November 24: Our Lady of Montserrat
In Spain, Mount Montserrat has been dedicated to the veneration of Mary, Our Lady of Montserrat. It is a mountain standing alone, ten leagues from Barcelona, which was, according to the celebrated naturalist Humboldt, the great Atlas of the ancients, at the foot of which the fine kingdom of Valencia displayed the golden apples of the garden of the Hesperides. This mountain, which owed its name of Monte Serrats (sawed mountain) to its extraordinary form, seems as if composed of inlaid work, which makes it look as if divided and covered with spiral cones, or pine cones; so that it appears, from afar, to have been the work of men.
At a distance, Montserrat is a pile of grottoes and Gothic pyramids; when near, each cone appears a mountain by itself; and all the cones, terminated by needles, or points, which make a great noise when the wind blows, form an enormous mass of about five leagues in circumference. It was probably this singular conformation that led to the invention of the fable of the giants, who had heaped mountain upon mountain to scale the heavens.
It is on a platform of his celebrated mountain that the superb convent has been built, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, which is one of the most celebrated pilgrimages of Christendom. An inscription, of the year 1239, preserved in the convent above a large picture of the same period, thus records the foundation of this fine monastery:
“In the year 808, under the government of the Count of Barcelona, Geoffry le Velu, three young shepherds having one night seen a great light descend from the sky, and heard melodious music in the air, informed their relations of it. The bailiff and the Bishop of Mauresa having repaired, with all these people, to the spot which they pointed out, saw likewise the light from heaven, and after some search, they discovered the image of the Blessed Virgin, which they wanted to remove to Mauresa; but, being come to the place where the monastery now stands, they could not advance any farther. This prodigy induced the Count of Barcelona to build a convent of women there, from which he took the nuns of the royal abbey of Las Puellas of Barcelon; the first abbess of Our Lady of Montserrat was his daughter Richilda, who took possession of it about the year 895. This community of nuns subsisted until about the year 976, when the Count of Barcelona, Borrell, with the consent of the pope, placed Benedictine monks at Montserrat.”
The convent of Montserrat is a grand and noble edifice, situated on a platform very confined, and projecting from the mountain, which bears the name of Saint Mary’s platform; enormous rocks project above it, which seem every moment ready to fall; it is defended by the steep points of the mountain, as by natural fortifications, and on the accessible side by six strong towers. Besides the church of Our Lady, the fortified enclosure contains a house of entertainment for travelers, a hospital, and an infirmary.
The church of Our Lady of Montserrat his only a nave, but is nevertheless very spacious; the stalls of the choir are of very remarkable workmanship. The image of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Montserrat, has a face almost black, like those of Toledo and Guadeloupe, and many others which are visited in Spain; it is painted all over, and represented in an advanced age; though very brown, the face is graceful: she is seated on a seat made in the form of a throne, and holds in her right hand a globe, from which springs a fleur de lis, while she supports with the other hand the Infant Jesus, seated on her lap, giving a blessing with his right hand, and holding in the other a globe, surmounted by a cross.
The inhabitants of the mountain, divided into four classes, namely, monks, hermits, choristers, and lay brothers, succeed each other uninterruptedly in their prayers. The arrangement of the places is such, that from several of the hermitages the chanting of the monastery is heard, and the sound of the bells of the different hermits, repeated by the echoes, is united in the turnings and anfractuousness of the mountains. From the summit of Montserrat, the kingdoms of Valentia and Murcia are seen, and even as far as the Belaric Isles, which forms the finest prospect in the world.
Princes and kings of Spain often climbed on foot the steep path which leads to the altar of Our Lady of Montserrat, and innumerable captives came there to hang up the chains which they had worn among the Moors. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, before he devoted his life to religion, came thither to watch his arms, according to the usages and customs of that old chivalry, of which his head was then full.
After passing the night in prayer, and solemnly dedicating himself to Our Lady of Montserrat as her knight, according to the warlike ideas which he still had in his mind, and under which he conceived the things of God, says F. Bouhours, his historian, he hung up his sword on a pillar near the altar, in token of his renunciation of secular warfare; then, after communicating early in the morning, he left Montserrat, intent on a different type of warfare.
*from the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the History of Devotion to her by Mathieu Orsini and The Woman in Orbit
roman-catholic-saints.com, Marian Calendar
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