Montserrat, history and legends

Montserrat is a symbol of Catalonia that has inspired numerous artists, from poets like Jacint Verdaguer to architects such as  Antoni Gaudí. The so-called magic mountain is the inspiration for legends and stories that have accentuatedits iconic status and converted it into a symbol of all Catalans.

History and legend come together in the story of the founding of the monastery and in the figure of Count Wilfred the Hairy (Guifré el Pilós), and his daughter Riquilda, who it is said was possessed by the devil. They sent for Joan Garí, a hermit who lived in a cave on the mountain of Montserrat, who went to save her only to be tempted astray by the devil, having to do penance henceforth to earn God's forgiveness.

One fact which is certainly true and documented is that in the year 1025, Oliba, the abbot of Ripoll and bishop of Vic, founded a new monastery at the site of the church of Santa María de Montserrat as a daughter of the monastery of Ripoll. Many more legends have arisen in this place since that time. One of the best known is that on the 21st February 1345 a mysterious light arose over Montserrat before flying to Manresa and entering the church of Carmen, causing the bells to ring out. 

Mysteries such as this have caused the monastery of Montserrat  to attract pilgrims and travellers. In 1409 it became an independent abbey and embarked on a period of splendour that raised its status as a place of pilgrimage. One of these pilgrims was Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who was inspired in 1522 to set aside his sword, dagger and knight's attire and to leave them all on the altar of the Virgin.

The drummer boy of Bruc
Everything changed, however, with the war of independence, or peninsular war. Local lore tells us that in one of the episodes, in 1808, the Napoleonic army was preparing to launch an attack on El Bruc, close to Montserrat: the legend says that when one of the boys in the village began beating his drum, he realised that the mountains amplified the sound, leading him to play so hard and loud that the reverberations and echoes convinced the invaders that they were facing a much larger force. This was the origin of the myth of the Timbaler del Bruc ("the drummer boy of Bruc") History, however, shows that it can have been no more than an anecdote, because the French army was victorious and eventually razed the monastery on the 31st July 1812.
With the support of the local populace, monastic life was able to resume on Montserrat in 1844. Finally, in 1881 the Festivities of the Coronation of the Virgin were held here and Pope Leo XIII proclaimed her the Patroness of Catalonia.


Even the Nazis were drawn to Montserrat. Himmler visited Spain in October 1940 to prepare the meeting between Franco and Hitler in Hendaya. After his political engagements in Madrid, he came to Montserrat as part of his enquiries into the Holy Grail, following up on a German tradition that the relic is kept on the Holy Mountain.

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