Archive for September 10, 2006

Montserrat, Some Background

Just a note before you read this post. Much of the material was copied from many different sites and slightly modified to flow. I do not claim authorship to any of it. The Benedictines have a very informative website here. Enjoy………..

Montserrat has an interesting beginning that reaches back to Paleolithic times. The most important prehistory vestiges in Montserrat have been found in the “Cova Gran” and the “Cova Freda.” Pottery dating back to early Neolithic times was found for the first time in Catalonia in these caves. This pottery was often decorated with patterns made with shells. This Montserrat pottery is known as “Cardial” Pottery.

Somewhere around 880 AD, some shepherd children had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The visions occurred over the next few weeks in the same location, near a cave on Montserrat Mountain. The village priest and others witnessed them. When the religious elders of the community explored this cave they found an image of the Virgin Mary.

According to legend, the image was carved by St. Luke and brought to Spain by St. Peter. During the Moorish occupation, the image was hidden in a cave near Montserrat and was rediscovered by the elders. From that moment on the cave became a holy sanctuary for the Virgin of Montserrat and one of the most popular religious sites in Spain.

Religious activity increased significantly and by the end of the 9th century, four chapels had been built in the mountain: St. Mary’s, St. Acisclo’s, St. Peter’s and St. Martin’s. Nowadays, only St. Acisclo’s remains and it is situated in the garden of the Monastery. Legend has it that the mountain, also called Monsalvat, was also thought to have been the site of the castle of the Holy Grail.

In 1125, Oliba, Abbot of Ripoll and Bishop of Vic, founded the Montserrat Monastery next to St. Mary’s chapel, which was to soon become a Romanic style sanctuary. The Benedictine monastery has become one of the greatest religious shrines of Spain. Through songs, Alfonso X, popularized the appearances of the Virgin and numerous pilgrims begin to arrive. The followers of the Virgin of Montserrat, popularly known as “La Moreneta” because of the dark material of which she is sculpted, is the most popular following in Catalunya. Towards the end of the century a new image of the Holy Mother of God was sculpted: it is one of the jewels of Catalan Romanic and is visited by thousands. In addition, Bernat Boïl, a former Montserrat hermit, went with Christopher Columbus to America marking the start of the cult of the Virgin of Montserrat in America.

The abbey has also become world famous for its boy’s choir and school of music and hails back to 1223 making the school the oldest in Europe.

In 1522, Saint Ignatius of Loyola offered his knight’s sword to the image of the Virgin of Montserrat, gave up his militaristic life and dressed in sackcloth like any other pilgrim.

The present church of Montserrat was consecrated in 1592 by the Bishop of Vic, Pedro Jaime, on the 2nd of February, in the presence of the Bishops of Urgell, Girona and Elna.

Napoleon’s army destroyed Montserrat in 1811. The monks hid the image of the Virgin, saving it from being destroyed.

Montserrat is also a very powerful symbol for the Catalan people and was notorious during the Franco regime for being a stronghold of Catalan culture and language. In direct defiance of Franco’s anti-Catalan laws, the monks of Montserrat continued celebrating marriages and baptisms in Catalan after the Civil War. The monastery became a refuge for the many Catalan nationalists that remained underground until Franco’s death in 1975.

The abbey can be reached by road, by cable car, or by the Montserrat Rack Railway from Monistrol in the valley below, which in turn can be reached by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya train from Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya station. From the abbey a funicular railway goes up to the top of the mountain, where there are various abandoned hovels in the cliff faces that were previously the abodes of reclusive monks.

September 10, 2006 at 3:17 pm Leave a comment

Microsoft vs Apple

As a former windows person who converted fully into macs, I usually tend to avoid the Mac vs. PC debate. But I couldn’t help passing on this video (click here), made by Microsoft employees, on what would happen if Microsoft redesigned the iPod box:

September 10, 2006 at 12:37 pm Leave a comment

Montserrat at Last

I think Alex and I deserve a pat on the back. We have been planning to visit Montserrat since the beginning of the summer and we finally made it. It’s only a 1 hour train ride from Barcelona so there is no problem getting there we just got sidetracked every time we’d plan the trip. We caught the train at the station in Placa Espanya and got off at Monistrol. In the station at Placa Espanya, you can buy all types of tickets to Montserrat. Various options include access to museums, the funiculars, and the train from Monistrol, even the metro in Barcelona. We purchased the 18 Euro one but prices are a low as 6 or 7 Euros. When we arrived at Monistrol, the train to take us up the mountain was waiting for us. It appears that the two trains are synchronized for minimum connection times. Even the return journey was synchronized.

Montserrat is very impressive as you approach Monistrol. The peaks and rock formations are very unique and can be seen from a fair distance away. The main attraction of Montserrat however, is not the mountain itself but the Benedictine abbey that is built there. The original abbey and surrounding buildings were mostly destroyed by Napoleon in 1811. It was restored in the 19th and 20th century but I’ll use another post to elaborate the interesting history of Montserrat.

The ride up the mountain is quite something. The train itself uses a special geared rail in the centre of the tracks because of the steep angles it climbs. I would guess that this train is climbing near 30 degrees (it’s a guess) at some points. We arrived at the monastery and Alex headed off to the info booth to get some maps and then we headed to the cafeteria to eat. I was quite surprised at the prices. Lunch was not that expensive considering the amount of tourists that come to this site.

After lunch we took the funicular de Sant Joan to the top of the mountain. It’s an impressive view from there and it seemed to be the starting point for a lot of hiking trails. There are hundreds of hiking trails up here, all connecting and crossing and go for hundreds of kilometers. We had come to Montserrat on a discovery mission. We wanted to check it out so we could pick a nice trail in the future and spend a day walking in the mountains but we HAD to try at least one trail. We had a choice, one trail led up to the Sant Joan retreat and the other led back to the abbey. This is the trail that leads to Sant Joan.

We chose the one that led back to the abbey. It’s timed at 55 minutes and we stopped so often to check things out that I think the 55-minute time is VERY conservative. The trail is almost all downhill so not much effort is required.

We saw some interesting shapes in the deadwood along the trail.

When we arrived back at the abbey, Alex wanted to visit the basilica.

We actually went into the sanctuary where the Virgin of Montserrat is hosted. It’s an eerie feeling being there. There was a lineup but I don’t think it was even close to the normal line of pilgrims who visit this site.

Afterwards we walked around the abbey, went into the stores to see the tourists shop and went through an audio-visual display about the site. My camera battery died and that was it for photos (did I hear a big sigh of relief). This last photo was a corner of the original Cloisters. The only part that was left after Napoleon.

The trip home was as easy as going and on the train we met a really nice couple from Toronto. They were on a tour and had come on their own to see Montserrat for themselves. We had an interesting conversation with them and it seemed the trip home took far less time than going.

All in all a great day and I look foreword to going back and doing some trekking.

September 10, 2006 at 11:12 am 2 comments


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