Catalonia’s Treasured Peak

“Welcome to Montserrat– the closest place to heaven on Earth.”

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The view of Montserrat abbey and surrounding village from the bus station. The monastery and surrounding village has existed since 1025.

Nestled 30 miles west of Barcelona, Spain on a mountain that bears the same name, the monastery and shrine at Montserrat holds religious importance for the thousands of pilgrims and captures the imagination of the millions of visitors that come to the top of the mountain yearly to take in its breathtaking views and rare sights.

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The valley sitting 4,055 feet below the mountain peak. The mountain the monastery takes its name from was Spain’s first national park.

As the sight of the Black Madonna and a rumored location of the Holy Grail, the spiritual significance of this little mountaintop abbey is felt as soon as you step off the bus. Being one of the tallest peaks in Catalonia, and home to these historic artifacts lends Montserrat the nickname of “the closest place to heaven on Earth.” You can see a symbol of this nickname in the photo above with the stairway to heaven overlooking the valley.

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The monastery’s remote location made it a hiding ground for Spain’s intellectuals and youth during the rule of fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

In order to reach the Basilica where you can see the holy artifacts, visitors are required to maneuver through narrow alleyways that are characteristic of so many towns in Europe. However, the backdrop of mountain peaks makes for a trek that is not soon forgotten.  Vendors line the sides of the streets, selling their handmade products and the fruits of their labor. You can sense and appreciate the gifts and livelihood that Montserrat provides for the locals of the mountain villages.

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Four trees that sit in front of the entrance to the basilica and the Black Madonna. Planted centuries ago, the trees represent four key aspects of the Catholic faith.

Before entering the Basilica, four different trees that hold symbolic meaning for both the monastery and Christianity stand in view of visitors.  The palm stands for martyrdom, the cypress for eternal life, the olive for peace, and the laurel for victory.

While Barcelona may get the most attention in Catalonia, it is the tiny monastery and village of Montserrat that is the most poignant and enchanting. After a visit to that mountaintop, it is impossible not to take a little bit of heaven back down to Earth with you.