Santa Cecillia of Montserrat


LOCATION: Montserrat, Spain
NEAREST AIRPORTS: Barcelona, 2 hours drive
I visited Santa Cecilia, the chapel at the entrance to Montserrat, to admire the installation of works, designed and created especially for the space, by artist Sean Scully. It sits atop the unnaturally shaped Montserrat mountain, which looks like piles of cucumbers grouped vertically. It is the shape of the mountain range that attracted the Benedictines of yore to set up a monastery and point of religious pilgrimage to see the black madonna, an attraction that still draws worshippers from afar.

The monastery is a mini-religious city, with cable car (scenic ride up) and market stalls selling local strong-smelling cheeses and jars of honeycomb, manned by Russian speaking sellers, to curious if not hungry pilgrims. As the mountain range is a brilliant place to hike, with various trails accompanied by a sweeping view, the city also plays host to hikers, in addition to the religious visitors. The monks have long been aware of the relationship between religion and art, and have amassed a collection which is on display in the monastery’s museum, and includes a wonderful Caravaggio, and works by Monet, Picasso, Sisley, ancient Egyptian artefacts, and various local artists.

It was on a hike around the mountain with his wife that Scully became acquainted with the monastery, the mountain, and, most importantly, Santa Cecilia Chapel. Wanting to preserve the contemplative atmosphere of the church, Scully busied himself in creating a design that is paired-down and impactful, true to his style. The result is a combination of paintings and frescos on the walls, with glass crosses on each side of the alter and a back panel of glass in the three holy colours of blue, white and gold.

Scully also inserted coloured glass into each of the windows so that coloured light spills into the space with the afternoon sun. It is a new interpretation of church art, customised for a contemporary audience. Gone are the twisted faces of grieving angels and saintly expressions of biblical characters. Instead, Scully focuses on the purely emotional experience of the human condition, tapping into something personal and conceptually profound. When interviewed on the project, Scully said he wanted “to capture the light of the spirituality, but at the same time represent the body, or the weight of the material side of life, of nature”. It is a space to be sensed.