Modestly cradled into the side of a steep mountain lies one of the most venerated shrines in Spain: The Santa Cova of Montserrat. Santa Maria de Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey located on the mountain of Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain. It is notable for enshrining the image of the Virgin of Montserrat. Holy Grotto of Montserrat Monastery holds one of Europe’s mysterious black Madonnas.
Montserrat, whose name means serrated mountain, is ideally located to play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Catalonia. It is Catalonia’s most important religious retreat and groups of young people from Barcelona and all over Catalonia make overnight hikes at least once in their lives to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. Virgin of Montserrat (the black virgin), is Catalonia’s favourite saint, and is located in the sanctuary of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, next to the Benedictine monastery nestling in the towers and crags of the mountain. The Escolania, Montserrat’s Boys’ Choir, is one of the oldest in Europe, and performs during religious ceremonies and communal prayers in the basilica.
The Basilica houses a museum with works of art by many prominent painters and sculptors including works by El Greco, Dalí, Picasso and more. The Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, a publishing house, one of the oldest presses in the world still running, with its first book published in 1499.
Carved by St. Luke around 50 AD, the Black Virgin of Montserrat (one of the semi-mysterious one of the black Madonnas, where Mary with dark or black skin, of Europe) was brought to Spain and hidden in the Santa Cova cave from the Moors. Based on a legend dating back to text from 1239, the image of Our Lady of Montserrat was rediscovered in the cave in 880.
On a Saturday at dusk, shepherd children noticed a “great light” fall from the sky accompanied by a “beautiful song” in the mountains. This repeated for a few subsequent Saturdays until finally the Bishop of Manresa and others took a trip into the mountains and discovered the image of the Virgin Mary in a cave. Though small, the statue could not be lifted and they considered this a divine intervention. Thus the image stayed and has been worshiped in Montserrat ever since.
It is possible to visit the grotto as well as the chapel that has been built into it. The chapel dates back to 1696 and was constructed directly into the mountain itself. Aside from centuries of battle-scars of woes past, such as Napoleonic Wars, mudslides, and forest fires, the chapel is still standing today thanks to a restoration completed in 1997. Each year thousands of visitors come to pray and worship.