Tourist Information Guide

Black Madonna at Montserrat: The Image of the Virgin Mary

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Black virgin of Montserrat
Black Madonna of Montserrat

Whether you are religious or not, visiting the Black Madonna at Montserrat is a spiritual and worthwhile experience. You will join in line with a group of people, many of whom have come as pilgrims to the statue - the atmosphere is electric. Chances are you will have to wait to see the Madonna. However all of this can serve to enhance your visit - make the most of the opportunity to take in your surroundings. The stairway leading to the statue, plus the room and altar in which the statue sits are ornate, golden and pay tribute to the wonder that is the Virgin herself.

The Black Madonna is sometimes referred to by other names, including 'The Virgin of Montserrat' and 'La Moreneta'. The statue sits behind a sheet of glass. However, one of her hands that is holding a sphere (which symbolises the universe) is not behind the glass. It is tradition for you to kiss or touch the Virgin's hand whilst opening out your other hand to Jesus.

This page will provide you with details of the history of the statue of the Black Madonna, plus information on where it is, whether you have to pay to see it, the waiting times for seeing the Black Madonna and accessibility to the statue.


The history of the Black Madonna

The whole of Montserrat is built around facilitating the worship of the Black Madonna in the Basilica. The Black Madonna was believed to have been carved in Jerusalem at the beginning of the religion. It is a wooden sculpture. It is one of the most famous Black Madonna statues in the world and in 1844 Pope Leo XIII declared the Virgin of Montserrat the patroness of Catalonia. Black Madonnas can be found all over the world, If you are interested in the history of the concept of the Black Madonna and its various depictions, it is worth a visit to the Montserrat Museum where there is a whole section dedicated to its art and history.

Montserrat Basilica
Montserrat Basilica

As you enter the doorway to the Basilica that will take you to the Black Madonna statue (see below for where this is), you will pass the chapels that lead to the Virgin. The first chapel is in honour of Saint Peter, the second is in honour of St Ignatius of Loyola, the third is on honour of St Martin and the fourth is in honour of St Joseph Calasantius.

In 1944 it was decided that a new room, known as the 'throne room' would be built with a stairway leading to the statue. The work of sculptors, architects, artists and jewellers was recruited and the project was headed by the architect Francesc Folguera and the painter Josep Obiols to build the room and altar in which the statue is placed.

The new building work was scheduled to be completed on 27 April 1947 - a day to be known as the Enthronement. However, work finally finished in 1954.

As you enter the room where the Virgin sits, it is worth noting the doors - they are made of repousse silver and were created by Josep Obiols, Rafel Solanic and Manuel Capdevila. The Black Madonna herself sits on an incredibly ornate throne which is covered in Venetian mosaics. At either side of the Virgin you will spot nine silver lamps - these represent the eight dioceses of Catalunya and Montserrat. Above the Virgin's head there are Angels that were created by the sculptor Marti Llaurado.

On leaving the altar of the Black Madonna, at the bottom of the stairs, you will be given the opportunity to say a prayer in the chapel of the Image of the Mother of God. This chapel was completed in 1885 under the direction of Francsec de Paula del Villar i Lozano who was helped by a young Antoni Gaudi.


Why is the Madonna Black?

One of the most common questions about the Black Madonna is why she is black. The dark colour of the Virgin's face is the reason why locals have nicknamed her 'La Moreneta' ("the little black lady"). Contrary to popular belief, she is not black due a portrayal of a Black African Madonna. The blackness also does not come from a dark colour in the wood or from earlier coverings in paint. It is known from historical descriptions of the Madonna that she has simply darkened over time.


The Ave Maria Path
The Ave Maria Path

The Ave Maria Path (Cami de l'Ave Maria) at Montserrat

On leaving the area where you have seen the Black Madonna you will exit via the Cami de l'Ave Maria. This area is a moving place where you will be given the opportunity to pay homage to the statue that you have just seen. Each candle that you will see has been lit as a prayer to the Virgin Mary. An entire wall of candles is evidence of all of the people have come to ask their prayers to the Virgin Mary.

Stained glass window at the Bascilica at Montserrat
Stained glass window in the Basilica at Montserrat

If you want to light your own candle for the Virgin, you will need to purchase one from the cages that sit in the atrium to the Basilica. They are sold on the basis of trust - simply choose the size of the candle that you would like to buy and put the correct change in the metal box provided (you will need to have the correct change, unless you would simply like to make a donation).


Where is the Black Madonna?

The Black Madonna is located at the back of the Montserrat basilica, looking down over the alter. On entering the atrium of the Basilica you will see a doorway to the right. Enter this doorway where you will join the queue to see the Black Madonna.


Candles on the Ave Maria Path
Candles on the Ave Maria Path

Do I have to pay to see the Black Madonna?

There is no charge for visiting the Black Madonna. However, there are collection boxes at the bottom and the top of the stairs to the Black Madonna. If you want to make a donation to the Monastery, make sure that you have change with you when you visit the Madonna.


What are the waiting times?

Considering the fact that the Black Madonna is one of the most popular attractions at Montserrat and considering the small room that it is contained within, you are almost certainly going to have to queue to visit it. Waiting times will depend on the time of year that you visit, whether you visit during the week or at the weekend and what time of day that you visit.

At busy times you will wait from 20 - 45 minutes to see the Black Madonna.


TipTo avoid long queues for visiting the Black Madonna, it is best to visit in the afternoon. This is due to the fact that most coach visits to Montserrat take place in the morning and so the whole Monastery is a lot busier during these hours. It is also worth remembering that the famous boy's choir sing every day at 13:00 - for this reason, the queues for the Black Madonna are far shorter during this time.


Limited mobility accessibility

Unfortunately, the Black Madonna statue is the hardest place to reach if you have limited mobility in the whole of the Montserrat Monastery. There are very narrow stairs leading to the statue and the historical nature of the building means that there is no stair lift or elevato.

However, it will be possible to view the Black Madonna sculpture from the bottom of the stairs at a distance of two metres. To do this, you will need to access the Black Madonna from the Cami de l'Ave Maria (see above for more details). At the end of this walkway there are stairs leading to the exit of the Black Madonna area. There is a stair lift to get up these stairs. Once you are at the top of these stairs you can enter a small chapel where you will be able to view the Black Madonna from the bottom of the stairs.

Whether you plan on visiting Montserrat for the history, the spirituality or its natural surroundings, it is worth paying a visit to the Black Madonna. Situated in stunningly beautiful and ornate surroundings, the statue is at the very heart of what Montserrat is all about.


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