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The Serrated Mountain

March 14, 2013

3/3/2013 Montserrat, outside Barcelona


Softly rocking through tunnels, I imagine the Spanish countryside before I see it: muted Sunday morning light on tilled fields and quaint Catalan villages with cobbled laneways. But first we have to pass through Barcelona’s grey suburbs of box-like apartments and an industrial zone with its factories, warehouses, and endless construction. In the distance are blue hills beneath a cloudless sky. We are bound for Montserrat, the “serrated mountain,” fifty kilometres north of the city; the site of a 13th century monastery, it has been a place of pilgrimage since the middle ages. Soon we are speeding by small farm houses with well-tended fields of olive trees. The earth is muddy from days of rain.

After an hour we reach the base of the mountains. High stone, crenulated by centuries of wind. Now the funicular railway curves toward the summit, laden with laughing Japanese tourists. We lean back in our seats as we ascend between two sheer rock walls. A girl screams at our first glimpse of the smoky valley below. Seventeen minutes and thirty second to the top.

Bells ring out to announce mass at the monastery, echoing within the amphitheatre of hills so it is hard to locate the source of the sound. Inside the crowded basilica a priest tries to teach the congregation a hymn, but his quavering voice can barely be heard over tourists loudly admiring the furniture. Flash photos are taken, a baby cries. It all feels very far from God.

Later, among the whistling pines behind the monastery, I find a small figurine of the Virgin made of yellow wax, lodged in the cliff face. The Pyrenees are visible to the north, capped with snow. Along the pathway are small plaques recording the years various Spanish villages made the pilgrimage. Higher up, approaching San Jeronimo, the farthest hermitage, the track turns to mud. There is ice in the shadows by the path. Sitting beside the trail, I begin a list of small pleasures that I know I will be too lazy to keep writing. The first item? Eating an orange in the sun on a mountaintop with a view of orchards.


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One Comment
  1. CBH permalink

    I’m interested by the hermitage. Are there still proper hermits out there? I presume they don’t use the internet as that would be breaking the rules?

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