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Walking the Cova de Montserrat

Hitler thought the Holy Grail was hidden somewhere inside a mountain in Catalonia.

According to Wolfram von Eschenbach,  Titurel safeguarded the Grail at Munsalvaesche. The Benedictine monks of Montserrat, however, always claimed the Grail was hidden in the caves and tunnels under the sanctuary northwest of Barcelona.

Montserrat juts up from the edge of the muddy Llobregat River, between the Plain of Bages, about 60 kilometers north-east of Barcelona.  The mountain is a conglomerate of hard, pinkish rock swept into fantastical spires and teeth. Because it stands by itself, the ten kilometer long mountain appears larger and more dramatic than the elevation numbers suggest.

Montserrat means ‘serrated mountain’

 ~ ~ ~

A Swiss named Claudia and I went by train to the base of the mountain on August 15th, the Feast of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary.

That was not on purpose.

The trail we chose went from the Placa de Santa Maria in front of the basilica.  We went towards the Santa Cova monastery past all the religious grottos full of old quiet people in black clothing completely unsuited to the heat.  We climbed into the oak forests and saw sarsaparilla dripping with burgundy berries and boxwoods and a kind of wheat growing in the sun.

The Perseid meteor shower was at its best on the Feast of the Ascension.  In the days when the shepherd children first found the cave with where the Virgin appeared the Perseids were known as the “tears of St. Lawrence.”

The Romans had roasted St. Lawrence on the gridiron.

Montserrat des de Manresa.
Photo Courtesy Josep Renalias

~ ~ ~

The children of the herders had most likely seen the Perseids falling over the mountain 1200 or so years ago and told their parents that the songs of angels had accompanied the falling spots of light. When the adults arrived to see, they found the stories to be true and the visions were attributed to God.

Why no one had noticed the meteor shower the previous several hundred Augusts?

Good question.

As always happens in these stories, the local religious leaders were called and an expedition was made up the site of the mountain to a cave where an image of the Virgin Mary was found.  Then the Bishop came.

The statue, one of the thousand black Madonna’s found throughout Europe, worked miracles and the locals called her La Moreneta – the dark little one. They couldn’t move her for whatever reason so the shrine was built around her instead of having her moved to a more convenient location.

Most sources make clear however that the statue was known of before the legendary discovery by the children. The statue was known previously has La Jerosolimitana – the native of Jerusalem and might have been moved to the cave a hundred years previously to keep it from the invading Muslims.

Whether the icon is as old as that is not known for sure but while the wood carving was most likely done in the 12th century or so, the style of the statue is typical of the earliest Christian depictions of the Virgin. So maybe it was a copy of the original.

The overlay of Christianity on the indigenous religions of Europe was a seemingly endless process along the lines of stirring oil into water. The “old ways” persisted in France into the 20th Century, only giving way in fits and starts.   I’ve speculated that the Madonna’s that scatter both sides of the Pyrenees may not be as Christian as they appear on the surface.

Whether the black Madonna grew from the story of Isis or is rather a holdover of the worship of a four-breasted Magog as she transformed into St. Margret is one of those fabulous mysteries we’ll probably never fully grasp.

So is the story of how the Holy Grail might have ended up at Montserrat.  Perhaps fleeing French Templars arrived at the sanctuary. Or perhaps members of the Spanish Cathars had some relationship with the brothers on the mountain.

At the Monestary of Montserrat
Photo Courtesy Jeff Broman. Visit him at

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With no intention of finding the Grail, we followed the path east under the monastery and cliffs to La Frita.  We ate sausage and drank wine and watched the sparrowhawks and then passed to the overlook at Pla Sant Miguel. We passed back over to the “Cami de les Bateries” where Napoleon set his artillery to keep an eye on Barcelona during the Peninsular War.

I took slide photos that day but when I look back through them, most of the pictures are of Claudia and not the clinging oaks, or the sweeping elevations or the birds or butterflies.

It took us another two hours to reach the hermitage and onto the summit where a small gaggle of tourists who had taken the funicular up the mountain talked and pointed, seemingly at everything everywhere. The hundreds of concrete steps took us back down to The Black Virgin, the basilica and the choir where we talked about Germans in speedos on the Bogatell beach while the boys sang.

It was dark when we arrived back at our hostel in Barcelona.

At the Monestary of Montserrat
Photo Courtesy Jeff Broman. Visit him at

~ ~ ~

History is always a political tool and Hitler’s gang were dangerously adept at wielding that weapon.  In the insanity of Nazi Occultism, Himmler created the Ahnenerbe at Wewelsburg and sent Otto Rahn on the road. To the Nazi’s, the Holy Grail was an all powerful weapon that offered eternal life and a guarantee of victory in the coming war. An expert on the Holy Grail, he was tasked to bring the object back to its “proper” home in a new Germany. Rahn went from Germany to Iran to Egypt to the Cathar Castles of the French and Spanish borderlands never finding anything.

Wagner’s Parsifal claimed that the Grail was hidden in “the marvelous castle of Montsalvat in the Pyrenees” and the Nazi’s were sure Wagner’s source was von Eschenbach. Suspiciously too, to Himmler’s Occult-addled brain at least, the opera was first performed at the Liceu Opera House in Barcelona in 1913.

It was proof….of something.

In 1940, while Hitler wagged his finger at “that coward” Franco in Barcelona, Himmler himself arrived at the monastery, surrounded by a pack of blond SS Aryan killers.

He came away, hands empty.




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