Thursday, 28 November 2013


It's easy to be consumed by the Barcelona party scene, but if you need a break from whatever it is you've gotten yourself into or a place to confess your sins from the past weekend... ahem. Montserrat is the perfect day trip.

I have never been a very religious person.  In fact, my grandma never misses the opportunity to tell everyone how I used to leave her side and run a muck in Church when I should have been sitting quietly and paying attention like my little sister.  Not much has changed in 30 years as I still find it difficult to sit in quiet reverence for the duration of an entire mass.  But what has changed is my growing spirituality, which for me is often experienced separately from religion.  It took Montserrat, just outside Barcelona to cause my worlds to collide. 

About an hour's train ride out of Barcelona will leave you at a gondola at the base of a mountain.  From the bottom, it's nearly impossible to see what's waiting for you at the top, but as the gondola starts to climb, you begin to realize that all of those rocks aren't actually rocks and that you've been looking at a Monastery and a Basilica extending out of the side of the mountain.  

We went early in the day and encountered many tour buses when we reached the top.  If it fits in with your schedule, you might want to consider going a little later in the day.  Luckily, there is more to do at Montserrat than go to Church.  We started our visit by walking along one of the many trails that lead to and from the Basilica.  The views are spectacular.  On a clear day such as the one we had, it seemed like we could see to the end of the Earth.  The trails can get a little steep but there are plenty of benches along the way if you need a break.  There are also many different statues to admire as you go along, as if the view wasn't enough.  

After our hike, we were ready to head into the Basilica.  By this time the line had subsided a little and we didn't have to wait too long.  There are two entrances, the main center entrance leads you into the Basilica where a mass was being held and the side entrance which will take you to see the black Madonna which is kept behind the altar.  As we walked into the dimly lit Basilica the sound of a men's choir filled the space.  The sound of the hymns resonating in this incredibly ornate space was very moving even for two goofballs like us.  The path to see the Black Madonna is lined with so many beautiful things it's sometimes hard to know where to look.  From stained glass windows, to statues to relics there is something to see around every corner.  There is also a view into the Basilica itself where mass is held so that you can remain connected to the congregation and have the full experience.   

The Black Madonna is believed to have been carved in Jerusalem over 2, 000 years ago at the birth of Christianity.  Now she sits atop the altar overlooking the Basilica in a tiny room covered in glittering mosaics.  The dedication and devotion to creating a beautiful place for her to be worshiped is astounding,  the intricacy of the craftsmanship is awe-inspiring and the opulence is overwhelming.  

There is a small chapel just past the Black Madonna where you can enjoy a quiet moment for yourself.  I needed a moment to process where I was.  Maybe it was all that fresh mountain air or that unbelievable choir, but there were some things I just couldn't wrap my head around.   How did they construct something so grand on the side of this mountain?  How or why are people so devoted to religion that they would even think to take on this feat? It all seemed too big to me.