When I was in college, one of my favorite classes was Philosophy and one of the first lessons that they teach you is the “sense of wonder”. As Plato puts it, wonder is the feeling of a philosopher. It’s a deep and natural emotional state of longing, marvel, and awe.
After working in the corporate and business world in a cramped, polluted, fast-paced, and bustling city for a decade, my sense of wonder has almost flatlined. The responsibilities of the “real world” and the desire to be in control has really made me think very small. Over the years I’ve put more value in worldly things; the stuff that we can see and count like money, property, and material belongings.
A recent trip to Barcelona though tore down the walls of that box that I’ve put myself in and reminded me of how small I am in this world. It’s not to say that I’m downplaying what I’ve done in life, but I realized how vast and spectacularly unknown the world is to me. This place we went to reignited my sense of marvel and wonder as I walked around with my jaw wide open. The beauty, majesty, and serenity was supernatural and spiritual.
This place is Montserrat, a Benedictine Monastery situated in a jagged mountain range in Barcelona, Spain. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and it has permanently given me a deep sense of longing to see the rest of the world.
I think we spent most of our time here outside and just marveling at the view. The real draw to this place was supposed to be the church itself but personally I just couldn’t take my eyes off the landscape views. Seeing the rivers, trees, jagged mountain range, and structures together with crystal clear blue sky was just an awesome experience. It was so refreshing! It’s as if there was something in the air here that was draining me of the toxins gathered through the years while living and working in Manila, haha!
I won’t get too deep into the history of Montserrat but basically the magic behind this place started all the way in 880. From what our guide told us, a shepherd found the Black Madonna (a black statue of the Virgin Mary) inside a cave. So what do we do when we find something like that inside a cave? Well apparently you don’t remove it. You build an entire church and monastery around it even if it’s along a mountain range, hehe. That’s apparently what happened in this case. Since then Montserrat has been a global pilgrimage site for faithful Catholics all over the world. You can actually still see the Black Madonna statue inside the church if you go here.
Before you get to the actual church there’s a long pathway with ledges that offer the views of the photos that we posted above. It then leads to a giant courtyard where you can even get a better view of the monastery structure and the upper mountain range.
Inside the Monastery itself there are several statues of saints, including St. Ignatius of Loyola. Supposedly this was the place where he surrendered his life to Christ. He eventually went on to become the founder of the Society of Jesus.
After you get past the big courtyard there’s a smaller version inside prior to the actual church. This lets you get a good look at the church facade which showcases sculptures of the 12 disciples.
And finally we have the interior of the Church itself. The theme is black and gold which is pretty much consistent with the colors of the Black Madonna. There’s an altar at the far end flanked by paintings and statues. The crucified Christ is not too big and it beautifully hangs from the wall just on top of the actual altar table. At the very far end is the Black Madonna. You can actually go up to it (long line) but you can’t take pictures.
We didn’t spend too much time in the church itself. We went out and spent the rest of the morning at the courtyard admiring the views and soaking in the wonder that we’ve lost during the last decade of working hard back in Manila. 🙂
On the way out we bought some souvenirs and we also ate some of the free taste test cheese being offered by the vendors. We ended up buying several packs of cheese that we eventually ate with wine back at our rented apartment in the city proper.
Thank you to Marco, Jen, and Brad for going with us on this memorable trip to Montserrat. It was definitely the highlight of our Barcelona trip!
If you guys ever find yourselves in Spain, more specifically when you end up in Barcelona, make it a point to go to Montserrat. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I pray that you guys will leave Montserrat the same way we did: with a fresh sense of wonder, awe, and marvel. We hope that you have the same deep humbling experience we had that will give you the longing not just to explore and see the rest of the world, but to gaze at the beauty of God’s work and see Him in it.”
*Photos taken by me, my wife Michelle, and our friend Marco Pajo