My contribution to A Word a Week challenge – high
The monastery of Montserrat is very high up in the mountains outside Barcelona. The air there feels thin and rarefied.
The Madonna herself is situated high up in the Shrine. After climbing several flights of steps inside the building I had to queue with crowds of pilgrims before I could shuffle past and touch the hand that extends out the glass casing. I am not a Catholic but I found the experience unexpectedly profound and moving.
Serene and detached the Madonna sits unmoved by the passage of time and the dramas of human life. The blue light in my photo is probably just a reflection on the glass but I like it’s odd shape and position. Legend has it that the statue was found in a mountain cave in 880AD. A Catholic bishop ordered men to carry it down the mountain to a shrine but as they tried the statue grew so heavy they could not lift it. Instead the shrine had to be built high on the mountain top.
Other Black Madonnas have been found hidden in caves in northern Spain and southern France. Their origins are obscure and there is speculation that they are actually representations of an earlier Mother Goddess, Oestre.
Another shrine devoted to the Madonna is high in the mountains behind Ephesus, Turkey. According to legend St John bought Mary to the mountain top soon after Christ was crucified. There she lived out the rest of her earthly life in a little stone house. Nothing of this original house remains but there is a restored building that dates from around 500 AD.
No photos are allowed inside and a strict code of silence is maintained by an austere monk garbed in coarse sackcloth.
Outside the building there are several springs and a prayer wall where pilgrims write their prayers and tie them onto the wall.
Hordes of tourists disgorge from tour buses every few minutes. If you look above the prayer wall in my photo you can see crowds of them filing in. Although the place is incredibly crowded it is serenely peaceful. The crowds are subdued and there is an atmosphere of great calm. I was travelling with a Hindu woman at the time. ‘I don’t know what I’ve done in a past life to deserve this,’ she said to me. ‘I feel truly blessed.’
For some unknown reason I was thinking about my experience in these places yesterday. When I saw the Word a Week Challenge this morning I felt they fitted the concept of high perfectly. Not only are the places high up in the mountains they are high up on my list of travel memories. More than that, the experience of visiting these places remain in my mind as encounters with something profound, some higher energy if you will.