The fully-functioning 9th century monastery sits on top of the mountain and is home to 'la Moreneta', a black Virgin Mary that is the Patron Saint of Catalonia.
Catalans hold the mountain of Montserrat very dear to their hearts. Its unique needle-like peaks and the fact that a statue of Catalonia's patron saint, the Virgin of Montserrat, was found there have made it a symbol of Catalonia.
The fully-functioning 9th century monastery that sits on top of the mountain is about an hour's drive outside Barcelona, but you'll see Montserrat 's odd shape emerge from out of the surrounding flatlands long before that. The mountain is a string of thin peaks and looks like a clump of icicles frozen together. The unusual rock forms have turned Montserrat into one of the world's best places for rock climbing. 1200m up the rock cliffs, the Monastery of Montserrat sits on a ledge of the mountain, looking over the valley below.
Eighty Benedictine monks live in the monastery, but the hundreds of tourists arriving there daily distract somewhat from the traditional tranquil air of monastic life. Many of these visitors come to see and touch 'La Moreneta,' the small wooden statue of the Patron Saint of Catalonia. The statue is famous because it depicts a black Virgin Mary and baby Jesus; whether it's black because of supernatural causes, coal smoke or paint is still debated. She is said to have been made by St. Luke and was supposedly hidden from the Moorish invaders in one of the many nearby caves.
Other than the Virgin, and the spectacular mountain itself, highlights include the Basilica's Renaissance facade and the famous boy choir that sings each day at 1:00pm and 7:00pm. Following tradition, the monks at Montserrat make their own honey and Catalan pastries, which are for sale at a shop on the mountain. You can also stroll on one of the well-marked trails that meander around the monastery. If you feel like exploring more but don't want to climb far, use the funicular railroad to get to the 'Holy Cave' and an abandoned church. But be sure to bring a warm jacket; it’s notoriously windy up there!
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