The Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine Abbey that lies around 45km northwest of Barcelona. It is located on the Montserrat mountain and hosts the Virgin of Montserrat. It is home to the Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, one of the oldest publishing houses and printing presses in the world that is still running – its first book was published in 1499. The Montserrat monastery is also one of Catalonia’s biggest tourist attractions due in part both to its natural beauty, it architecture, and its historical significance.
Even the view while still approaching the 1236m high mountain is breathtaking. Once you ascend the mountain, however, the view is even more extraordinary as you can see far into the beautiful Catalan landscape. The monastery itself is wholly built into the mountain, and in spite of its gorgeous traditional architecture the raw beauty of the mountain almost completely eclipses the structure of the monastery.
Nevertheless, many of the visitors to the monastery come to see one thing and one thing only – the statue of the Black Madonna, patron saint of Catalonia who sits on the 12th century throne on the high altar of the monastery basilica. Gregorian chants are sung daily by 50 choir boys belonging to the Escolania, the Montserrat Boys’Choir, to honor the Madonna. Most Barcelonians also make an attempt to hike the mountain at least once in their lives in order to see sun rise from beyond the heights of the Montserrat. On a high clear day while looking out from Sant Joan you can see almost all of Catalonia and even the island of Mallorca in the distance.
In the nearby Montserrat Monastery museum, you can see the work of famous artists like Dali, El Greco, Giordano, and even Monet, in addition to historical church exhibits. You can also learn about the tragic history of the monastery. During the Spanish Civil War, 22 monks of the Montserrat Abbey were killed. During Franco’s rule, it was seen as a refuge for scholars, artists, politicians, and all other forms of political escapees. In fact, Franco’s men could often be found waiting a few miles down the road waiting for people wanted by the political regime. In 1970, the monastery was the location of a successful sit-in protest against the death sentences awarded 16 Basque activists.
As a result, the Montserrat is one of the most important symbols of Catalan heritage, and a must see for any visitor to Barcelona.