Pilgrims It is not often that nature takes the trouble to stir the heart of man into any emotion stronger than a quiet admiration or a peaceful wonder. Here and there on the face of the earth, however, the astonishing work of God gives pause to the most casual observer, the most thoughtless traveler.
“Why did He do this?” one wonders. And no geologist—not even a French geologist with his quick imagination and lively sense of the picturesque—can answer the question.
On first perceiving the sudden, uncouth height of Montserrat the traveler must assuredly ask in his own mind, “Why?”
The mountain is of granite, where no other granite is. It belongs to no neighbouring formation. It stands alone, throwing up its rugged peaks into a cloudless sky. It is a piece from nothing near it—–from nothing nearer, one must conclude, than the moon. No wonder it stirred the imagination of mediaeval men dimly groping for their God.
Ignatius de Loyola solved the question with that unbounded assurance which almost always accompanies the greatest of human blunders. It is the self-confident man who compasses the finest wreck, Loyola, wounded in the defense of that strongest little city in Europe, Pampeluna—wounded, alas! and not killed—jumped to the conclusion that God had reared up Montserrat as a sign. For it was here that the Spanish soldier, who was to mould the history of half the world, dedicated himself to Heaven.
Within sight of the Mediterranean and of the Pyrenees, towering above the brown plains of Catalonia, this shrine is the greatest in Christendom that bases its greatness on nothing but tradition. Thousands of pilgrims flock here every year. Should they ask for history, they are given a legend. Do they demand a fact, they are told a miracle. On payment of a sufficient fee they are shown a small, ill-carved figure in wood. The monastery is not without its story; for the French occupied it and burnt it to the ground. For the rest, its story is that of Spain, torn hither and thither in the hopeless struggle of a Church no longer able to meet the demands of an enlightened religious comprehension, and endeavouring to hold back the inevitable advance of the human understanding.
To-day a few monks are permitted to live in the great houses teaching music and providing for the wants of the devout pilgrims. Without the monastery gate, there is a good and exceedingly prosperous restaurant where the traveler may feed. In the vast houses, is accommodation for rich and poor; a cell and clean linen, a bed and a monastic basin. The monks keep a small store, where candles may be bought and matches, and even soap, which is in small demand.
Evasio Mon arrived at Montserrat in the evening, having driven in open carriage from the small town of Monistrol in the valley below. It was the hour of the table d’hote, and the still evening air was ambient with culinary odours. Mon went at once to the office of the monastery, and there received his sheets and pillow-case, his towel, his candle, and the key of his cell in the long corridor of the house of Santa Maria de Jesu. He knew his way about these holy houses, and exchanged a nod of recognition with the lay brother on duty in the office.