Philip Thicknesse.

A Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, 1777 Volume 1 (of 2) online

. (page 7 of 11)
Online LibraryPhilip ThicknesseA Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, 1777 Volume 1 (of 2) → online text (page 7 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

by visiting this holy mountain; nor have I been disappointed; but on
the contrary, found it, in every respect, infinitely superior to the
various accounts I had heard of it; - to give a perfect description of
it is impossible; - to do that it would require some of those attributes
which the Divine Power by whose almighty handy it was raised, is
endowed with. It is called _Montserrat_, or _Mount-Scie_,[C] by the
_Catalonians_, words which signify a cut or _sawed mountain_; and so
called from its singular and extraordinary form; for it is so broken,
so divided, and so crowned with an infinite number of spiring cones,
or PINE heads, that it has the appearance, at distant view, to be the
work of man; but upon a nearer approach, to be evidently raised by HIM
alone, to whom nothing is impossible. It looks, indeed, like the first
rude sketch of GOD's work; but the design is great, and the execution
such, that it compels all men who approach it, to lift up their hands
and eyes to heaven, and to say, - Oh GOD! - HOW WONDERFUL ARE ALL THY

[C] The arms of the Abbey are - A saw in the middle of a rock.

It is no wonder then, that such a place should be fixed upon for the
residence of holy and devout men; for there is not surely upon the
habitable globe a spot so properly adapted for retirement and
contemplation; it has therefore, for many ages, been inhabited only by
monks and hermits, whose first vow is, never to forsake it; - a vow,
without being either a hermit or a monk, I could make, I think, without

If it be true, and some great man has said so, that "_whosoever
delighteth in solitude, is either a wild beast, or a God_;" the
inhabitants of this spot are certainly more than men; for no wild beast
dwells here. But it is the _place_, not the people, I mean at present to
speak of. It stands in a vast plain, seven leagues they call it, but it
is at least thirty miles from _Barcelona_, and nearly in the center of
the principality of _Catalonia_. The height of it is so very
considerable, that in one hour's slow travelling towards it, after we
left _Barcelona_, it shewed its pointed steeples, high over the lesser
mountains, and seemed so very near, that it would have been difficult to
have persuaded a person, not accustomed to such deceptions, in so clear
an atmosphere to believe, that we had much more than an hour's journey
to arrive at it; instead of which, we were all that day in getting to
_Martorel_, a small city, still three leagues distant from it, where we
lay at the Three Kings, a pretty good inn, kept by an insolent imposing
Italian. _Martorel_ stands upon the steep banks of the river
_Lobregate_, over which there is a modern bridge, of a prodigious
height, the piers of which rest on the opposite shore, against a Roman
triumphal arch of great solidity, and originally of great beauty. I
think I tell you the truth when I say, that I could perceive the
convent, and some of the hermitages, when I first saw the mountain, at
above twenty miles distance. From _Martorel_, however, they were as
visible as the mountain itself, to which the eye was directed, down the
river, the banks of which were adorned with trees, villages, houses, &c.
and the view terminated by this the most glorious monument in nature.
When I first saw the mountain, it had the appearance of an infinite
number of rocks cut into _conical_ forms, and built one upon another to
a prodigious height. Upon a nearer view, each cone appeared of itself a
mountain; and the _tout ensemble_ compose an enormous mass of the
_Lundus Helmonti_, or plumb-pudding stone, fourteen miles in
circumference, and what the Spaniards _call_ two leagues in height. As
it is like unto no other mountain, so it stands quite unconnected with
any, though not very distant from some very lofty ones. Near the base of
it, on the south side, are two villages, the largest of which is
_Montrosol_; but my eyes were attracted by two ancient towers, which
flood upon a hill near _Colbaton_, the smallest, and we drove to that,
where we found a little _posada_, and the people ready enough to furnish
us with mules and asses, for we were now become quite impatient to visit
the hallowed and celebrated convent, _De Neustra Senora_; a convent, to
which pilgrims resort from the furthest parts of Europe, some bearing,
by way of penance, heavy bars of iron on their backs, others cutting and
slashing their naked bodies with wire cords, or crawling to it on
all-fours, like the beasts of the field, to obtain forgiveness of their
sins, by the intercession of _our Lady of Montserrat_.

When we had ascended a steep and rugged road, about one hour, and where
there was width enough, and the precipices not too alarming, to give our
eyes the utmost liberty, we had an earnest of what we were to expect
above, as well as the extensive view below; our impatience to see more
was encreased by what we had already seen; the majestic convent opened
to us a view of her venerable walls; some of the hermits' cells peeped
over the broken precipices still higher; while we, glutted with
astonishment, and made giddy with delight and amazement, looked up at
all with a reverential awe, towards that God who raised the
PILES, and the holy men who dwell among them. - Yes, Sir, - we
caught the holy flame; and I hope we came down better, if not wiser,
than we went up. After ascending full two hours and a half more, we
arrived on a flat part on the side, and about the middle of the
mountain, on which the convent is built; but even that flat was made so
by art, and at a prodigious expence. Here, however, was width enough to
look securely about us; and, good God! what an extensive field of earth,
air, and sea did it open! the ancient towers, which at first attracted
my notice near _Colbaton_, were dwindled into pig-sties upon a
_mounticule_. At length, and a great length it was, we arrived at the
gates of the _Sanctuary_; on each side of which, on high pedestals,
stand the enormous statues of two saints; and nearly opposite, on the
base of a rock, which leans in a frightful manner over the buildings,
and threatens destruction to all below, a great number of human sculls
are fixed in the form of a cross. Within the gate is a square cloister,
hung round with paintings of the miracles performed by the Holy Virgin,
with votive offerings, &c. It was Advent week, when none of the monks
quit their apartments, but one whose weekly duty it was to attend the
call of strangers; nor did the whole community afford but a single
member (_pere tendre_, a _Fleming_) who could speak French. It was _Pere
Pascal_, by whom we were shewn every mark of politeness and attention,
which a man of the world could give, but administered with all that
humility and meekness, so becoming a man who had renounced it. He put us
in possession of a good room, with good beds; and as it was near night,
and very cold, he ordered a brazier of red-hot embers into our
apartment; and having sent for the cook of the strangers' kitchen, (for
there are four public kitchens) and ordered him to obey our commands, he
retired to evening _vespers_; after which he made us a short visit, and
continued to do so, two or three times every day, while we staid.
Indeed, I began to fear we staid too long, and told him so; but he
assured me the apartment was ours for a month or two, if we pleased.
During our stay, he admitted me into his apartments, and filled my box
with delicious Spanish snuff, and shewed us every attention we would
wish, and much more than, as _unrecommended_ strangers, we could expect.
All the poor who come here are fed gratis for three days, and all the
sick received in the hospital. Sometimes, on particular festivals, seven
thousand arrive in one day; but people of condition pay a reasonable
price for what they eat. There was before our apartment a long covered
gallery; and tho' we were in a deep recess of the rocks, which projected
wide and high on our right and left, we had in front a most extensive
view of the _world below_, and the more distant Mediterranean Sea. It
was a moon-light night; and, in spite of the cold, it was impossible to
be shut out of the enchanting lights and shades which her silver beams
reflected on the rude rocks above, beneath, and on all sides of
us. - Every thing was as still as death, till the sonorous convent bell
warned the Monks to midnight prayer. At two o'clock, we heard some of
the tinkling bells of the hermits' cells above give notice, that they
too were going to their devotion at the appointed hour: after which I
retired to my bed; but my mind was too much awakened to permit me to
sleep; I was impatient for the return of day-light, that I might proceed
still higher; for, miser like, tho' my _coffers were too full_, I
coveted more; and accordingly, after breakfast, we eagerly set our feet
to the first _round_ of the _hermit's ladder_; it was a stone one
indeed, but stood in all places dreadfully steep, and in many almost
perpendicular. After mounting up a vast chasm in the rock, yet full of
trees and shrubs, about a thousand paces, fatigued in body, and
impatient for a safe resting place, we arrived at a small hole in the
rock, through which we were glad to crawl; and having got to the secure
side of it, prepared ourselves, by a little rest, to proceed further;
but not, I assure you, without some apprehensions, that if there was no
better road down, we must have become _hermits_. After a second
clamber, not quite so dreadful as the first, but much longer, we got
into some flowery and serpentine walks, which lead to two or three of
the nearest hermitages then visible, and not far off, one of which hung
over so horrible a precipice, that it was terrifyingly picturesque. We
were now, however, I thought, certainly in the garden of Eden! Certain I
am, Eden could not be more beautifully adorned; for God alone is the
gardener here also; and consequently, every thing prospered around us
which could gratify the eye, the nose and, the imagination.

"Profuse the myrtle spread unfading boughs,
Expressive emblem of eternal vows."

For the myrtle, the eglantine, the jessamin, and all the smaller kind of
aromatic shrubs and flowers, grew on all sides thick and spontaneously
about us; and our feet brushed forth the sweets of the lavender,
rosemary and thyme, till we arrived at the first, and peaceful
hermitage of _Saint Tiago_. We took possession of the holy inhabitants
little garden, and were charmed with the neatness, and humble
simplicity, which in every part characterised the possessor. His little
chapel, his fountain, his vine arbor, his stately cypress, and the walls
of his cell, embraced on all sides with ever-greens, and adorned with
flowers, rendered it, exclusive of its situation, wonderfully pleasing.
His door, however, was fast, and all within was silent; but upon
knocking, it was opened by the venerable inhabitant: he was cloathed in
a brown cloth habit, his beard was very long, his face pale, his manners
courteous; but he seemed rather too deeply engaged in the contemplation
of the things of the next world, to lose much of his time with _such
things_ as _us_. We therefore, after peeping into his apartments, took
his benediction, and he retired, leaving us all his worldly possessions,
but his straw bed, his books, and his beads. This hermitage is confined
between two pine heads, within very narrow bounds; but it is artfully
fixed, and commands at noon day a most enchanting prospect to the East
and to the North. Though it is upwards of two thousand three hundred
paces from the convent, yet it hangs so directly over it, that the rocks
convey not only the sound of the organ, and the voices of the monks
singing in the choir, but you may hear men in common conversation from
the piazza below.

This is a long letter; but I know you would not willingly have left me
in the midst of danger, or before I was safe arrived at the first stage
towards heaven, and seen one humble host on GOD's high road.

_P.S._ At two o'clock, after midnight, these people rise, say mass, and
continue the remainder of the night in prayer and contemplation. The
hermits tell you, it was upon high mountains that God chose to manifest
his will: - _fundamenta ejus in montibus sanctis_, say they; - they
consider these rocks as symbols of their penitence, and mortifications;
and their being so beautifully covered with fine flowers, odoriferous
and rare plants, as emblems of the virtue and innocence of the religious
inhabitants; or how else, say they, could such rocks produce
spontaneously flowers in a desart, which surpass all that art and nature
combined can do, in lower and more favourable soils? They may well think
so; for human reason cannot account for the manner by which such
enormous quantities of trees, fruits, and flowers are nourished,
seemingly without soil. But that which established a church and convent
on this mountain, was the story of a hermit who resided here many years;
this was _Juan Guerin_, who lived on this mountain alone, the austerity
of whose life was such, that the people below believed he subsisted
without eating or drinking. As some very extraordinary circumstances
attended this man's life, all which are universally believed here, it
may not be amiss to give you some account of him: - You must know, Sir,
then, that the devil envying the happiness of this good man equipped
himself in the habit of a hermit, and possessed himself of a cavern in
the same mountain, which still bears the name of the _Devil's Grot_;
after which he took occasion to throw himself in the way of poor
_Guerin_, to whom he expressed his surprize at seeing one of his own
order dwell in a place he thought an absolute desert; but thanked God,
for giving him so fortunate a meeting. Here the devil, and _Guerin_
became very intimate, and conversed much together on spiritual matters;
and things went on well enough between them for a while, when another
devil chum to the first, possessed the body of a certain Princess,
daughter of a Count of _Barcelona_, who became thereby violently
tormented with horrible convulsions. She was taken to the church by her
afflicted father. The dæmon who possessed her, and who, spoke for her,
said, that nothing could relieve her from her sufferings but the
prayers of a devout and pious hermit, named _Guerin_, who dwelt on
_Montserrat_. The father, therefore, immediately repaired to _Guerin_,
and besought his prayers and intercession for the recovery of his
daughter. It so happened (for so the devil would have it) that this
business could not be perfectly effected in less than nine days; and
that the Princess must be left that time alone with _Guerin_ in his
cave. Poor _Guerin_, conscious of his frail nature, opposed this measure
with all his might; but there was no resisting the argument and
influence of the devil, and she was accordingly left. Youth, beauty, a
cave, solitude, and virgin modesty, were too powerful not to overcome
even the chaste vows and pious intentions of poor _Guerin_. The devil
left the virgin, and possessed the saint. He consulted his false friend,
and told him how powerful this impure passion was become, and his
intentions of flying from the danger; but the devil advised him _to
return to his cell_, and pray to God to protect him from sin. _Guerin_
took his council, returned and fell into the fatal snare. The devil then
persuaded him to kill the Princess, in order to conceal his guilt, and
to tell her father she had forsaken his abode while he was intent on
prayer. _Guerin_ did so; but became very miserable, and at length
determined to make a pilgrimage to Rome, to obtain a remission of his
complicated crimes. The Pope enjoined him to return to _Montserrat_, on
all fours, and to continue in that state, without once looking up to
heaven, for the space of seven years, or 'till a child of three months
old told him, his sins were forgiven: all which _Guerin_ chearfully
complied with, and accordingly crawled back to the defiled mountain.

Soon after the expiration of the seven years Count _Vifroy_, the father
of the murdered Princess, was hunting on the mountain of _Montserrat_,
and passing near _Guerin's_ cave, the dogs entered, and the servant
seeing a hideous figure concluded they had found the wild beast they
were in pursuit of: they informed the Count of what they had seen, who
gave directions to secure the beast alive, which was accordingly done;
for he was so over-grown with hair, and so deformed in shape, that they
had no idea of the creature being human. He was therefore kept in the
Count's stable at _Barcelona_, and shewn to his visitors as a wonderful
and singular wild beast. During this time, while a company were
examining this extraordinary animal, a nurse with a young child in her
arms looked upon it, and the child after fixing his eyes stedfastly for
a few minutes on _Guerin_, said, "_Guerin, rise, thy sins are forgiven
thee_!" - _Guerin_ instantly rose, threw himself at the Count's feet,
confessed the crimes he had been guilty of, and desired to receive the
punishment due to them, from the hands of him whom he had so highly
injured; but the Count, perceiving that God had forgiven him, forgave
him also.

I will not trouble you with all the particulars which attended this
miracle; it will be sufficient to say, that the Count and _Guerin_ went
to take up the body of the murdered Princess, for burial with her
ancestors; but, to their great astonishment found her there alive,
possessing the same youth and beauty she had been left with, and no
alteration of any kind, but a purple streak about her neck where the
cord had been twisted, and wherewith _Guerin_ had strangled her. The
father desired her to return to _Barcelona_; but she was enjoined by the
Holy Virgin, she said, to spend her days on that miraculous spot; and
accordingly a church and convent was built there, the latter inhabited
by Nuns, of which the Princess (who had risen from the dead) was the
Abbess. It was called the Abbey _des Pucelles_, of the order of _St.
Benoit_, and was founded in the year 801. But such a vast concourse of
people, of both sexes, resorted to it, from all parts of the world, that
at length it was thought prudent to remove the women to a convent at
_Barcelona_, and place a body of _Benedictine_ monks in their place.

Strange as this story is, it is to be seen in the archives of this holy
house; and in the street called _Condal_, at _Barcelona_, may be seen in
the wall of the old palace of the Count's, an ancient figure, cut in
stone, which represents the nurse with the child in her arms, and a
strange figure, on his knees, at her feet, and that is Friar _Guerin_.

Now, whether you will believe all this story, or not, I cannot take upon
me to say; but I will assure you, that when you visit this spot, it will
be necessary to _say you do_; or you would appear in their eyes a much
greater wonder than any thing which I have related, of the Devil, the
Friar, the Virgin, and the Count.


The second hermitage, for I give them in the order they are usually
visited, is that of _St. Catharine_, situated in a deep and solitary
vale: it however commands a most extensive and pleasing prospect, at
noon-day, to the East and West. The buildings, garden, &c. are confined
within small limits, being fixed in a most picturesque and secure recess
under the foot of one of the high pines. Though this hermit's habitation
is the most retired and solitary abode of any, and far removed from the
_din_ of men, yet the courteous, affable, and sprightly inhabitant,
seems not to feel the loss of human society, though no man, I think, can
be a greater ornament to human nature. If he is not much accustomed to
hear the voice of men, he is amply recompensed by the notes of birds;
for it is their sanctuary as well as his; for no part of the mountain
is so well inhabited by the feathered race of beings as this delightful
spot. Perhaps indeed, they have sagacity enough to know that there is no
other so perfectly secure. Here the nightingale, the blackbird, the
linnet, and an infinite variety of little songsters greater strangers to
my eyes, than fearful of my hands, dwell in perfect security, and live
in the most friendly intimacy with their holy protector, and obedient to
his call; for, says the hermit,

"Haste here, ye feather'd race of various song,
Bring all your pleasing melody along!
O come, ye tender, faithful, plaintive doves,
Perch on my hands, and sing your absent loves!" -

When instantly the whole _vocal band_ quit their sprays, and surround
the person of their daily benefactor, some settling upon his head,
others entangle their feet in his beard, and in the true sense of the
word, take his bread even out of his mouth; but it is freely given:
their confidence is so great, (for the holy father is their bondsman)
that the stranger too partakes of their familiarity and caresses. These
hermits are not allowed to keep within their walls either dog, cat,
bird, or any living thing, lest their attention should be withdrawn from
heavenly to earthly affections. I am sorry to arraign this good man; he
cannot be said to transgress the law, but he certainly _evades_ it; for
though his feathered band do not live within his walls, they are always
attendant upon his _court_; nor can any prince or princess on earth
boast of heads so _elegantly plumed_, as may be seen at the court of St.
_Catharine_; or of vassals who pay their tributes with half the
chearfulness they are given and received by the humble monarch of this
sequestered vale. If his meals are scanty, his dessert is served up with
a song, and he is hushed to sleep by the nightingale; and when we
consider, that he has but few days in the whole year which are inferior
to some of our best in the months of May and June, you may easily
conceive, that a man who breathes such pure air, who feeds on such light
food, whose blood circulates freely from moderate exercise, and whose
mind is never ruffled by worldly affairs, whose short sleeps are sweet
and refreshing, and who lives confident of finding in death a more
heavenly residence; lives a life to be envied, not pitied. - Turn but
your eyes one minute from this man's situation, to that of any monarch
or minister on earth, and say, on which side does the balance
turn? - While some princes may be embruing their hands in the blood of
their subjects, this man is offering up his prayers to God to preserve
all mankind: - While some ministers are sending forth fleets and armies
to wreak their own private vengeance on a brave and uncorrupted people,
this solitary man is feeding, from his own scanty allowance, the birds
of the air. - Conceive him, in his last hour, upon his straw bed, and see
with what composure and resignation he meets it! - Look in the face of
a dying king, or a plundering, and blood-thirsty minister, - what terrors
the sight of their velvet beds, adorned with crimson plumage, must bring
to their affrighted imagination! - In that awful hour, it will remind
them of the innocent blood they have spilt; - nay, they will perhaps
think, they were dyed with the blood of men scalped and massacred, to
support their vanity and ambition! - In short, dear Sir, while kings and
ministers are torn to pieces by a thirst after power and riches, and
disturbed by a thousand anxious cares, this poor hermit can have but
one, _i.e._ lest he should be removed (as the prior of the convent has a
power to do) to some other cell, for that is sometimes done, and very

The youngest and most hardy constitutions are generally put into the
higher hermitages, or those to which the access is most difficult; for
the air is so fine, in the highest parts of the mountain, that they say
it often renders the respiration painful. Nothing therefore can be more
reasonable than, that as these good men grow older, and less able to
bear the fatigues and inconveniencies the highest abodes unavoidably
subject them to, should be removed to more convenient dwellings, and
that the younger and stouter men should succeed them.

As the hermits never eat meat, I could not help observing to him, how
fortunate a circumstance it was for the safety of his little feathered
friends; and that there were no boys to disturb their young, nor any
sportsman to kill the parent. - God forbid, said he, that one of them
should fall, but by his hands who gave it life! - Give me your hand, said
I, and bless me! - I believe it did; _but it shortened my visit_: - so I
stept into the _grot_, and _stole_ a pound of chocolate upon his stone
table, and myself away.

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11

Online LibraryPhilip ThicknesseA Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, 1777 Volume 1 (of 2) → online text (page 7 of 11)