Thursday, July 05, 2007

A pilgrims progress

Paying hommage to the Black Madonna


A trip to Montserrat would be nothing, if you do not embark on your own personal pilgrimage to see and touch the Black Madonna at Montserrat. We did. This is an account on two pilgrims progress.

We did, what people have done for over a thousand years. In fact, people have regarded Montserrat as a Holy place since 880. The story said that the Benedictine friars that once settled here, did not manage to move the Black Madonna from the place she originally stood, and therefore constructed the monastery and church around her.

As we approached the church from the outside, we saw the long line of people along the right side of the courtyard leading up to the door.



In fact this long line was the start of our pilgrimage, outside, in the cool shade provided by gothic vaults leading along the right side of the church courtyard. As we progressed towards the entrance, we could, on our right side admire beautiful marble statues, on the left side the magnificent courtyard and the strange mountain formation above them.

This was a seriously international crowd. We stood in a group of Russian tourists, but different tongues could be heard all around us. We all stood in anticipation of what we were about to see.

Suddenly we stood in front of the door leading into the church. Over the door we saw a depiction of Our Lady herself. The Black Madonna on a crescent shaped stone. The stone had an inscription. My modest knowledge of Latin told me that this stone celebrated the hundred years gone by since Our Lady was proclaimed to be Patron Saint of Catalonia. It was pope Leo XIII that made this declaration September 11th 1844.

As we enterred the church itself we found ourselves in the dusk. The light outside was filtered through beautiful stained glass windows as we were going from one chapel to another.

Through the centuries, pilgrims have waited patiently here. The time were spent in silence, contemplating their own lives and relationship with God.

In our modern society we have little time to ourselves, and a pilgrimage as this, is therefore the best time to try to do as others did through the centuries, standing silently, seeing and understanding some of the beauty and the hidden meanings carved into the altars, statues and paintings along your way to the end of you quest.

As this altar dedicated to Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order.

Domingo de Guzmán Garcés, was born in 1170 in Caleruega in Castille. He worked as a preacher, and tried to run his mission among the Cathars, a religious group flourishing in Languedoc in todays France. After Saint Dominic failed to convert the Cathars in this area, Pope Innocent III, ordered a crusade against the heretics killing thousands of innocent men, women and children. This ended with the siege of the Cathar stronghold of Montségur in 1244. This was also the reality in Medieval Europe. No wonder people needed time to understand the times within they lived.

We passed through several chapels decorated with altars. There were a large modern painting where several of the pilgrims sat down and prayed.

As we moved through room after room, we realized that this would take much of the afternoon. The good thing with the whole march was that it was cool in the dusk within the church.

Then we saw stairs leading up, the vaults over it were made from partly polished, partly natural stone. This was the part of the ascension up to the holy golden room, where Santa Maria de Montserrat resides.

As we slowly walked up the stairs, we were led into another room - and more stairs in front of us.

At this point, we saw some of the Dominican Friars and priests working here, as they brought a chalice with wine and a tray of bread for a communion somewhere else. Until then there had been no signs of any of the men of the church that still live and pray here.

As we turned around the corner leading up to the room over us, we could finally see the Golden Room and the Queen herself, and we slowly walked the final steps to pay hommage to the eternal queen of Catalonia.

Two and a half hour later we were the first in line to stand face to face with this statue, that many believed was as old as Christiany itself. It is said to have been carved during the trying times of the first church.

This veil of mystery has, however, been removed by scholars declaring it being younger than the Monastery itself, a romanesque statue dating back to the late 12th century.

Sometimes it is sad that these mysteries disappears. In my case, however, this did not affect my feelings as I faced her. Part of the orb in her right arm was outside the glass case, and I allowed my hand to touch it, and say a prayer.

And what did I pray for? You will never know.....

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