Faith & Footprints: Basilica at Montserrat and The Black Madonna

faith-footprints-montserrat-basilicaBy Kelly Wise Valdes

Nestled in a rugged mountain almost an hour outside of Barcelona, Spain sits the Basilica at Montserrat. The Basilica is home to one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Spain: the La Moreneta, or Black Madonna.

Since the 12th century, pilgrims have been drawn to Montserrat to honor the miraculous statue of the Black Madonna. The small statue made of wood and depicts a seated Madonna with the child Jesus on her lap. Her dark color is due to changes in the varnish due to age. The statue sits behind a sheet of glass, however, one of her hands that is holding a sphere (which symbolizes the universe) is not behind the glass. It is tradition for visitors to kiss or touch the Virgin’s hand while opening out the other hand to Jesus.

Montserrat is considered one of the special “power spots” of the world. Electromagnetic fields are said to be strong and healing powers are attributed to the small Madonna statue. Legend surrounding the site tells of a story that shepherds were herding sheep on the nearby hills when they saw a bright light shining from a cave accompanied by singing. Then a figure said to be Mary appeared and told them to go into the cave where they discovered the statue of the Black Madonna. It was believed that the statue had been hidden in the cave in 718 to avoid Moorish invaders.

Upon finding this statue, Church authorities ordered that the statue be taken to Barcelona. While trying to relocate the Madonna, the statue became so heavy, that it was deemed unmovable. The church realized the image should remain where it was found, on the mountain. As word spread throughout Spain, the pilgrims to the sacred spot began and eventually the Basilica was built around the statue.

The Monastery at the Basilica is located near the top of the 4,000-foot mountain, is home to about 80 monks. The monks welcome visitors and invite them to participate in their daily celebrations of Mass and recitations. The basilica also holds one of the monastery’s most noted attractions, the 50-member Escolanía, one of the oldest and most renowned boys’ choirs in Europe, dating from the 13th century. They sing at 1p.m. daily.

The Basilica is visited by nearly three million people each year. Admission to the grounds, churches and services is free. For more information, visit www.montserratvisita.com.