw) supported by angels, we also see fantastic anthropomorphic figures, formed of human head and winged dragon body, there is also a representation of a strange ritual dance.
The Museum of Montserrat is a highly recommended visit and surprisingly “unknown” to the general public. Above all, taking into account the importance of some of its pieces.
Hours and prices at: http://www.museudemontserrat.com/en/visit/-/3
Free admission on 27 April (Montserrat’s day)
The Museum of Montserrat has 5 interesting collections:
Archeology of the Biblical East
Representative objects of cultures as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Cyprus and the holy land. The oldest item in the entire museum is an Egyptian sarcophagus from 2,000 BC.
Liturgical objects made in gold and silver between the XV-XX centuries.
Paintings made between the 13th-18th centuries, here we will find very famous works by some of the most important painters of the period: El Greco, Berruguete, Caravaggio … (The painting “Saint Jerome Penitent” by Caravaggio is in this collection).
Modern Painting and Sculpture
This collection includes very important pieces made by artists such as: Picasso, Dalí, Rusiñol, Casas, Nonell, Renoir, Monet, Degas, Sisley …
This exhibition shows the evolution of the iconography of the Virgin of Montserrat throughout history.
Monastery and Basilica
The Basilica of Montserrat is a microcosm built in different periods and multiple styles, it is Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance … but the best adjective to define its style is: Eclectic.
Inside the Basilica we can see many historical and religious paintings, sculptures and architectural elements, a showing the works that different renowned artists have contributed to this unique artwork.
It is easy to find information about each of the elements that adorn the basilica, sometimes we will find their description in situ, in others it will be enough with a small guide that can be provided at the tourist office.
That is why here, we will not focus on that vision of the historical or religious elements in the most orthodox sense.
Instead, we will focus on the enigmatic, curious, and sometimes esoteric issues that have permeated the mysterious Montserrat for centuries and given it the nickname “Magic Mountain”.
Visiting hours of the Basilica:
Every day from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (It is recommended to visit it on non-festive dates to avoid crowds)
Accessing from the “Plaza de Santa María”, the first thing we find is the atrium of “Abad Arguerich”, an impressive interior courtyard dominated by the facade of the Basilica that shows the 12 apostles with Jesus in the center.
You can guess who is who, because they are represented with some characteristic element of his life or death, such as, for example, Saint Bartholomew who appears with the knife with which he was skinned or Saint Andrew holding an X-shaped cross where, of course, he was crucified.
Jesus Christ is in the center holding a large cross and raising his right hand blessing.
Upon entering the Atrium, we will see on the left, an iron sculpture of Saint Benedict which marks the entrance to the “forbidden” area for visitors.
It is the part of the Monastery where the Benedictine monks live and where we can also find the exceptional library that has more than 300,000 volumes, 1,500 manuscripts, 500 ancient maps, 400 incunabula, more than 200 Egyptian papyri… of incalculable value to which only students can access.
There is an Online Version of the great Montserrat Library.
The walls on the right shows representations of the sanctuaries that, together with Montserrat, make up the “Marian route” (del Pilar, Torreciudad, Lourdes and Meritxell).
At the left ones, there is represented a summary of the history of Montserrat.
The black and white marble floor was designed by Josep Obiols and Father Benet Martínez, inspired by the floor of the Capitol of Rome (by Michelangelo) which, by the way, was inspired by the omphalos of Delphi.
Omphalos means navel and, according to Greek mythology, it would be the stone left by Zeus in the navel of the world. The Greek historian Pausanias (II century) wrote that the Omphalos is the symbol of the cosmic center where communication is created between the world of men, the dead and the gods.
The omphalos of Delphi was covered with images of gorgonians, the most famous of these mythological creatures is Medusa (Jellyfish) and as can be seen in the central drawing of the atrium pavement there are 4 large jellyfish, we see also many allusions to marine animals, especially fish.
The fish for Christians symbolizes Jesus, but also the divine energy, a kind of manna that emanates and feeds the faithful. It seems as if the circle represents an energy emanating from the center.
The Latin text that surrounds the circle is said to refer to baptism, the origin of which is found in an epitaph by Abercio (S.II) and its message is very cryptic. The outer circle says:
Electae civitatis cives qvi ad paradisvm redire cvpitis discipvli manete pastoris casti piscis qvem prehendit virgo casta deditque filiis perpetvo edendvmAbercio
Citizens of the chosen city, who yearn to return to paradise, keep being always disciples of the Holy Shepherd, of the fish, that the chaste virgin took and gave so that her children may eat it perpetually.
The outer circle says
Christus capvt corporis eclesiae toto orbe diffusaeaΩ
Christ, head of the body of the church spread throughout the world.
The most observant will notice that the circle looks like a circular zodiac.
Also, words like Virgo and Pisces (Virgin and Fish) are placed at the same distance from each other as these signs in the circular zodiac.
The cross formed by the 4 jellyfish inside the circle also reminds this type of zodiac and to reinforce this idea, you only have to notice that in the design, the number 12 appears everywhere.
Continuing with the most esoteric vision, the number 12 is very important for Masons, it represents perfection and although we cannot confirm that Josep Obiols was a Mason, we can affirm that he belonged to the “Cercle artístic de Sant Lluc” to which artists also belonged like Gaudí, Miró or Josep Llimona.
He also belonged to the “Courbet group”. Gustave Courbet was a realist painter whose paintings allude to the Masonic tradition.
It is common to see people sitting in the central circle in the lotus position or just standing with their arms extended.
There are those who do not hesitate to position themselves with a pendulum in hand, checking the energy, even many people try to bend down their body to the maximum with their feet together. It is said that at this point it is possible to reach an inclination impossible anywhere else.
The Benedictines are said to be “the guardians of the hell gates” and is interpreted by many as “the guardians of the portals to other worlds or dimensional portals.”
As always, there is an “orthodox” interpretation of the Basilica’s Atrium Pavement.
The number 12 present throughout the design would refer to the 12 apostles.
The circle with the cross could refer to the Benedictine medal and the “jellyfish” would be the 4 fountains of paradise.
Perhaps it is just that, perhaps a mixture of all, but what can be affirmed with certainty is that the Atrium of the basilica has an admirable geometric beauty that is also reminiscent of “the flower of life” and constitutes one of the most visited points on earth.
Inside the Basílica
Crucifix of Montserrat
The basilica is presided by an ivory sculpture representing the crucified Christ, it is known by the name of the “crucifix of Montserrat” and its authorship is attributed to Michelangelo.
The work, 58.5 cm high (23 Inches), would have been sculpted by the Florentine genius between the years 1496-1,498
Organ of Montserrat
On the left, as is the tradition in many Catalan churches, you can admire the impressive organ, inaugurated in 2010 it is one of the largest in Europe.
It has 4,242 pipes, it is very big 12.5m (41 Ft.) height and a width of 5.5m (18Ft.) with a weight of 12,000 kg (25,500 Lb) and was built by the company Blancafort located in Collbató after 22,000 hours of painstaking work.
In order to enjoy its magical sound and the perfect acoustics of the basilica, it is best to attend the FIOM “Montserrat International Organ Festival” which takes place on several Saturdays depending on the edition, between June and August.
At FIOM fest, you can see the best organists of the world, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by orchestra or choirs.
The Entrance to the festival is free and the concerts usually start at 9pm..
Escolanía de Montserrat (Montserrat’s Choir)
The “Escolanía de Montserrat” is the oldest music school in the world, the first written references date back to 1223, it is a children’s choir famous for the high musical level of its components.
For both the more religious and those who are not, listening to the “Virolai” (Montserrat annthem) sung by this choir in the context of the Montserrat basilica is a strongly recommended sound experience.
The children of the choir live all year round in Montserrat and it is possible to see them sing the “Salve” and the “Virolai” from Monday to Friday at 1:00 p.m. and “Visperas”, the “Salve Montserratina” and the “Motete polifónico” at 6:45 p.m.
Sundays and holidays (they do not perform on Saturdays) the choir’s hours are: at 12 noon in the morning and at 6:45 pm in the afternoon.
During July and the Christmas holidays it is not possible to see their performances. These hours may vary depending on special religious celebrations or the school calendar of the children in the choir.
La Moreneta (The Black Virgin)
Moreneta’schamber schedule: Every day from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 12:00 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. (it is recommended to visit on working days, otherwise the queue can be very long)
The Legend says that back in the year 880 some shepherds guided by a strong light, found the woodcarving of “La Mare de Déu de Montserrat” in a cave, when the bishop heard the news, he wanted to take the image to the city of Manresa but The figure weighed so much so the transfer was impossible, so they interpreted that the Virgin’s will was to stay where they had found her, so the bishop ordered the construction of the hermitage of “Santa María”, which was the origin of the current monastery.
“Moreneta” means something like “Little-Tanned-Lady” is the affectionate name by which “la Mare de Déu de Montserrat” is known, for some it is a religious and identity symbol, patron saint of Catalonia and icon of the mountain.
For others, it is much more than that, it is common in many houses in the area to find images, sculptures and figurines of the Virgin, some of them belong to people who are not believers at all, when asked about it, the answer is always not very concise : “I’m an atheist but the Moreneta …” once again, everything related to Montserrat radiates something intangible that is difficult to explain in words.
The current 95cm (37 Inches) high Romanesque woodcarving that is venerated in the basilica dates from the 12th century and is made of poplar and beech wood.
It shows a woman enthroned with her son on her lap, both crowned and dark-skinned in gold attire, the mother holds a sphere (orb) in her right hand, the son raises his hand in blessing and holds a pinecone in the left.
Like other black virgins, the Moreneta represents Isis with her son Horus.
The name Isis is the Greek translation of Ast which means “throne” but the most enigmatic of the Moreneta’s carving is undoubtedly the pinecone, in addition to the one the child is holding in his hand, we find two more pinecones at the base of the Virgin.
For some, this initiatory symbol symbolizes the pineal gland, the third eye. When ripe, the pinecone slowly opens and releases its seeds. It is also known for being the symbol with which the houses where the Templars lived were marked.
The pinecone, even being present in many religions and also in the most “special” places, keep beign a symbol with a hidden meaning, only revealed for the initiated.
Ave María’s path
Leaving the chamber of the Moreneta, we find a “corridor” that connects it with the Atrium, it can be visited in reverse if we do not want to make the queue to see the Moreneta.
The chromatic beauty created by the hundreds of colored candles, lamps and ceramics left by the faithful is striking, each of which symbolizes an offering or prayer to the Virgin.
The place, reminiscent of a cave, constitutes a very special space for pilgrims from all latitudes and has a very intimate and mystical atmosphere.
Accommodation in Montserrat
The most common lodging option in Montserrat is the “Abad Marcet cells”, they are small, no-frills apartments, but very correct, in addition, they are located very close to the basilica.
It is also possible to stay in the cells with a dog.
The 3-star Abad Cisneros Hostel is also placed in a very good location, in Plaza Abad Oliva, very close to the basilica and with very good views.
The building was build in the 1563
Camp in Montserrat
Another highly recommended (and very unknown) option is to camp in the “Area Esportiva i d’Acampada de Montserrat”, it is a mini-campsite, a simple and inexpensive camping area often chosen by climbers.
It is located 10 minutes walking from the Sanctuary in the direction of the “creu de Sant Miquel” there is not much comfort, but the experience of camping in the place is worth it and the views from the camping area are spectacular.
You will not find information on the internet about this “campsite”, which makes it more interesting as we do not find crowds of tourists, the majority public are climbers.
The camping area is only open during the summer months, for more information and reservations you can call at (0034) 93 77 77 77.
How to get to the Sanctuary
It is the most traditional way to get to the sanctuary, in the Routes section you will find reviews of the ways to get there from the different villages that surround the mountain
Train and Rack Railway (Cremallera)
From the FGC station in Plaza España (Barcelona) we must take the R-5 Barcelona-Manresa line, this line has a link with the Montserrat Cable Car (Aeri) and Cremallera (Rack Railway) stations.
From Barcelona, take the A-2 speedway to Lleida, then take the exit 582A (Olesa, Montserrat Manresa), take the C-55 road and at Monistrol turn left onto the BP-1121, then follow the indications to the Sanctuary Parking.