The Montserrat mountain and its monastery have always been an important symbol of Catalonia´s history, spiritual beliefs and culture, and is also the home of the religious figure of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat, the patron saint of Catalonia. The monastery has traditionally been a centre for knowledge, and throughout the dictatorship served as a bastion of Catalan culture and language. The mountain, the scene of numerous legends, has an interesting configuration: it is an immense mass of rock which stands out against the sky with a series of unusually-shaped peaks.
The Benedictine Monastery in Montserrat was founded almost one thousand years ago, in the 11th century by Abbot Oliba, beside the shrine of Santa Maria (9th century). Nothing remains of this small church, although some features of the Romanesque church built in the 12th century can still be seen today. The current abbey is a Renaissance work dating from the 16th century, whose demolition by Napoleonic troops meant it had to be extensively rebuilt. The façades of both the abbey and the monastery date from the 20th century. The temple was named a basilica in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII. The image of the virgin known as the Mare de Déu de Montserrat is housed in a shrine near the monastery, and is a Romanesque work in carved polychromed and gilded wood dating from the 12th century which was proclaimed the patron saint of Catalonia in 1881. She is popularly known as the "La Moreneta" because of the colour of her face and hands, and the baby Jesus she holds in her lap. It was historically thought that she was a "black virgin", but it has recently emerged that the colour is due to the smoke from the candles. The monastic community currently comprises around 80 monks who follow the precepts of Sant Benet, and who are dedicated to religious contemplation, work, and receiving pilgrims. In the interior, in addition to the monastery, there is an outstanding library with a collection of over 250,000 volumes.
The other element which is closely associated with the Montserrat monastery is the Escolania, one of the oldest boys´ choirs in Europe, mentioned in documents dating from the 14th century. This is a choir of boys aged between 10 and 14 who can be heard in various religious services: from Monday to Friday at 1 pm and on Sundays at 12 noon, when they sing the Salve and the Virolai, and from Monday to Thursday and on Sundays at 6:45 pm, when they sing the Salve Montserratina. The Escolania Choir of Montserrat has made a large number of recordings.