Night-time view of the Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Familia.Night-time view of the Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Familia.

Catalonia’s religious and spiritual heritage


Catalonia’s religious and spiritual heritage

Since medieval times the relevant role of the Church has led to the appearance of sanctuaries, monasteries, churches and sacred places of popular devotion throughout the geography of Catalonia. Today, many of them continue to be places of worship and pilgrimage, as well as places of contemplation for lovers of culture and heritage, for their great architectural, artistic and historical value.

Catalonia Sacra
To raise awareness of a good part of the religious heritage, the ten Catalan bishoprics have promoted the Catalonia Sacra project. And they are achieving success due to good initiatives that have been put in motion, such as guided routes. There are many varied routes: through the Romanesque churches of the Vall de BoÌ - declared Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO -; and the baroque altarpieces of Solsonès; as well as through cathedrals, among which is the Santa Tecla cathedral and the Santa Maria d'Urgell cathedral. Choose one and explore.

Great spiritual centres
A spiritual Catalan benchmark is the abbey of Montserrat and the Sanctuary of the Mare de Déu. Located in the middle of the winding mountain, the history and the involvement of the monks have turned it into a benchmark cultural centre, the protagonist of the main events of the history of Catalonia. Today it still houses monastic life and continues to be a place of worship.

You can also worship in the Sagrada FamÌlia Basilica, one of the symbols of Catalonia throughout the world, Antoni Gaudí's best-known work and the greatest exponent of modernist architecture. The crypt and the lateral facade have been declared a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

More cultural heritage
As well as the Sagrada FamÌlia, without leaving Barcelona you have more spiritual heritage. One of the essential is the Barcelona Cathedral, with an architectural structure typical of Catalan Gothic style with three naves, as well as Santa Maria del Mar, another exponent of Catalan Gothic architecture. Both hold religious masses and are open to visitors.

The doors of the Girona Cathedral, built between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Tarragona cathedral, built in the 12th century, and the Seu Vella de Lleida, built in the 13th century, are also open to devotees and visitors.

Sanctuaries are sacred places of worship -of a saint, the Virgin or some religious or divine figure -, centres of devotion and pilgrimage and, therefore, places of meeting and gathering. They are special, mainly because of their geographical location, usually exceptional, and because of their religious and popular significance. Get away from the hectic life and rest in one of the hotels offering accommodation.

Land of great monasteries, today it is possible to visit many of them in a perfect state of conservation. This is the case of the monastery of Ripoll, with an impressive monumental facade located on the western side of the church of Santa Maria de Ripoll. In perfect condition is the Sant Miquel del Fai monastery, located in a natural area with great appeal, and the Sant Joan de les Abadesses monastery, which was the first female monastery in Catalonia. In some, such as the monastery of Les Avellanes, monastic life there continues.

Routes and pilgrimages
One of the most impressive and largest monasteries in Europe is the Poblet monastery, declared a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The Santes Creus monastery must also be added as a must-see stop for explorers of monastic groups, together with the monasteries of Vallbona les Monges. They are the three most outstanding exponents of the Cistercian Order in Catalonia, which have given rise to the so-called Ruta del Císter (Cistercian Route), more than 100 kilometers of a walking path that links up the three monasteries.

As a walking or cycle-tourism experience, to disconnect, to enjoy nature, or as a spiritual pilgrimage, any reason is a good one to travel along the Camino de Santiago. The Catalan section begins in the Cap de Creus (Costa Brava), on the shores of the Mediterranean, and ends in Alcarràs (Terres de Lleida) to later enter into Aragon. In addition, it has two adapted stretches and, through the initiative of the Camino de Santiago in Catalonia for all, the aim is to bring this great pilgrimage route to everyone, regardless of their age, condition and physical state.

Another historical route of pilgrimage crosses the Catalan lands, the Camino Ignaciano. The route follows the footsteps of Ignacio de Loyola from his childhood home in a mansion of Azpeitia, in the Basque Country, to the cave of Manresa where he lived for a while, passing through Lleida, Verd˙ and Montserrat, among other places.

The crossing of religions
Despite the omnipresence of Christianity, Catalonia has also been a land of acceptance of other religions. One of the religions that has left a more alive trace is Judaism, in the form of the Jewish quarter of Girona, one of the most interesting of Europe, and the Museum of History of the Jews in Catalonia, located in the same city. The route through Jewish Catalonia takes you to Barcelona, which in the Middle Ages had two Jewish districts: the upper and lower Jewish quarters. In Tortosa the Jewish presence dates back to the Visigothic period. You must not miss out on a visit to the synagogue (14th century), the Cèlio tower in the city walls, the pottery and the oven, and the Suda castle. With less history than Judaism in Catalonia, Buddhism is also present. It has a monastery in el Garraf. Anyone can attend the prayers of the monks, or just take a guided tour to learn more about this religion of India.

Be it for faith or curiosity, Catalonia has a religious and spiritual heritage worth getting to know.