The history of Montserrat started in 880 when a small group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky in the Montserrat mountains. In the same moment the children heard angels singing and the music filled their hearts with a radiant joy.

Overwhelmed by the experience, the children ran home to frantically recall the experience to their parents. The parents were skeptical but knew their children were trustworthy and honest, and so they went to where the children had experienced the visions to see if they could see what all the fuss was about.

For the whole month following the first visitation, the parents were also witness to the same heavenly experiences and were left with only one conclusion. The visions were a sign from God.

A local vicar was brought to the scene and witnessed the same experiences as the children and parents. The visions occurred in the same location in a cave on Montserrat mountain. When this cave was explored by the religious elders of the community, they found an image of the Virgin Mary. And from that moment on the cave became a holy sanctuary for religious pilgrims.

The site of the visions has been marked by a Holy Grotto on the mountain which has now been ordained a holy place.

Renovators working for the government said the black hands and face of La Moreneta, a statue of the Virgin Mary in the monastery of Montserrat, 30 miles north of Barcelona, underwent a change in color. The color of the 12th century wooden sculpture, according to the renovators, was transformed either due to prolonged exposure to candle smoke or a chemical reaction caused by a varnish used as a paint sealant.

The statue, which is usually surrounded by gifts and supplicatory notes left by the thousands of pilgrims who visit the shrine annually, was repainted black by successive generations of restorers.

A series of tests, including X-rays, revealed the statue's original color and also showed that the last repainting took place at the turn of the 18th century. La Moreneta is Catalonia's patron saint.

    During our half day tour to Montserrat, we JUST had enough time to stand in the line for 35 minutes before the Cathedral opened at noon, then SLOWLY walk through the narrow inside corridors to climb behind the altar to where the Black Madonna is encased, then exit down to the main floor just in time to hear the Boys Choir sing, before leaving to walk/run uphill back to our bus to be among the very last to board.  And gee, to think that we missed the free video and wine-tasting......