The serrated mountain was as naturally formed to be the home of the hermits as the devout Spaniard is formed to make a hermit; every hermit could here find his solitary eyrie in the cliff over the great plain, and no hermit-age was ever without its inmate. Slowly, too, as the fame of the Lady of Monserrat grew, a mighty army of pilgrims began to march up the winding path to this high shrine, to present their offerings and to receive the hospitality of the monks. In the sixteenth century, it is said, they numbered half a million a year. Kings and princes and nobles joined in the procession; once a queen, Violante, the wife of Don Juan. I climbed up barefoot; Charles V. came here nine times; a great conqueror, Don John of Austria, came here to lay at the feet of the Virgin the spoils of Lepanto and to cover the whole church with gold; most memorable visit of all, it was here that the soldier Loyola came to bid fare-well to earthly camps, to spend the night before the Virgin, to leave his sword on her altar, to watch over his new spiritual weapons like a knight of chivalry in Amadis de Gaul, consecrating himself as a soldier of the Church-the first general of the best organized and most famous army that has ever fought in her service.
It was not alone in the spiritual sphere that Monserrat stood forth resplendent above the world around. Like every great Benedictine monastery, it was a focus of work and enlightenment. Its abbots were sometimes fine architects, and they knew also where to find the best sculptors and craftsmen in Spain to beautify their splendid Byzantine church. They founded a school of music. They set up a famous printing press when printing was still a novelty in the world. If men brought here in profusion their precious things for love of the Virgin, the guardians of her shrine in the days of its prosperity were never unmindful of their own responsibilities. The gifts of natural site and scenery, antiquity and legend, the adoration of a large part of Europe, the skill and energy of its own monks, thus combined to render Monserrat a shrine of almost unparalleled magnificence, altho from its natural position it always preserved a certain aristocratic aloofness, and never enjoyed the immense vulgar fame through-out Christendom of the other great Spanish shrine, that of St. James of Compostela.
Now once again, tho its old splendor has de-parted, Monserrat is alive. The great church has been restored; large buildings cluster around to furnish the pilgrim and the visitor with a lodging that is, nominally at all events, free; the old shrines are well kept, and the Brothers who guard this ancient home of Our Lady have reestablished the School of Music. For there is an indestructible vitality in this mountain shrine. It was once the Roman Estorcil and a temple of Venus. Even before that, we may well believe, some Iberian deity was reverenced here.
The little train has arrived at the top, and I follow in the wake of the two young couples, for whom the way seems not unfamiliar, to an office, where a young man, a lay Brother, enters my name and place of abode in a book, and with-out further question hands a key to another similarly habited youth, who, with two sheets and a towel over his arm, precedes me to a barrack-like building bearing the name of Santa Teresa de Jesus, unlocks the door of a third-story room, and leaves me absolutely and in every respect to my own devices for the three days during which Our Lady of Monserrat grants me the hospitality of her lodging.
I look around the little whitewashed cell which for this brief space will be all my own. It is scrupulously clean and neat, furnished with absolute simplicity. I notean indication that I am not actually within a duly constituted monasterythat there are two little beds, separated from the rest of the cell by a brilliant curtain, the one touch of color and gaiety my cell reveals. A little table, a chair, a basin, an empty waterpot, and a candlestick without a candle, complete the equipment entrusted to my care. When I have made my bed, taken my waterpot to fill it below, and bought a candle at the pro-vision store which supplies the pilgrims who find the one restaurant here beyond their means, I feel at last free to put the key of my cell in my pocket and give all my thoughts to Monserrat.
It is now evening; from the ledge on which the little group of buildings stands, the final summits of Monserrat, above the monastery, are to-night wreathed with delicate mist. As I wander up and down the silent deserted terrace, in front of a small group of buildings which make Monserrat an abode of the living, and breathe the exquisite air, and gaze out into the mysterious depths below, or up at the rocky pinnacles which alone remain bright, I feel at last that I have indeed reached the solemn shrine that I have long dreamed of finding at Monserrat. The absolute peace, the absence of any sign of life, becomes at last a little puzzling; but the puzzle is solved when I make my way in the gloom to the church, and pushing open a little door, find myself amid the scattered worshipers in the obscurity of the great church.