A visit to Montserrat is worth the trip. This Basilica is sheltering the Black Madonna of Spain. Whether you are religious or not, visiting the Black Madonna at Montserrat is a spiritual and worthwhile experience. Every year, millions of pilgrims agree and make their way to Montserrat to pay homage to this statue of the Virgin.
It’s said that the statue can provide healing powers and perform miracles. This can be achieved by touching the exposed hand that isn’t kept behind a pane of glass. St. Ignatius of Loyola came to Montserrat. After spending a night praying before the image, he laid down his sword and embarked on his religious mission. A true miracle of grace.
She is Known by Many Names
So who is the Black Madonna? How did she come to be enshrined in this mountaintop retreat cut from the reluctant rock so far from significant population centers?
She is known by many names, such as The Virgin of Montserrat, St. Mary of Montserrat, the Black Virgin, and originally known as La Jerosolimitana. Her Spanish name is La Moreneta, which means “the black little one.” (In Aramaic, “black” means “sorrowful.”) For nearly a thousand years Benedictine monks have lived atop the mountain to welcome pilgrims to her shrine.
Legend has it that the original statue was made in Jerusalem during the earliest times of the Christian Church. Another story says, “it’s believed that the statue was carved by St. Luke in Jerusalem”.
Montserrat as a religious site traces back to the eighth century when hermits lived there but not as a formal religious order. Local shepherds herded sheep on the nearby hills. According to one legend, one night they saw lights and heard singing on the mountainside. The bright light was shining from a cave and they thought it was a spiritual sign.
The shepherds were terrified. This phenomenon was repeated several times until a figure said to be Mary appeared and told them to go into the grotto. They did. There they found the fully carved statue of the Black Madonna. It is believed that the statue had been hidden in the grotto in 718 to avoid its falling into the hands of Moorish invaders.
When the shepherds told their local priest the Church ordered that the statue be taken to Barcelona. As they were moving the statue the Monks noticed that with every step the statue became heavier. After putting it down several times to rest, the men realized the image should remain where it was found, on the mountain.
This talk of mysterious happenings on the mountain went from town to town. The pilgrimages started, as did prayers and requests for favors, and, it is said, miracles occurred. Word of reported healings spread across Spain. Today some believe it is still the original statue while others believe it was carved in the 12th century. Either way, the miracles are flowing through this beautiful image of Our Lady!
A Monastery and Basilica Are Built in Her Honor
The monastery and basilica are kept in impeccable condition. They are enclosed by the unusually shaped mountain around it with the color of the buildings blending well into the rocky embrace. A sight to see.
The monastery and basilica—were entirely built to facilitate the worship of the Black Virgin of Montserrat. The monastery was completed in 1592. During the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, Montserrat grew, but it was not the site visitors see today. During the Napoleonic wars in Spain, several structures were damaged. The monks continued work at the site even during this time. But in 1836, Spain’s government expelled them and the monastery fell into ruins. In 1844, Pope Leo XIII declared the Black Madonna to be the patron saint of Catalonia.
Late in the 19th-century things started happening. La Moreneta was consecrated in 1880 by the Bishop of Barcelona. In 1881 the monks and La Moreneta returned and rebuilt the shrine of Montserrat. The region of Catalonia and Montserrat became closely intertwined. Today’s Catalonians honor the site as a symbol of pride in their land. A huge collection of old Bibles, as well as books on history, geography, and natural history, are also maintained here.
In 2006, celebrations recognized the 125th anniversary of the official consecration when she was named the “mother of consolation and hope.”
The basilica’s always-jam-packed Mass is famous for the glorious singing of the Escolanía, one of the oldest and most renowned boys’ choirs in Europe. Their singing is so outstanding that people come just to hear their heavenly voices.
Visit this Holy Place along the Ignatian Camino
We will be visiting this Basilica and spending a few nights in Montserrat! We will be able to experience this melodic Mass and make our way up a stepped incline which will lead us to La Moreneta. Pay attention as you make this climb, we will pass intricate mosaics representing female saints and have intriguing peeks into other sections of the monastery.