Monasteries

Monestir de Pedralbes

The monastery at Pedralbes was founded in 1326 by Queen Elisanda de Montcada. She wished "to obtain redemption from her earthly sins, and the poor state of the King's health", as the official guidebook states. In any case, her husband, King James II, died the next year, and she then retired to a palace she had built next to the monastery. The Queen chose the Order of St. Clare, or the "Poor Clares". The site was known as Petras Albas, or "white stones".

Though it's not particularly highlighted in the guidebooks, I thought this was a very worthwhile visit. It's a little out of the center of town, but convenient to the Palau Reial, which houses a fascinating ceramics museum and an interesting decorative arts collection. And the Finca Güell is on the way. The monastery itself is impressive. It also houses the local offshoot of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection (apparently the Baron's wife is Catalan) which is in a terrific space restored from the old dormitory and Main Hall of the palace, as well as being a high-quality group of paintings.

The heart of the monastery: the cloister, on three levels, with marvelously slender columns.
The adjacent church.
A pretty ceramic tile roof.
The cistern, with what looks like later Baroque decoration, and behind some restoration activity.
Heraldic capitals.
Some interior details: a window seat, more ceramic tiles on a wall, and stone carving.
A garden doorway.
A little balcony collonade.

Montserrat

The mountain monastery of Montserrat is a 40km train ride from Barcelona, and then a spectacular cable car ride up into the weirdly-eroded peaks. It is one of the Catholic world's major pilgrimage sites, with over a million visitors annually. The location is rather magical, though I'm glad I avoided what must the crowds of Summer.

The raison d'être of Montserrat is La Moreneta, or the "Black Virgin". The legend states that the statue was brought to Montserrat by St. Peter in 50 AD, and then lost in the 8th century after being hidden from the invading Moors. It was then "miraculously" found by shepherds in 880. A chapel was built to house it, which was then superceded by a Benedictine monastery, established here in 976. (Carbon-dating apparently indicates that the current statue dates from the 12th century, however.)

Monserrat is also a nationalist symbol of Catalonia, and was a stronghold of Catalan language and culture during the Franco years, when these were suppressed.

The cable car from the train station several hundred meters up to the monastery, visible at the top right.
The view from the upper station. The surrounding landscape reminded me more than anything of the American Southwest, which of course was Spanish territory as well...
Some views of the monastery, with the Baroque façade of the basilica on the far right, which houses the Black Virgin. The path to view the Black Virgin passes through several of the side chapels and through extremely richly-decorated passages. I've read that the monastery was sacked by Napolean's troops in 1811, but it's certainly recovered since. 
One can take a funicular up to 1000 meters, and then hike in the surrounding mountains, which rise to 1300m. There are quite a number of outlying hermitages, chapels, and caves, though the ones I saw were in disrepair. Getting the view on the right down to the monastery was a bit of a challenge, requiring walking further out along the ridge than seemed prudent, and then hanging on to an iron rod apparently placed there for this purpose.
A view of the upper station of the Funicular de Saint Joan. I couldn't quite capture the amazing swirl of clouds as the wind blew up from the valley far below the other side, making this seem like a place where visions were all too possible.
And lastly, one of the more intimidating mailboxes I've seen!

I should have taken the path down to la Santa Cova, a chapel at the site where La Moreneta is said to have been found, but I was nervous about missing my train back. The path is apparently lined with sculptures by Gaudí and many others.

schooler@alum.mit.edu