MONTSERRAT, or Monserrat, a remarkable mountain and monastery in north-east Spain, 30 m. N.W. of Barcelona. The mountain is of grey conglomerate; its main axis trends from W.N.W. to E.S.E., and its circumference is about 18 m. The loftiest point is the Turó de San Jeronimo, also called Mirador and La Miranda (4070 ft.), which commands a view of the Pyrénées, and the Mediterranean Sea as far as the Balearic Islands. On the east the base of the Montserrat is washed by the river Llobregat. The Montserrat consists of jagged pinnacles and spires (peñascos) rising abruptly from the base of the mass, which is cloven by many ravines, and abounds with steep precipices. It is the mons serratus of the Romans, the monte serrado of the Spaniards, and is thus named either in allusion to its jagged appearance, like the teeth of a saw, or because it is split, as if sawn by the vast fissure of the Valle Malo, which extends from north-west to east. This occurred, Say the Spanish legends, at the time of the Crucifixion, when the rocks were rent. In medieval German legends, which located here the castle of the Holy Grail, the mountain is called Monsalwatsch, a name analogous to the modern Catalan form Montsagrat “ sacred mountain.” From Monistrol, a village on the north-east, with a station on the Barcelona-Lérida railway, the monastery can be reached either by the carriage road built in 1857, or by the mountain railway opened in 1892. The ascent is also frequently made by a bridle path from the village of Collbató, on the south-west, where there are some interesting caverns.
The monastery stands 2910 ft. above sea-level upon a narrow platform on the edge of the Valle Malo. It owes its existence to an image of the Virgin, said to have been carved by St Luke, and brought to Barcelona by St Peter in A.D. 30. When the Moors invaded the province in 717 the image was taken to Montserrat, where a Benedictine convent appears to have already existed, and hidden in a cave. In 880 Gondemar, bishop of Vich, was attracted to the cave by sweet sounds and smells, and there found the image, which he determined to take to Manresa. But at a certain spot on the mountain the image refused to proceed farther; there it was consequently deposited, and a chapel was erected to contain it. Round the chapel a nunnery was built, and in 976 this was enlarged and converted into a second Benedictine convent. The old monastery (monasterio antiguo) is chiefly in ruins. The cloisters, belfry and part of the church were Gothic of the 15th century. The church of the new monastery (monasterio actual) was built in Renaissance style under Philip II. (1560–1592); in 1811 it was partially burned, and in 1880 a Romanesque apse was added. New buildings for the monks were erected under Ferdinand VII. (1784–1833), but left partly unfinished. During the Napoleonic wars (1808–14) it was despoiled of the vast treasures which had accumulated during the middle ages. In 1835, as a result of the Carlist insurrection, the convent was deprived of its estates and the number of monks reduced to about twenty. The monks are largely occupied by the management of a school of sacred music. In 1874 the convent, which by a grant of Pope Benedict XIII. had been an independent abbey since 1410, was made subject to the bishops of Barcelona.
Nuestra Señora de Montserrat, Patrona de Cataluña (“ Our Lady of Montserrat, Patron Saint of Catalonia ”), is one of the most celebrated images in Spain, and her church is visited annually by more than 60,000 pilgrims. The image is small, black, and carved of wood, but possesses magnificent robes and jewels. In September 1881 it was solemnly crowned by Leo XIII., who sent a crown from Rome for that purpose. As the celebrity and sanctity of Montserrat increased, so did the number of devotees. Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556) laid his sword upon the altar of the Virgin, and, placing himself under her protection, started from, Montserrat to begin his new life. Many eminent Spaniards, weary of the world, have retired to this monastery to end their days. Some preferred solitary hermitages perched among the rocks. Of these there were fifteen, eleven of which once formed a via sacra, ending at the summit of San Jeronimo. They were destroyed by the French, but the ruins of some remain. There are also caves in the mountain, some of which were formerly occupied by monks. The most celebrated of these are the cave of the Virgin, in which the santa imagen remained hidden until found by Gondemar, and the cave of Fray Juan Garin, a notorious sinner, who ended his days in the practice of revolting penances at Montserrat.