Nestled in the countryside about an hour outside of BCN, the monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat peers down from atop a mountain across the Catalan landscape as a sanctuary for religious history, Catalan culture, and breathtaking views. The monastery is crowned by the “Black Madonna,” an ancient wood carving with an unknown origin and even more mysterious legend behind it: the story has it that when the monastery was being built, the monks were unable to move the sculpture from its location and thus decided to build their monastery around it. Montserrat and the “Black Madonna” served as the inspiration for Ignatius of Loyola to found the Jesuit movement, and he laid down his armor in front of the sculpture for the last time before beginning his teachings. The Escolania of the monastery is considered the oldest boys’ school of music in Europe, and Montserrat holds an important place in Catalan society as a place of refuge for Catalan scholars, politicians, and artists during Franco’s repression. My Monsterrat experience brought me VERY close to prayer during the Aeri ride, a cable-driven gondola built in 1930 that spans the valley below to reach the summit at Montserrat, a 544 meter grade (1,785 feet). As smooth as it was, I’m sure that everyone in the car had at least a few fingers crossed on the way down!
Continuing with the day’s theme of Catalan repression, I stopped by Placa St. Filip Neri on my way back from the train station, which is one of the best-preserved effects of Franco’s bombings of Barcelona during his reign. The plaza, just steps from the Cathedral of Barcelona in the heart of the city, was the site of executions during the Spanish Civil War and a bomb that killed thirty school children in the plaza – the facade of the buildings are covered in pock-marks from the splash of bullets – a grim reminder of the history of 20th century Spain and Barcelona. Also, Antoni Gaudí was on his way to the plaza for his daily prayers when he was hit by a trolley and killed in 1928, taking one of BCN’s most famous Mondernisme influences.