Montblanc lies 119km West of Barcelona and is the capital of the la Conca de Barberà region of Catalunya. The Madonna resides in the Santuario de Nostra Senyora de la Serra on a hill above the town, just outside the beautiful medieval city walls. Early 14th century, stone, 34 cm. photos: Ella Rozett
Our Lady of the Green Cross (Nostra Senyora de la Creu Verda)
Our Lady of the Mountain (N.S. de la Serra)
Patron of Montblanc
Around the year 1292 a green marble cross was found in the hills outside the town of Montblanc. It soon became known as the miraculous Green Cross. A little while later a shepherd found a Black Madonna near the cross, also under miraculous circumstances. It became known as the Madonna of the Green Cross. Unfortunately it was destroyed in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War.
Very quickly a small chapel and hermitage of Poor Clare nuns was built near the Green Cross. It was called ermita de la Serra (mountain hermitage) and housed the Madonna statue. (To this day the nuns live next to the sanctuary and take care of it.)
Over time four important statues gathered in the hermitage and all were venerated under the title Our Lady of the Mountains: 1) The original one that was miraculously found and then mundanely lost. 2) The copy of the Green Cross with Madonna still venerated in the church as Our Lady of the Green Cross. 3) The white alabaster almost live size Madonna above the main altar. 4) A very small silver Madonna that was used during processions and for visiting the sick. She too was lost during the Civil War.
Of these, only the original Madonna of the Green Cross and her extant copy fall into the Black Madonna category. The copy was sculpted onto a copy of the Green Cross in the early 1300’s in order to unite the miraculous cross and Madonna into one. Before it was moved into the church, this cross with Madonna used to stand on the way between the hermitage and the Green Cross. There it is said to have been blessed by divine lights descending from Heaven. Soon the place with its Madonna on the Green Cross was so famous for its miraculous powers that a bell was installed there, for people to ring in the event of yet another miracle. Whenever the locals heard the bell toll, they would come running. So many sick were healed in this place that the kings of Murcia, Valencia, Aragón, and Catalunya all came here on pilgrimage.
Once the cross with the Black Madonna was brought into the church, miracles kept happening and literally lighting up the church. One night many devotees witnessed the church being miraculously lit up very brightly and a most solemn mass being chanted by sweet voices. Once the chanting ended the place turned dark again like it had been before.
Over the centuries three books have been filled with every conceivable miracle attributed to the Madonna de la Serra. We have collections from 1359, 1444, and 1707.
Whenever epidemics plagued the city one or the other representation of Our Lady of the Mountains was brought down into it for a while.
The white Madonna of the Mountains
The oldest records of the white Lady of the Mountains say that she arrived in Montblanc in 1305. She was meant for some other place, but as she was passing Montblanc Heaven showed the people who were transporting her that they were to halt here and leave the statue.
In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, a small group of revolutionaries was sent to destroy the Madonna, but they failed. When the first man stood before her with a pick ax already raised to smash her, he noticed all of a sudden that the lady was looking at him like a living person and he froze in that position, unable to move. His comrade, seeing that the guy was unable to follow through with the act of destruction, took the pick ax from him. But then he too was paralyzed by Our Lady’s eyes. This struck enough fear into the group that they decided just to hide the Madonna right where she stood. They threw rags and paper over her and borded up the niche that houses her above the altar, as well as any access to the niche. It does seem however that they managed to cut one of her fingers off. Legend says they took it as a souvenir of their encounter. Later the church served to house refugees without anybody knowing that Our Lady was with them all the time, hidden under rags, behind barred doors. Nowadays one can once more climb up behind the altar and stand right before her. She was canonically crowned in 1906, but long before that she was already regarded as the Commander in Chief of Montblanc.
* All information on this page is based on Miquel Ballbè i Boada's, Las Vírgenes Negras y Morenas en España Vol. 1, Gafiques ISTER, Moia/Terrassa: 1991, chapter on the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Mountains, pp. 338-46. Unfortunately his two volume collection of 225 Black and Brown Madonnas in Spain is out of print.