by Kathy White
On our frequent travels, John and I seek out spiritual discoveries to go along with the “normal” tourist spots. Our recent trip to Barcelona was the perfect example of such discovery.
We planned to see the city as most people do – touring Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces including the stunning La Sagrada Familia Cathedral; walking the Rambla; people watching at outdoor cafes; biking the site of the Barcelona Olympics; touring the Gothic Cathedral of St. Eulalia. (But we didn’t just take the tour at St. Eulalia- we participated in the Easter Vigil there – 3 hours of gorgeous music, all the liturgical trimmings, and all 7 readings plus Psalms in the Catalan language with a few Latin phrases thrown in ).
But while planning, we also looked at the map and wondered if there would be a side trip to take outside the city. We recognized the name Montserrat; a little digging and the name Ignatius of Loyola kept coming up, so we planned our own little pilgrimage.
The train from Barcelona left us at the foot of this spectacular mountainous outcrop of Montserrat at the Cable Car station. We boarded the car – along with a busload of Korean tourists – and headed nearly straight up. There isn’t much to see until you are all the way up – a Dominican monastery (first built in 1025) and cathedral which houses Black Madonna statue, according to legend found in a cave on the mountain. We knew Ignatius venerated the Madonna, so we lined up with the crowd to see her close-up. The boys’ choir sings every day at 1 PM, so tourists gather all morning…but having heard many choirs in our days, we decided to skip the crowded performance and walk some of the mountain paths. A funicular railway took us further up and we enjoyed a few hours of hiking and imagining the hermit monks who called this home since 880 AD. We also know that Ignatius spent time here and savored the same sights we were seeing and the morning sun as it warmed the rocks.
Beating the crowds again, we took the cog train down the mountain and headed further inland to the small town of Manresa. Although the tour books called it a “bustling market town,” we arrived during siesta and searched the deserted streets for lunch. A café owner took pity on us (silly foreigners who didn’t know that everything would be closed at 2 PM) and served us some delicious local fare. The streets still deserted, we wandered around and stumbled upon a “hospital,” a tiny building that had been home to a family that often nursed Ignatius back to health after his self-mortification. We climbed the hill to the Manresa Cathedral of Our Lady, first built in the 900s. I was struck by its simplicity – although it is large with flying buttresses and all, it had none of those gold-encrusted side altars or a plethora of statues; instead, just stone walls, lofty ceiling, an altar decorated with Easter flowers and a small statue of Our Lady. The sense of history and faith was tangible by the atmosphere rather than monuments. We imagined Ignatius standing in the same space all those centuries ago. Back on the street, we followed the small signs pointing to “Cava San Ignacio” – down a steep hill and up another on a nondescript side street. We weren’t even sure if we were going the right way until we came upon an imposing edifice – here, finally, was the overdone magnificence that the faithful have erected over the years…lots of marble, stained glass, carved and inlaid wood, lofty music, nothing that Ignatius would have recognized. Following the passage lined with mosaic scenes of Ignatius’ life (and a janitor cleaning the marble floor), we finally came to the small cave. An ornate silver altar dominated the space, but the side wall was what we had searched for: a rock wall like one imagines in a cave, with 2 small etched crosses encased in plexiglass. Presumably these were carved by the saint in 1522. A plaque also describes the vision he experienced here of the Virgin Mary. Despite the ostentatious nature of the rest of the building, one feels a spiritual presence and unity with those who have gone before. A group of teary-eyed Filipino women were there, obviously moved by the spot, the reason for their pilgrimage.
Coming back out into the sunshine, we climbed back up another hill, then down again to the train station. The town was coming alive again after the afternoon rest; just in time for us to leave. We didn’t mind that we had missed the “bustling” town atmosphere; we got our time alone with Ignatius and felt renewed by the simplicity walk with him.
We ended our pilgrimage day in a way that Ignatius never got to enjoy – tapas, sangria and the Barcelona Magic Fountain Light Show – but we felt a new appreciation for our patron saint’s heritage and spiritual journey. May our journey reflect Christ as his did.
Kathy White is an Ignatian Volunteer in Northern Virginia.