When a fellow parishioner returned from a Marian pilgrimage, she brought me a rosary from the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat. I was happy to receive the gift, even if I didn’t know a single thing about this particular Marian apparition. When I asked friends, none of them had heard of her either. It turns out that unless you’re Spanish—or, more specifically, Catalan—or have visited her shrine, odds are you probably haven’t heard of her, either.
Want to learn more about the Spanish “Black Madonna”? Here are six basic facts you should know!
The St. Luke connection
Legend says that the original image was carved by none other than St. Luke in A.D. 50 during the time that he lived in Jerusalem. The image is supposed to have somewhat “fled” to Egypt, much like the Holy Family’s flight to avoid King Herod’s terrible persecution. The image up in Montserrat when St. Etereo took it to Spain where it has since remained.
Centuries of devotion
The earliest records of the devotion and shrine date back to 932. The then Count of Barcelona stated that his father built the shrine in 888 and Lothaire, King of France, confirmed it in 982. Tradition says that the image was moved to the top of the mountain with knowledge of the Bishop and the city’s governor on April 22, 718, following the invasion of the Saracens, to keep the image safe.
Ain’t no mountain high enough
Some may wonder why the shrine is 4,000 feet up in mountains in the Catalonia region of Spain. Legend tells us that the image was forgotten for over a century and a half until shepherds were guided by lights and singing that came from a cave in the mountain in 890, right to the location where the image was found. The shepherds told a priest, who then told his bishop. All saw and heard the same thing. A small church was built on the site and the present church—which has since been elevated to a basilica—has been around since 1592.
Black, and beautiful
No, her nickname of “La Moreneta” (“little dark one”) has nothing to do with Song of Solomon 1:5 (“I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem” NRSVCE), although you could make the connection if you wanted to. The image of Our Lady of Montserrat has achieved her color due to centuries worth of candle smoke. There have been candles lit in front of the image, night and day, since the 12th century.
Many saints have made a pilgrimage to her shrine over the years. They include Sts. Peter Nolasco, Raymond of Penafort, Vincent Ferrer, Francis Borgia, Aloysius Gonzaga, Joseph Calasanctius, Anthony Mary Claret, and Ignatius of Loyola. It is said that St. Ignatius laid down his sword and began his vocation right after making the pilgrimage to Montserrat. In fact, he began writing his Spiritual Exercises shortly after his visit. St. Josemaria Escriva was also miraculously cured of his diabetes on her feast day, April 27, 1954, following a near-fatal attack.
The Monastery of Montserrat has been home to Benedictine monks since the 10th century! They say that they chose to build their monastery around the image because they were unable to move/lift it to a different location. The eighty monks currently living at the monastery welcome visitors to their monastery, inviting them to daily Mass and the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Of course, these facts are just scratching the surface. There are a number of accounts and legends surrounding Our Lady of Montserrat but no one can deny that the image has been a miraculous one over the centuries. For this month of Mary, why not learn more about La Moreneta? Who knows, you may end up with a new devotion.