Founded in 1025, Montserrat's monastery is Spain's second most important pilgrimage centre after Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Most of the complex was built around the Virgen de Montserrat, a stunning Romanesque icon dating to the 12th century (though traditionalists claim it was carved by St Luke and hidden by St Peter in the mountains). The monastery was wrecked by Napoleon’s troops in 1811, then largely abandoned as a result of anticlerical legislation in the 1830s, and slowly rebuilt from 1858. During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, 23 of its monks are believed to have been killed. Today, a community of 55 monks lives here.
Pilgrims come from far and wide to venerate the Virgen de Montserrat, affectionately known as La Moreneta (‘the Little Brown One’ or ‘the Black Madonna’), a dark wooden sculpture of a regal-looking Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, holding a globe, which pilgrims touch. She has been Catalonia’s patroness since 1881 and her blessing is particularly sought by newlyweds. Colourful legends have sprung up around this holy place, including a folk tale that described jagged Montserrat mountain as sawn by angels to make a throne for the Virgin Mary.
The monastery is currently gearing up for its millenary in 2025 – watch this space!