One of the most popular and revered attractions at Montserrat is the Santa Cova. It is worth noting that Santa Cova is often referred to as 'The Holy Grotto'. It is an important place of pilgrimage for religious people who are visiting Montserrat Monastery. At the sight of the Holy Grotto, the image of the Virgin Mary was believed to have been sighted inside a cave (see below for the full story).
This page will give you details of the history of the sightings at Santa Cova. There is also a full architectural and historical background to the chapel at Santa Cova. There is also all of the practical information that you will need to make a trip to Santa Cova.
Legend has it that the image of the Mother of God was found at Santa Cova. This was first referred to in text dating back to 1239. This text states that in 880 on a Saturday, close to dusk time, there were some shepherd children who saw what is known as a 'great light' fall from the sky. Along with the light, there was a 'beautiful song' in the mountain.
The Saturday after the occurrence, the shepherd children returned to the mountain with their parents. The vision occurred for a second time. This continued happening for the four following Saturdays. It was also witnessed by the rector from the nearby town of Olesa. News travelled, and the bishop of Manresa heard about the occurrences. He organised a trip to visit the mountain on a Saturday.
During the trip the bishop of Manresa and the people who were with him saw the image of the Virgin Mary in a cave. They tried to take the image in a procession to the city of Manresa, but this was not possible. They considered this to be an act of divine intervention. They took it to mean that the image had to be worshipped at Montserrat - it could not be moved.
Ever since this time, the cave has been a site of worship for many centuries. Each year, thousands of men and women make a pilgrimage to pray to the Virgin Mary and ask for her help.
On visiting the Santa Cova Holy Grotto, you will also encounter the Chapel that sits beside it - 'The Chapel of the Holy Grotto'. The chapel has been built to give the sense that it blends and becomes one with the grotto.
The chapel dates from the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century (1696 - 1705). It's very high supporting walls are of architectural significance. They were necessary due to the slope of the mountain.
It is important to remain silent when walking in and around the chapel. There is a smaller chapel inside The Chapel of the Holy Grotto - it is in the form of a cross, and it is supported by a rock formation in the mountain. This is where the original holy grotto was. Here, to the right of the altar, you will find a reproduction of the Holy Image. This is a reproduction of the original image that was built that is now inside the Montserrat Basilica (see our Guide to the Black Madonna at Montserrat for more information on the original statue.
Above the statue in the chapel there is a hemispherical dome. This allows light to illuminate the area where the statue sits.
The main chapel is connected to another construction where there is a small cloister. Here you can find an ex-vots, sacristy, a room for pilgrims, a garden and a home for the monk who lives at the Santa Cova to welcome pilgrims.
The while of the area was damaged during the Napoleonic wars (1811 - 1812). Francesc de Paula del Villar I Lozano planned the restoration of the chapel in 1857. The main walls had been entirely uncovered, so this all had to be rectified. It is his plans and work that you can see at the chapel today. The work began in October 1856 and finished in December 1859.
However, in 1994 a forest fire destroyed the roofs next to the chapel and cloister. This resulted in damage to the flooring, furniture and other areas of the chapel. The following Autumn, heavy rains caused massive rock slides on the path and access to the Holy Grotto (Santa Cova) as the forest fire had meant that there was no plant life to support the rocks.
A project to restore the grotto was designed in 1995 by the architect Arcadi Pla I Masmiquel. Work began in 1996. However, on 05 September 1995 heavy rainfall caused movement in the skylight in the dome of the chapel. This would have been because of the fact that the previous forest fires had damaged the base. This caused everything to cave in. The same architect put together a second design and completely restored the Holy Grotto. This was opened to pilgrims on 19 March 1997.
Santa Cova grotto and chapel are located down the mountain, away from Montserrat Monastery. For details and understanding of where Santa Cova is located in relation to the Monastery, see our Map of Montserrat.
The grotto and chapel at Montserrat are open at all times. However, it is worth noting the running times of the funicular (see below). It is also important to remember that at night it will be hard to find the grotto down the mountain paths, so it is better to visit whilst it is still light.
Santa Cova does not sit directly next to Montserrat Monastery - it is further back down Montserrat Mountain. It is possible to walk to it from the Monastery. Alternatively, you can take a funicular part of the way down the mountain and towards the Santa Cova. See below for more details of your options.
You cannot get the whole way to the grotto and chapel of Santa Cova by using the funicular. However, there is a funicular that will take you part of the way to Santa Cova. From Montserrat Monastery, the Funicular de Santa Cova will take you back down the mountain and drop you at a place where you can walk easily to the chapel and grotto (see below for more details).
For details of the funicular option see our page on Santa Cova Funicular. Here you will find details of the running times, opening hours, location and prices of the Funicular de Santa Cova.
If you fancy a walk to Santa Cova, but do not want to do too much walking, it is quite a good option to simply purchase a one-way ticket on the Funicular de Santa Cova. The most popular option is to walk down from Montserrat Monastery to Santa Cova and then take the funicular back up, ensuring that you avoid the steeply inclining walk back to Montserrat monastery. Gluttons for punishment can take the funicular down to Santa Cova and then take the steep walk back up to Montserrat Monastery. For details of the length and steepness of the walk, see the link to the walking page provided below.
If you enjoy walking, the walk from Montserrat Monastery to The Holy Grotto is 1.5 km in length downhill and is known for being picturesque. The walk will take you down St. Michael's path and will allow you to pass other areas of interest along the way (see the link below for more specific details).
For details of the walk from Montserrat Monastery to Santa Cova, see our Guide to Walking at Montserrat. Here you will find details on the route length, directions, walking times and disabled accessibility of the walk to Santa Cova. You will also find information on alternative walking route options on this page.
During a visit to Montserrat Monastery, it is worth making the effort to go to see the Santa Cova grotto and chapel. It is of important spiritual significance to a lot of people. Even if you are not religious, you can enjoy the location at the heart of the mountain, and you can also appreciate the architecture of the chapel. You will need to factor in at least an hour to make the trip as Santa Cova is not located at the heart of Montserrat Monastery, but it is definitely worth finding the time.