Her official name is Mare de Deu de Montserrat (Mother of God of Montserrat) but most Catalans call her “La Moreneta (the little dark-skinned one)” and Pope Leo XIII appointed her the patron saint of Catalonia in 1881. Most tourists refer to her as The Black Madonna and every day people wait in line for up to two hours in order to say a prayer and touch the globe she is holding.
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This statue of the Virgin Mary on her throne with her Christ child on her lap was created about a thousand years ago. It was hidden in a cave for a time but since 1947 she sits high above the altar of the Basilica of Montserrat for all to see.
No, this lady is not African. She is Catalan. And her head and hands are made of wood which has turned to black over the years.
Why do people go to Montserrat? Some come for the view and to explore the natural park. Some to hear the boys’ choir. But for most Catalans it’s a pilgrimage: they go to Montserrat to see and venerate the Black Madonna.
Abat Oliba founded the Monastery of Montserrat in 1025. Napoleon invaded Spain in 1811 and destroyed the monastery for no good reason. He just felt like it. But it was rebuilt in the 1840s and the present basilica was completed in 1901.
During the Spanish Civil War a couple of monks were executed for harboring fugitives which bolstered the Catalan resentment of the Franco regime and strengthened their drive for independence.
Today about a hundred monks live in the Benedictine monastery and there is a also a dormitory for the boys in the Escolania, the famous boys choir. The press has been publishing — all in Catalan — works since 1499.
Also at the monastery: a couple of restaurants, a supermarket, a book store, a gift shop and a museum. We had lunch at the Bar la Placa. My wife drank some tea with her bikini sandwich (ham and cheese); I had a beer with mine.
Back in Barcelona we visited the Cathedral and a couple of local churches. They all had their own versions of the Black Madonna.
I’ll have more pictures of Montserrat in my next posting.