Thursday, 18 July 2013

Monestry of Montserrat...

Whilst perusing the various TripAdvisor posts and 'Best Picks' of Barcelona the usual attractions kept popping up. Segrada Familia, Badelona Beaches, Barri Gotic and of course the numerous museums dedicated to Gaudi, Picasso and Miro. But in between all the usual was this unusual sounding place, Montserrat.

Turns out Montserrat isn't in Barcelona, but an hours drive away inland. The various tours headed out that way were a bit pricey, but with the freedom of our van we couldn't resist going to have a look.

The word Montserrat became instantly clear as we drove along the auto-via headed West from Barcelona. Saw Mountain is a peculiar looking mountain with a silhouette of sharp teeth like a saw. It was strange because I'm accustomed to mountains being in a range. But this one, nope. Just smack bang in the middle of nowhere.
Montserrat in all its glory

After a few wrong turns and some VERY steep climbs that the Smurf Mobile struggled with, we finally reached the town of Monsterrat. A relatively small town dominated by the Basilica and clutched in between tall, column like rock formations. Millions of years ago this area was under a very large river bed. The mixed sedimentary rock that formed because of the river deposits was then eroded away over time leaving the harder rocks behind, giving the mountain its distinct serrated silhouette and weird, tubular rocks separated by tall thin channels.

The Basilica at Montserrat is basically a great big church that holds the image of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that in the year 888 AD a group of children saw a bright light in the sky plunge in to the mountain. A week later the same event happened but this time the children's parents witnessed the spectacle. A search party was launched to find out what the light was/had done. An image of the Virgin Mary was found at the top of the mountain but all efforts to bring the relic down from the mountain was thwarted. Divine intervention. So it was decided that pilgrims would have to travel up the mountain to worship her.

Now I am in no way religious. I do, however, have a weird and encompassing fascination on all religions methods and especially their wealth.

Arriving at the Monestry shortly before 1pm we ran up to the basilica to catch a glimpse of the oldest Boy's Choir in the world. The place was heaving with people pushing and bustling to get in to the building. Big signs clearly stated that the use of flash photography was forbidden yet thousands of white pulses shot off every second as the boys started singing. There were too many people and Kerry and I had to leave for fear of being suffocated. The singing was nice but the fresh air when we got out was even nicer.

Whilst wandering around the fairly small town we noticed little paths leading off from the main square and up through a sculpted garden. Turns out there's a variety of walks ranging from a 20 minute stroll to an hour and a half hike to the top where the lady was found.

Not feeling very strenuous we opted for the shortest walk which took in 13 different Christ associated monument things. A nice walk.

We passed some time looking around but the town was just a few hotels and shops to accommodate the pilgrims. We were waiting for 6pm when there was due to be another rendition by the boys choir. We got in to the Basilica just before 6 and had to sit through an hour of Spanish preaching by one of the 100 Benedictine monks that live at the Monestry. Then out stroll the other 99 monks and start singing. It was't the boys choir but the senior choir! Well we didn't stay long. A bunch of old blokes singing. I want to hear cherub like boys.

So we made a hasty exit, only to notice that the 3 hour queue for the Virgin Mary had been reduced to nothing. We went through the side of he basilica and through some old corridors until we were upfront with the image herself.

Apparently you must touch the globe she is holding in her right hand whilst also holding out your right hand to receive her blessing. I didn't do that.

Being in Montserat was weird for me. In the middle of no-where there's a huge, weird shaped mountain with a small town and people praying to an image of the Virgin Mary. Which was really just a statue that someone made, not found. The whole thing sounds bizarre yet its happening, right now. I find it hard to understand religion, yet up here theres a whole industry about it and this statue.

By the time we walked back down the hill we were some of the last people remaining. Most of the tour busses and coaches had gone and it was nice and peaceful. What was going to be a 10 minute drive down to the bottom of the mountain soon turned in to an hour an a half trek to our next destination... Santa Suzanna, Costa Brava!

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