Quick note! Prior to our arrival in Naples we were in ports where the temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity. Starting with Naples we’re now in the 50s and 60s and wearing jackets. In a couple of weeks we’ll be in Oslo where they just experienced subzero temperatures!
We arrived in Barcelona around 7:00 am but had to wait outside the wharf until the huge MCS cruise ship was docked. Looking at ships that were docked you can see just how small we are (we are the far right ship) compared to the modern giants. The MCS ship has over 8,000 passengers while we have 1,400!
Last month during the silent auction our friend Lynn won a free excursion for two to visit a food market and sample tapas around Barcelona. She invited Ron to go with her, so again we went on different tours.
Paul’s excursion was a visit to the “Montserrat Monastery” officially called the Santa Maria de Monserrat Abbey. The name “montserrat” means serrated mountain from the jagged peaks of the mountain range that overlooks the Catalan region of Spain. The bus ride wound along mountain roads near steep drop offs. When the monastery was established in the 11th century, the trip up the mountain must have been challenging, especially trying to transport materials to build a monastery.
The favorite saint of the region is the The Virgin of Montserrat and dates back to the year 880. We were told that two young sheepherders saw a light coming from an area on the hillside that turned out to be sunlight reflecting from a Madonna statue. These children told the priest. The statue was to be taken down the mountain to the village, but all attempts to remove the statue from the mountain ended in failure. A chapel was built on the mountain to house the statue instead. Later the Benedictine monks formed a monastery on the mountain. The original Madonna has been lost. The current statue, called The Black Madonna, has been around for over 800 years. The Madonna is enshrined above the altar in the basilica next to the monastery. Pilgrims and tourists can wait in line to see/touch the statue. We visited the monastery during Easter week, so the line was too long for us to join the line.
We were able to see a beautiful majolica ceramic of the Madonna where the people come down after seeing the statue and traditionally light candles to honor the Virgin.
The other patron saint of Barcelona is St. George. This modern statue has a face that follows you as you pass by. The abbey museum has a significant collection of artwork donated over the years including works by Caravaggio.
The monastery has twice been burned down and sacked by Napoleon’s troops in 1811 and 1812. Many of the abbey’s treasures were lost. The Abbey was violently suppressed during the Spanish Civil War. During Franco’s rule, the abbey was seen as a sanctuary for scholars, artists, politicians and students. Franco’s men were often waiting for wanted people a few miles down the road.
From the 1940s onward, Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey was often seen as a symbol of Catalan nationalism. The publishing house that is part of the abbey has a printing press that is still working and its oldest book dates back to 1499. In defiance of the Franco government’s language policies, books were published in the Catalan language and prayers at a mass held on April 27, 1947, to celebrate the Enthronement of the Virgin of Montserrat and attended by over 100,000 people were publicly said in the Catalan language. The abbey and basilica have been rebuilt with art and statues by 20th century artisans.