The Black Madonna
The origin of the devotion to Our Lady at the shrine of Montserrat according to the earliest written records dates from 932, when the Count of Barcelona confirmed and renewed an endowment to the shrine made by his father in 888. This gift was again confirmed in 982 by Lothaire, King of France. Constant and unbroken tradition is that even previous to 888, an image of Our Lady was miraculously found among the rocks of Montserrat. Montserrat itself is a fantastic mountain group, four thousand feet high, about twenty miles from Barcelona. The name, Montserrat, of Latin origin, means saw-edged mountain. It is formed by huge boulders that raise their immense bulk perpendicularly to that four thousand foot summit. Outwardly, it resembles the seemingly inaccessible monasteries seen on high Mount Athos in Greece: "Montserrat is, and will forever be, a source of deep impressions caused by the singularity of the place. There, what is material becomes cyclopean, the mysterious is turned mystical and the picturesque is promoted to sublimity." There is a story that the mountain was once a huge boulder with a smooth surface. At the time of the Crucifixion of Jesus, however, when the sun darkened, the rock was shaken to its very foundations and when light returned, the mountain had a thousand peaks.

The legend relates that the figure of Our Lady came from Jerusalem to Barcelona, and was brought into the mountains to save it from the Saracens. It is true that the Montserrat statue has oriental features, but this could well be traced to the Byzantine sculptors who were constantly employed in the West. The legend goes on to say that in the eighth century shepherds one night saw strange lights on the mountain and heard Seraphic music.

Guided by the shepherds, the Bishop of Manresa found, in a cavern, a wooden figure of Our Lady and the Holy Child. He ordered that the statue be carried into the cathedral immediately. However, the procession with the statue never reached the cathedral because, after much marching, the small wooden figure became too heavy so that the Bishop decided to accept it as a sign and left it in a chapel of a nearby hermitage. The statue remained there until a church was built on the site of the present abbey on the top of the rocks near where the statue was discovered.

Since that incident, this statue is the most celebrated, the most important of Spain; it is thirty-eight inches in height, and is known as "La Morenata" — The Little Black Madonna. The wood is now black with age; one of its most striking features is the dignified expression of Our Lady. In her right hand, she holds a majestic orb.
Here is a link to more of Our Lady of Montserrat;
Montserrat is on my long list of places to go to on pilgrimage.
On the mountain named Montserrat, near Barcelona, in the Catalonia region of Spain, a church now contains a 'miracle- working' statue of the Madonna and Child known as La Moreneta, that is: the dark little one.

Legend relates that the miraculous image was first known as La Jerosolimitana (the native of Jerusalem), since it is believed to have been carved in that city during the early days of the church.

    Another account, seemingly well-attested, indicates that the image was moved to Montserrat in 718, to avoid the danger posed by invading Saracens.  The image disappears from the historical record at this point, to reappear in a legend holding that shepherds found the lost statue under supernatural guidance in 890:

While tending their flocks that night the shepherds were amazed to see lights and to hear singing coming from the mountain.  When this was repeated, the shepherds reported the situation to their priest, who investigated.  When the priest also heard the singing and saw the mysterious lights, he informed the Bishop, and he also witnessed the phenomenon.  The statue of Our Lady was discovered in a cave and was brought out and placed in a small church that was soon erected.

[Digitized image of Our Lady of Montserrat]    However, the statue presently kept at the Montserrat shrine [at left] appears to have been introduced in the twelfth or thirteenth century.  Its Romanesque style is consistent with this estimate.  Beyond general style, the genre of the statue is certainly that of an 'enthroned virgin', typical of the earliest icons of Mary.  On behalf of Madonna and Child representations, Stephen Benko notes:

"It is well known that the iconography of Isis and [her son] Horus was basically adopted by Christians when they started to portray Mary and Jesus as Mother and Child."

    Benko adds that Isis was sometimes "pictured as black."  These observations indicate only a correlation, not a causal relationship.  They do not answer the question why the Montserrat figures are black.  Perhaps a lost statue of Isis was located by ninth-century shepherds and assumed to be a Madonna and Child, in spite of the dark features.

      The present copy could have reproduced the general style with adaptations to accommodate Romanesque taste.  However, no less likely is the theory that the present copy was modeled on the Christian genre of the enthroned Virgin.  Why then the black color of the figures?

    Perhaps it was done in imitation of earlier Christian Black Madonnas which the sculptor had seen.  This sounds plausible, but is unsupported by hard data.  Perhaps, it was inspired by the commentaries on the Song of Songs ["I am black but beautiful"] which were popular at that time.  Again, we have no evidence of this beyond the temporal coincidence of events.  On the negative side, Montserrat is located in Spain, not in France where St. Bernard of Clairvaux and others produced well-known commentaries on the Canticles.  Perhaps the image was created black to represent some esoteric religious symbolism.  Ean Begg notes that the Shrine of Montserrat is among the best candidates for former sanctuaries for the Holy Grail.  Further, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries esoteric Christian sects proliferated, though not primarily in Spain.  Again, these are correlations, not proofs.  Perhaps Cruz is right:

the dark color of Our Lady of Montserrat is attributed to the innumerable candles and lamps that have burned day and night before the image.
    In any case, certain facts may not be disputed.  The statue has always been considered one of the most celebrated images in Spain.  However, like Our Lady of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, its popularity is limited to a regional rather than a universal scope.  Also, the shrine has received innumerable pilgrims over the years, currently at the rate of at least one million per year.  This multitude includes secular and ecclesial rulers as well as a number of canonized Saints.  The most notable of these was St. Ignatius of Loyola, who laid down his sword and embarked on his religious mission "after spending a night praying before the image," a miracle in the order of grace.

The 27th of April is the feast day of the Mare de Déu deMontserrat,Our Lady of Montserrat, or as she is more affectionately called in Catalonia, la Moreneta, "the little dark-skinned one". One of the only black images of the Virgin Mary in Europe, the Virgin of Montserrat is the patron saint of all dioceses in Catalonia and together with St. George (Sant Jordi) is considered the patron saint of the territory. In recent history, she has also become a symbol for Catalan national identity and Catholic Catalan nationalism. Up in the mountains of Montserrat, the Santa María abbey celebrated on Monday with a mass dedicated to the Virgin, and outside in the main square there were numerous traditional activities including people making human towers (castells), music bands and food stalls, as well as groups dancing the traditional Catalan dance, La Sardana.

Tucked into the corners of Catalonia's Montserrat mountains is the Benedictine abbey, Santa María de Montserrat, located about a 30 minute drive from the city of Barcelona. Together with the jagged mountains that surround it (Montserrat literally means “serrated mountains”), and the statue of Our Lady of Montserrat, the abbey forms part of the rich history and culture of Catalonia. Since its existence, it has promoted the Catalan language and tradition and provided sanctuary to many Catalan academics, politicians and activists during Franco's dictatorship.  Thus, as well as a well known religious retreat, Montserrat became an inevitable space for the rise of Catalan nationalism and today is one of the strongest symbols of Catalan identity.

On the 27th April, hundreds of people take a trip to the mountains in order to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Montserrat. However, the celebrations already started on Sunday evening in the abbey with the Rosary, followed by Vespers sung by the monks, the Escolania boys' choir, one of the oldest and most prestigious boys' choirs in the world, and the congregation. There is also a vigil held in the abbey after members of the congregation present the Abbot with offerings of oil.

On Monday morning, after the early prayers (Lauds), a Mass was celebrated ending with the choir singing the Salve Regina and the Virolai (a hymn dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat and a symbol of Catalan spirituality and patriotism). Pilgrims from across the world filled the monastery to show their devotion by kissing the black virgin that sits in the crypt and offering her small gifts. Outside, there was music and dancing as well as the traditional human towers (castells) and the monks hoisted the Catalan flag (la Serenya) in front of the abbey.
The Black Virgin

One of the only black Madonnas in Europe, Our Lady of Montserrat is the patron saint of all dioceses in Catalonia and together with St. George (Sant Jordi) is celebrated as the patron saint of the territory. In the abbey, the "Virolai", the hymn to the Virgin of Montserrat is sung at noon each day by the Escolania  boys' choir, . The hymn begins with the words "Rosa d’abril, Morena de la serra..." (April rose, dark-skinned lady of the mountain...) and so the Virgin is also sometimes referred to as the April rose. Although the statue of Our lady of Montserrat has always been considered one of the most celebrated images in Spain for its unique colour as well as its religious significance, it is primarily popular among the Catalan people and is widely regarded as a symbol of Catalan nationalism.
Here is a replica of the Virgen de Montserrat in the Abbey of the Virgin of Montserrat in Mendiola, Manila:

[Image: dsc0259.jpg]
Montserrat and Catalan Nationalism

Santa María de Montserrat and the pinnacle-shaped mountains that encircle it form part of a particular landscape which is emotionally charged and portrayed as embodying Catalan traditions, history and culture. Thus, although the area, located in the middle of Catalonia (close to several important cities and towns), is known for being a religious retreat amongst the mountains, it is also a celebrated national symbol for Catalan people.

The festivities for the exaltation of the Virgin of Montserrat in April 1947, constituted the first major public gathering with clear Catalan nationalist connotations since the end of the Spanish Civil War. It was organised by Catalan nationalist Catholics and almost a hundred thousand people assembled at the Monastery. For the first time since 1939, a few words were spoken publicly in Catalan. Although such a concession cost the civil governor of Barcelona, Bartolomé Barba, his position (he was removed from office because of his ‘excessive tolerance’ towards Catalan people) it established Montserrat as a place that encouraged and celebrated Catalan identity.

Santa María de Montserrat has always played a remarkable role in preserving the Catalan language, not just through its use in sermons and religious education, but also as an instrument of culture and communication. The abbey provided sanctuary to many Catalan academics, politicians and activists during Franco´s dictatorship. It also contributed to the cultivation of Catalan through publications such as l’Infantil, Serra d’Or and Qüestions de vida cristiana, and through its patronage of both religious and non-religious books throughout this period.

In 1970, the toughening of Franco's regime was illustrated by the court-martial of sixteen ETA members held in Burgos, six of whom were sentenced to death. In Catalonia, the opposition called for the mobilisation of the citizens and about 300 intellectuals locked themselves in the monastery of Montserrat for three days to protest against these sentences. In response, the police sealed off the monastery but the actions helped convince the Francoist government to reduce the number of death sentences and once again Montserrat was represented as a refuge for separatist nationalists and those against Franco's regime.

Montserrat has not only played an important part in the Catalan nationalist movement for its cultural and historical reasons, but also because it is a concrete location that forms part of the land. It is a place where land, religion and nationalism come together, a centre of meaning for religious Catalan nationalism and a symbol of a nationalist movement.  Indeed, it is the words of Bishop Josep Torras i Bages, one of the main figures of Catholic Catalan nationalism from the late 19th and early 20thcentury, that are boldly engraved into the gate of the abbey: “Catalunya serà cristiana o no serà”, “Catalonia will be Christian or will not exist”. As such, those who honour Montserrat as both a spiritual and nationalist stronghold are among the many people who gathered today to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Montserrat.
[b]Lllibre Vermell de Monserrat[/b] - some of my favorite music ever ever ever, pilgrimage music in honor of Our Lady of Montserrat.

A few of my favorites

Some translations:

I have resolved to write about the contempt of the world,
that the now living will not bide their time in vane things.
Now is the hour to rise from the evil sleep of death.


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