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Spain & Portugal - Day 5

Tags: walk mystery holy

Good morning, Montserrat....and it's only 5am!

The first thing we did was to open our window to breath in the cold fresh air, listen to the early birds chipping away happily and the soothing flowing water from the little stream just below our window, and wait for daybreak. How relaxing....especially for me (the wife) who can finally heave a sigh of relief after a torturous night....I was awake almost throughout the is finally morning....I made it!

Daybreak atop Montserrat

Cel.les Abat Marcet is indeed a monastery apartment! The aged room reminds us of old school classrooms of the 70's back home, and somehow it felt like we were living in an abandoned building. We had a small yet functional and well-equipped kitchen, an extremely basic but clean bathroom, a small television set (how thoughtful), very good heaters (the best throughout our journey) and 2 single mattresses laid on a springy metal frame. Guests are required to put on the bed sheets and pillow cases provided.

Nonetheless, it is a popular place. After all, guests get to stay at the heart of Montserrat at a fraction of the costs charged by the hotel, and enjoy a different kind of lodging experience that hotels cannot provide.

Of course, there are more lodging options at the foot of Montserrat. But, nothing beats staying next to a monastery on top a 4000 ft mountain and waking up to the ringing of church bells. It is therapeutic and magical. There is downside though mainly for light-sleepers like me...the wife. Trying to fall asleep on the springy bed was hard enough. Coupled with the huge clock at the basilica announcing every hour with a 2 minutes "dong" throughout the night, it is madness! Hubby slept like a log....he didn't hear a single sound while I woke up with an aching body, a groggy head and panda eyes. Luckily, the fresh morning dew and a hot cup of coffee was enough to work their wonders on me.

View from our room

Since there weren't any Sunday services due to the consecration of Basilica of the Holy Family by the Pope today, there is no schedules to meet. The disappointment gave way to a new found sense of relieve.

The first important 'man' that greeted us the moment we step out of the apartment's lobby is the founder of the monastery, Abat Oliba.

His sculpture is positioned in such a way that he oversees the whole of Montserrat while his body was laid to rest in the Crypt in the basilica.

Passing the sculpture marks the start of the easiest trail, Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) walk. Naturally, it became our first trail.

Via Crucis presents the last journey of Jesus Christ in life-size statues and art are a snapshot of some of them.....

Chapel of the Dolorosa 

The Chapel of the Dolorosa (Our Lady of Solitude's Chapel) marks the end of the Via Crucis walk. It is indeed an easy trail with flat roads and gentle steps.

Continuing on the pathway and getting a little bored, a small side road leading into the hill got us all excited. It was a relatively easy walk uphill but the pebble-filled path makes the walk downhill treacherous. It was only later in the afternoon when we were resting and looking through the Montserrat tourist map that we realised that it was the Miranda de Fra Gari walk. The end point of this walk offers an almost complete view of the Sanctuary (Placa del Monestir).

Carved onto the wall of the mountain is this picture that marks the end of the Miranda de Fra Gari walk

As we move on towards the next path, St. Miquel walk; the road starts to slope upwards. While the Via Crucis path was rather empty, this road was comparatively more crowded with visitors panting and pushing on to conquer the up slope.

After the long climb up slope, we finally reach the start of the St. Miquel walk! Seeing the pointer to St. Miquel walk gave us more shocks than excitement....after more than 20 mins of climbing and we had not even started the trail!

We hesitated for a while whether to continue with the trail since it was a sunny day (we've already removed our wind-breakers and sweaters by now) and the sandy path have minimal shelter....Montserrat is a rock mountain after all. But, St. Miquel path being the most important way to Montserrat in medieval times, we decided to persevere.

After 45 mins of steep walk, here we are at St. Miquel Chapel (825m high).

St. Miquel Chapel

Outside St. Miquel Chapel. A popular resting place to catch our breath, rest those tired legs and enjoy some breeze

The tiring walk was satisfying. We were so inspired that we continued to climb the steep slopes towards Sant Joan which is estimated to be 50 mins walk away from St. Miquel Chapel.

For visitors who prefer not to walk, they can take the Funicular of Sant Joan at the Sanctuary to the upper station which is located about 10-15 mins walk away from Sant Joan.

As the slopes got steeper and the sun hotter (with no shelter from trees at all) as we moved higher, we were stripped to just our tees. With only 1 small bottle of mineral water to quench 2 thirsty mouths, 2 bars of chocolate to feed our growling stomachs, a seemingly endless steep sandy slopes ahead and a minute view of Sant Joan Chapel, the challenge of mind over body has just begun.

View of St Joan Chapel at mid-point of St Miquel & St Joan Chapels

At this halfway point, I (the wife) can no longer push on. My mind was starting to succumb to the call of my tired legs and my almost-running-out-of-breath lungs! I knew I had to push on, after all, we were in the middle of nowhere. But, no rationalizing can enter my brain at that moment. Hubby was encouraging. Despite his tiredness, he went ahead to check out the estimated distance in order to rally me on. The statistics were not convincing but his effort and the lure of a treacherous bridge (hubby knew me too well) were.

We (or rather I) made the final 20 mins of steep climb with whatever strength that we had left and ta-da...we did it....!!

Sant Joan Chapel

Top view of Sant Joan Chapel

At 1000m high, the breeze was lovely and the view splendid.

As we were resting and enjoying the scenery, suddenly, the treacherous bridge caught my eyes and all my energy seems to return. All excited, we made our way towards it. It was a simple wooden bridge built under a low overhead massive rock cave linking a gap in the mountain. The bridge was worn-out but stable. Fun (if only it had been a longer one)!

Once across, there is a very steep stretch up the mountain which leads to Sant Jeroni, the highest point of the mountain. There are 2 routes available, one from Abat Oliba Square and the other one here. The latter was a natural choice for us and the high level of difficulty makes it extremely tempting. However, without proper gears and the climb to the top would probably take another 1 hour or more, we had no choice but to give up. Disappointing.

On our way down via a steep stairway, we had some unexpected company....

Wild goats surveying a bunch of tired breathless human beings intruding their space!

The way down was much easier, lesser strength required and the weather started to turn chilly as dark clouds slowly gathered above us. Now, we can really enjoy the vastness of our surrounding.

After more than 1 hours of walk, we finally reached the starting point of St. Miquel walk....yippy! we made it before the rain comes....phew! From here, about 100 metres away is the Sant Miquel's Cross.

The St. Miquel's Cross lookout point offers a spectacular view from the Pyrenees to the Llobregat delta. At 770m high and a cloudy sky, the view was enveloped with a layer of mystery.

View of St. Miquel's Cross from the Sanctuary

View of Sanctuary enveloped by heavy added a level of mystery to this holy place

We were worried that it might be a prolonged rainfall since we still have the most important Santa Cova (The Holy Grotto) to cover after lunch. Luckily, our worries were unfounded. After some waiting at the was crowded considering we were late-comers, and a well-deserved and definitely much needed rest, the rain stopped and the sky was clear and bright again.

Visitors can avoid climbing the 100 metre slope down by taking the Funicular of Santa Cova to the beginning of the Monumental Rosary of Santa Cova. Monumental Rosary is a path that leads to The Holy Grotto, and is dotted with sculptural representation of the 15 mysteries of the holy rosary (prayer beads for Catholics). For the faithful, praying the rosary and meditating upon each mystery makes the walk even more meaningful.

Having conquered one of the two most difficult walk at Montserrat, the walk to Santa Cova was an easy after lunch stroll for us, and it rewarded us with a different view of the mountains.

Interesting rock formation....the first 4 pieces from left looks like the fingers of Buddha, the next set looks like the face of an ape and the one behind the ape looks like 5 pointing fingers.....what's your take?

We just love how the mountains split

From the Monumental Rosary, we can see the minute view of The Holy Grotto and the distance that we need to walk to reach it. Though it was an easy walk, still, seeing the length of the road was daunting.

Can you see the road that curves round the mountain?

Nevertheless, it is not going to deter us. Imagine back 1000 yrs ago when there was no paved road except treacherous rock mountains (erase the paved walkway and that's what used to be back then), yet despite all odds, the villages and monks carried the statue of the Black Virgin all the way from the cave to the now Sanctuary through these difficult terrain and built the basilica and monastery out of nothing. That deep faith and enormous determination had carved in our heart that "with faith and will, nothing is impossible".

1st Joyful Mystery - The Annunciation by Angel Gabriel that Mary will be the Mother of God

The first Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary marks the start of the Monumental Rosary of Santa Cova. Here are a snapshots of a selective few....visit our album to see all the 15 mysteries.

4th Joyful Mystery - The Presentation of baby Jesus in the Temple

1st Sorrowful Mystery - Agony in the Garden (before Jesus was arrested and finally die)

3rd Sorrowful Mystery - a crown of thorns was being placed on the head of Jesus

5th Sorrowful Mystery - The Crucifixation (Jesus was crucified and died)

1st Glorious Mystery - Jesus resurrected 3 days after His death

3rd Glorious Mystery - The Holy Spirit descends upon Mary (Jesus's mother) and the Apostles 

5th Glorious Mystery - Mary is gloriously crowned Queen of Heaven & earth

The 5th Glorious Mystery marks the end of the Monumental Rosary walk and the entrance to The Holy Grotto.

The Holy Grotto (Santa Cova)

An aura of holiness prevails inside the cave. A great place for quiet prayer and meditation.

A replica of the Black VIrgin. The original was placed in the basilica.

The statue is losing its colour due to the continuous kissing & touching by pilgrims.

More about the Holy Sculpture
The Holy Sculpture is a Romanesque carving from the later XIIth century, and represented St. Mary as "Mother of God in Majesty" or "Throne of Wisdom" typified as Queen, Mother and Virgin. The face is painted black except the neck to show the brown colour of the poplar. The overall details of the face reminds us of an early Gothic image. From the front and side angle, the face exults a sense of calm with a light smile.

The clothing is Romanesque with a long robe covering the feet. The right hand holds the world to signify the power over the universe, proper of Jesus Christ, and by extension, also of His Mother. The left hand does not touch the Son who is presented as the "blessed Fruit of her womb".

The sculpture of the Child Jesus wears a crown like the mother. He blesses with his right hand and holds a pine, as a sign of fecundity, on his left.

The Mother sits on a throne with 4 columns; and between them a city is being painted, meaning Jerusalem.

The Mother of God carries and presents us Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom centuries and generations have adored in this Sanctuary of Montserrat, presenting her their prayers and leaving their votive offerings.

We spent some quiet moments there before exploring the cave. It is a small cave with a small house that looks like an office and a living quarter attached to it at the backyard.

It was near evening when we returned to the Sanctuary. With not much time left before the mountain turns pitch dark, we went for our last walk, the Cami dels Degotalls (Magnificat) path. It is the easiest (even easier than the Via Crucis) and shortest (only 30 mins) path at Montserrat.

The path is adorned with monuments dedicated to Catalan artists and majolica offerings dedicated to the most varied avocations to the Mother of God.

The overhanging trees sheltering the path, the cool weather and birds chipping away makes it a very relaxing walk. However, 10 mins into the walk, the path turned very muddy and there were big puddles of water everywhere due to the heavy downpour in the afternoon. We decided to turn back to get some takeaway dinner from the cafeteria hoping that there would be more choices since it was still early.

Guess what? We were quite happy that we were probably the early birds for dinner....then what greeted us was a "CLOSED" sign! It was only 6pm and they were close? We were totally thrown off our thoughts. Our immediate attention turned to the adjacent gift cum pastry shop that was still opened. Well, we could not get any dinner but did bought a few boxes of tasty chocolate. Yum yum....

We were hoping that the other restaurants remains open.....they can't all be closed right? And Right, none was open. The whole placa was starting to get really was a totally different scene compared to last night. In the end (with blessings and hindsight...maybe) we dug into our reserves....instant noodles! Now, we fully appreciate the tiny kitchen in our room and the loads of snacks and fruits that we bought at the nearby supermarket before leaving Badalona. Hmm.....never leave home without snacks?

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. And of course, we ended our night with the heavenly night Vesper.

This post first appeared on Carefree And Off-the-beaten Tracks Travels Around The World, please read the originial post: here

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Spain & Portugal - Day 5


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