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Location: Minneapolis, MN

Dempsey is a Golden Retriever puppy who is in training to become a Helping Paws service dog for an individual with a physical disability. He lives with his parents Doreen and Paul, and Bailey the cat. None has ever trained a puppy before. These are their adventures. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the blog author. The contents of this blog have not been reviewed or approved by Helping Paws, Inc.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A pilgrimage to Montserrat

On our last day in Barcelona, we took a day trip to Montserrat, a major pilgrimage site a few miles north of the city.

Our first view of Montserrat (“serrated mountain”) from the train was spectacular. The mountain is dotted with huge boulders, which looked from a distance like giant shards of ice, glinting in the early morning sun. It reminded me of the planet Krypton.

The extraterrestrial imagery is appropriate, because in the 8th century, Montserrat was the site of a UFO sighting. That’s right. One night, two shepherd boys saw a bright white light, accompanied by beautiful music, descend from the heavens and land on the mountain. When the authorities went to investigate the next day, they found, not Superman, but a small black Madonna. When they tried moving the statue, they found it impossible, and so a small shrine was built around it, and pilgrims from all over Spain came to visit.

In subsequent years, the authorities were able to move the statue – it’s now in the cathedral at Montserrat – and evidence has emerged indicating that the statue dates from the 12th century, not the 8th, though I suppose having something from the future appear in the past only makes it more of a miracle.

Even today, the black Madonna is an object of veneration. There’s an aerial tramway (the steepest in Europe) and a funicular to the top of the mountain, where there’s a gift shop, cafeteria, hotel, convenience store, museum, and ample tour bus parking. There’s also the monastery and cathedral.

Inside the cathedral, we saw the famous Catholic boys choir perform – barely. It was packed, and we had to stand near the exit, way in the back. There was also a long line to see the black Madonna up close. (Since it was freezing cold outside, we passed.)

But despite the crowds and the incessant clanging of filthy lucre, Montserrat remains beautiful. The inside of the cathedral has beautiful, ornate iron chandeliers. Near the monastery, there's an altar in a small cave filled with multicolored votive candles. The path to the original shrine is lined with sculptures, including one by Gaudi. And there were funiculars to other parts of the mountain, with hiking trails, abandoned hermitages, and breathtaking vistas. Since it was so cold, Doreen and I really enjoyed riding the funiculars. They’re insanely steep, and from the glass-roofed cars, we were able to enjoy some spectacular scenery.

As beautiful as Montserrat is, it also struck me as a bit sad. I took a quick hike to one of the abandoned hermitages, and it was totally trashed: graffiti on the walls, crumbling staircases, piles of trash and broken appliances in the rooms. And in the shrine where the Madonna first appeared, pilgrims have left a bunch of offerings. Whether they’re an expression of thanks or grief isn’t clear. I saw cracked motorcycle helmets, a seriously twisted wheel from a Renault, a wedding dress, and a communion dress dated 1 Abr 1990 – 15 Jul 2004. I was hoping there might be a guest book or something, but I didn’t see any, so the offerings remain a mystery. I hope they were happy endings.