Pilgrim’s Guide To Spain. How To Travel To Montserrat Monastery
Santa Maria de Montserrat Benedictine Abbey on Montserrat mountain is the holiest place for Catholics of Spain’s Catalonia region and a place of pilgrimage for people from around the world.
History Of Montserrat Monastery
Founded in the 11th century the monastery is known for the the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat (also called La Moreneta) which is venerated here. Devotion to the statue dates back to the late 9th century when the first image of Our Lady of Montserrat was found in a cave on Montserrat mountain. There is also a legend that one Saturday evening in the year 880 a few shepherd boys saw a bright light coming from the sky with a beautiful music playing at the same time. A week later these same boys and their parents saw the same vision in the same place again. For the next four Saturdays the boys, their parents and the Rector of Olesa were able to see the vision. Soon after that pilgrimages to the site and reports of miracles started.
The statue (sculpted in the late 12th century) shows Mary holding the globe in her right hand and her left hand on the shoulder of Child Jesus while He is giving a blessing with his little right hand.
St. Ignatius of Loyola made a pilgrimage to the monastery in 1522 (on his way to the Holy Land) and spent a night praying in front of the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat. That same night he hung up his sword and dagger which symbolized the end of Ignatius’ old life and the beginning of the new one. The monastery was destroyed by the French army 1811-1812 and rebuilding work started on 1858. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed Our Lady of Montserrat as a Patron Saint of Catalonia in 1881 and crowned the statue. Pope John Paul II visited Montserrat Monastery in 1982.
What To See And Do In Montserrat
Pilgrims and tourists from all over the world visit the monastery today. Basilica with the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat is at the heart of the Sanctuary. It is open from 7.30am to 8pm daily. The main Mass is celebrated at 11am daily. Confessions are heard for a few hours every day. Pilgrims can walk right up to the statue of Our Lady which is placed above the main altar.
The access to the statue is through a special door outside of basilica which can be found on the right of the main entrance into Basilica (there is usually a line of people waiting near that door). Access to the statue is not allowed before and during Mass.
Pilgrims can also walk and pray the Stations of the Cross that start behind the Fountain of the Portal (Font del Portal) with beautiful views of the monastery and the mountains.
The Holy Cave with a chapel (where the legend says that the first image of Our Lady of Montserrat was found) is approximately one mile away from the Basilica. The route to the Cave starts near the cable car station and has on its way fifteen sculptural compositions representing fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary. Gaudi was one of a few famous artists that participated in making these sculptures.
There are fifteen remaining hermitages on Montserrat mountain (in some cases only walls of the old hermitages). Access to some of the hermitages can be difficult as they are located in remote areas of the mountain. Hermitage of Sant Joan which is located way above the Sanctuary with its magnificent mountain scenery can be easily reached from the Sanctuary area by funicular rail line called Sant Joan.
Montserrat Monastery is also famous for its boys’ choir which is among the oldest ones in Europe dating back to 14th century. Choir members receive high quality musical, human and intellectual education at Montserrat; perform internationally and in the Basilica 6 days a week: Monday-Friday Salve and Virolai at 1pm; Monday-Thursday Vespers, Salve Montserratina and Polyphonic Motet at 6.45pm; the choir does not sing on Saturdays; Sundays and religious holidays: Salve and Virolai at noon and Vespers, Salve Montserratina and Polyphonic Motet at 6.45pm.
More information about the monastery can be found its official website here.
How To Travel To Montserrat Monastery
Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona is located less than 40 miles away from Montserrat therefore the easiest way to reach Montserrat is from Barcelona. The two places are connected by trains that run hourly. You will first need to take a train from Barcelona to Montserrat mountain and then a cable car or a rack railway train up to the monastery.
Trains depart from Barcelona’s Placa d‘Espanya train station which is located near the metro station Espanya (served by a few metro lines). At the train station you will see a lot of signs “to Montserrat”. Follow these signs until you reach the ticket booth. You will be asked whether you want to take a cable car or a rack railway up to the monastery. The ticket will cost less than 30 euros and include round-trip train and cable car/rack railway costs. After buying the tickets you can ask the ticket salesperson how to find your train to Montserrat if you feel you may have difficulty with finding your train in an unknown station. Tickets can also be purchased from some ticket machines in the train station and in Barcelona’s metro stations.
From Placa d’Espanya train station you will take R5 train (Barcelona-Manresa). You will need to get off the train at Monistrol de Montserrat station if you chose rack railway or at Montserrat Aeri station if you chose the cable car. Rack railway and cable car stations will be located near the train station after you get off the train. Rack railway train and cable car services run every 15-20 minutes.
Start your trip to Montserrat as early as possible to avoid crowds of people later and to be on time for the Monastery’s main Mass at 11am. The first train departs from Barcelona at 8.36am and runs once per hour. On your way back to Barcelona don’t miss the last cable car or the last rack railway train – check their return schedules when you arrive in Montserrat in the morning and plan your day accordingly.
There are a few restaurants and gift shops near the Basilica as well as a few hotels for those who would like to spend more than one day in this wonderful place.