Everything You Need to Know About the History of Montserrat

Montserrat means 'serrated mountain', and it does indeed look like it was carved out by a divine hand. This sacred mountain is home to Montserrat Monastery, the second most visited pilgrimage center, after Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. With a history dating back to 880, when a statue of the Virgin was found in a cave, Montserrat stands as a culturally, religiously and historically defining part of Spain.

Montserrat Timeline

7th Century: Hermits use Montserrat, erecting tiny chapels across the range over centuries.

8th & 9th Centuries: Moorish occupation during the Islamic armies' rule.

880 AD: Legend of The Black Madonna ("La Moreneta") begins as pastors find the holy statue on Montserrat, leading to the construction of the chapel of Santa Maria.

1025 AD: Monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat is built next to the chapel.

1811: French troops sack and burn the abbey and chapels during the French War, leading to the disuse and destruction of twelve hermitages.

1881: The reconstructed abbey is consecrated as a basilica, and Our Lady of Montserrat is proclaimed Patron Saint of Catalonia.

19th Century: Reconstruction in the late 19th century involved artists associated with the Art Nouveau movement (Modernism in Catalonia) and Montserrat became a cultural and religious landmark in Spain.

Montserrat Monastery History Explained

As Montserrat is the namesake of Montserrat Monastery, here is a closer look at the history of this iconic and sacred destination.

Santa Cova - Montserrat history


According to legend, in 880, a group of shepherds saw blinding light coming out of a cave and heavenly music playing all around. When they approached the cave, they found a statue of the Virgin Mary. A small chapel was established there in the late 9th century, known as Santa Cova, situated a short hike away from Montserrat Monastery today. Soon, word of the healing powers and blessings of the Virgin spread and pilgrims were pouring in.

Montserrat Monastery history

Founding of Montserrat Monastery

In 1025, Abbott Oliva of Ripoll decided to found a monastery, close to the cave where the patron saint first appeared. Thanks to the venerated statue of the Virgin, the monastery steadily became more popular and powerful. It is said that friar from Montserrat Monastery travelled with Christopher Columbus and that is how this Caribbean island came to be known as Montserrat.

Montserrat Monastery history

Napoleon's Invasion

In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and the monks flee from Montserrat Monastery, taking whatever valuables they could. The French army set fire to the monastery and tried to take over Montserrat, but failed to do so the first time, making Montserrat one of the only three places the French couldn't capture by 1811. However, they attacked again and the monastery was looted and set ablaze again.

Escolania choir - Montserrat Monastery history

Restoration of the Monastery

In 1844, the monks came back to the monastery and the restoration of the monastery is slowly underway. The Escolania choir that was dismissed during Napoleon's invasion was regrouped and the monastery's recovery became a symbol of Catalan patriotism. Renowned artists and architects set to work on the monastery including Puig i Cadafalch, Francesc de Paula i Villar and a young Antoni Gaudi. In 1881, the Pope Leo XIII declared the Virgin the patron saint of Catalonia.

Montserrat Monastery Today

Today, Montserrat Monastery is home to around 80 monks and the children of the Escolania choir. It has become a famous pilgrimage center in Spain and is a thriving community known for its cultural and historical relevance. Montserrat Museum is also one of the most complete galleries in Spain with works by Caravaggio, El Greco, Degas, Monet, Ramon Casas, Santiago Rusiñol, Picasso and Dalí.

Book Tickets to Montserrat

Frequently Asked Questions About Montserrat's History

What is the historical significance of Montserrat?

Montserrat holds historical significance as a sacred site dating back to the 7th century. It witnessed many important events, everything from the appearance of the Virgin Lady to being attacked by Napoleon's troops.

How old is Montserrat Monastery?

The construction of Montserrat Monastery began in the 11th century, making it over a thousand years old. It has undergone various renovations and additions over the centuries, showcasing a mix of architectural styles.

What is the historical context in which Montserrat Monastery was created?

Montserrat Monastery was created after the sighting of the patron saint of Catalonia, the Virgin Mary, in a cave on Montserrat mountains.

How has Montserrat Monastery contributed to Montserrat's cultural heritage and history?

Montserrat Monastery has been a focal point of spiritual and religious activity in Catalonia. It houses the revered Black Madonna and has been a site of pilgrimage. The monastery's architecture and art collection also enrich Montserrat's cultural and historical relevance.

Are there guided tours explaining Montserrat Monastery’s history?

Yes, there are guided tours available at Montserrat Monastery. These tours offer in-depth insights into its history, architectural style, and cultural relevance.