Located on the mountain of Montserrat, in Monistrol de Montserrat, in Catalonia, Spain. It is notable for enshrining the image of the Virgin of Montserrat.
The monastery is 48 kilometres (30 mi) west of Barcelona, and can be reached by road, train or cable car. The abbey's train station, operated by FGC, is the terminus of a rack railway connecting with Monistol, and two funicular railways, one connecting with Santa Cova (a shrine and chapel lower down the mountain) and the other connecting with the upper slopes of the mountain. At 1,236 metres (4,055 ft) above the valley floor, Montserrat is the highest point of the Catalan lowlands, and stands central to the most populated part of Catalonia. Montserrat's highest point, Sant Jeroni, can be reached by a footpath from the top station of the funicular Sant Jeroni. From Sant Jeroni, almost all of Catalonia can be seen, and on a clear day the island of Mallorca is visible.
Montserrat, whose name means serrated mountain, is ideally located to play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Catalonia. It is Catalonia's most important religious retreat and groups of young people from Barcelona and all over Catalonia make overnight hikes at least once in their lives to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. Virgin of Montserrat (the black virgin), is Catalonia's favourite saint, and is located in the sanctuary of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, next to the Benedictine monastery nestling in the towers and crags of the mountain. The Escolania, Montserrat’s Boys’ Choir, is one of the oldest in Europe, and performs during religious ceremonies and communal prayers in the basilica.
The Basilica houses a museum with works of art by many prominent painters and sculptors including works by El Greco, Dalí, Picasso and more. The Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat, a publishing house, one of the oldest presses in the world still running, with its first book published in 1499.
The Spanish Civil War saw the violent suppression of the Abbey of Montserrat. Of the 278 priests and 583 religious men and women killed in Catalonia by Republican forces, 22 were monks of the Abbey of Montserrat.
During the rule of Francisco Franco, Santa María de Montserrat was seen as a sanctuary for scholars, artists, politicians and students; Franco's men were often waiting for wanted people a few miles down the road.
From the 1940s onward, Santa María de Montserrat Abbey was often seen as a symbol of Catalan nationalism. On 27 April 1947, a Mass was held to celebrate the Enthronment of the Virgin of Montserrat, attended by over 100,000 people. At the Mass, prayers were publicly said in the Catalan language, defying the government's language policies.
In December 1970, 300 Spanish artists and academics held a sit-in at the Abbey to protest the death sentences meted out to 16 Basque ETA activists in Burgos; in response the police sealed off the monastery. The protesters were eventually removed from the monastery grounds, but their actions helped convince the Francois government to commute the death sentences.