A RENAISSANCE PATRON
A small hermitage had existed on the mountains of Montserrat since 888. It was transformed into a Benedictine monastery on the will of Abbot Oliba di Ripoll and Cuxa in 1025. The monastery grew until it became independent from Ripoll in 1410. During the course of the 15th century, the fame of its pilgrimages and the richness of its library spread far and wide. At that time its abbot was the future Julius II della Rovere, a great Renaissance patron who enhanced it with splendid works of art. The nave of the abbey in fact dates back to this period. The abbey was later plundered and destroyed by the Napoleonic army in 1812. It was subsequently re- built between the 19th and 20th centuries, and is arranged around two cloisters; one in front of the basilica, accessible to visitors and one at the centre of the monastery itself. These imposing buildings house a large Benedictine community. There are certain architectural elements dating back to the 18th century, but unfortunately nothing of the Romanesque era, the sole exception being Moreneta, and the famous black virgin of Montserrat, which is still a popular pilgrimage site today.
A FINE ABBEY SAVED FROM RUIN
A walk along the magnificent mountains of Montserrat will bring you to the church of Santa Cecilia, featuring three naves and three apses decorated with pilaster strips and Lombard arches. It was in the 11th century a sanctuary of a Benedictine monastery.Of particular note, at the foot of the mountain, in San Fruitos, is the monastery of Sant Benet de Bagès. This abbey was founded in the 10th century featuring a wonderful collection of buildings dating back to the Romanesque era, which have survived a long period of decline. The 12th century church features a wide vault with ogival nave. The transept cross-piece features an elegant 2-storey lantern. The apse contains a chancel and a crypt. The cloister built around 1100 is one of the most interesting in Catalonia thanks to the excellence of the sculpting, which decorates the capitals.
AN ANCIENT SCHOOL OF SACRED SONG
The Montserrat mountains are breathtaking in their beauty, featuring a spectacular landscape. It is therefore no surprise that the solitude offered by this rocky mass with its serrated peak (from which its name Mont Serrat is derived) dominating the surroundings, should have attracted both monks and hermits, as well as the Romantics at a much later time. This was the setting that inspired Wagner in the creation of the setting of his Parisfal. It still attracts crowds of pilgrims and tourists. Montserrat is also a lively centre of Catalan culture. The monks, both scholars and artists; run the very well stocked library, and make an important contribution to the intellectual production of the province.
The monastery also maintains the particular tradition of the vocal song. The famous “escolonia” is the most ancient monastic school in Europe dedicated to the monk’s choir.
Montserrat was also a symbolic Catalan resistance centre in the dark years of the dictatorship.