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Montserrat, the Heart of Catalunya


For almost a thousand years, Benedictine monks have lived atop Montserrat — the "serrated mountain" — northwest of Barcelona. Today, with its unique rock formations and dramatic cliff-clinging monastery, Montserrat is a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists alike.

Complete Video Script

An hour inland from Barcelona takes us to a mountain stronghold which many consider the heart of Catalunya. A téléphérique zooms visitors up to the dramatically situated monastery of Montserrat. Montserrat means "serrated mountain" — and you see why as you approach. Hymns explain how the mountain was carved by little angels with golden saws. Geologists blame nature at work.

With its dramatic mountaintop monastery and spiritual connection with the Catalan people and their struggles, Montserrat is a rewarding day trip from Barcelona. It's been Catalunya's most important pilgrimage site for a thousand years.

The monastery was destroyed by Napoleon. Then, in the 1850s, the monks returned as part of Catalunya's (and Europe's) renewed Romantic appreciation of things religious, medieval, and nationalistic. They rebuilt the place and Montserrat became, once again, the spiritual and cultural heart of the Catalan people.

A handful of Benedictine monks carry on the monastery's spiritual tradition. Since 1025, the slogan "ora et labora" ("prayer and work") pretty much sums up life for a monk up here.

The Benedictines welcome visitors — both pilgrims and tourists — in hopes that they'll experience the spiritual power of Montserrat.

Montserrat's top attraction is La Moreneta, a small wood statue of the Black Virgin, discovered here in the 12th century. Legend says she was carved by St. Luke but carbon dating says she's only 800 years old. Pilgrims circulate down a long and ornate passage leading alongside the church for their few moments alone with the virgin. Pilgrims touch the virgin's orb to seek Mary's blessing.