MONTSERAT is a rising lofty Hill, in the very Middle of a spacious Plain, in the Principality of Catalonia, about seven Leagues distant from Barcelona to the Westward, somewhat inclining to the North. At the very first Sight, its Oddness of Figure promises something extraordinary; and given at that Distance the Prospect makes somewhat of a grand Appearance: Hundreds of aspiring Pyramids presenting themselves all at once to the Eye, look, if I may be allowed so to speak, like a little petrify'd Forrest; or, rather, like the awful Ruins of some capacious Structure, the Labour of venerable Antiquity. The nearer you approach the more it affects; but till you are very near you can hardly form in your Mind any thing like what you find it when you come close to it. Till just upon it you would imagine it a perfect Hill of Steeples; but so intermingled with Trees of Magnitude, as well as Beauty, that your Admiration can never be tir'd, or your Curiosity surfeited. Such I found it on my Approach; yet much less than what I found it, was so soon as I enter'd upon the very Premisses.
Now that stupendious Cluster of Pyramids affected me in a Manner different to all before; and I found it so finely group'd with verdant Groves, and here and there interspers'd with aspiring, but solitary Trees, that it no way lessened my Admiration, while it increased my Delight. Those Trees, which I call solitary, as standing single, in opposition to the numerous Groves, which are close and thick (as I observ'd when I ascended to take a View of the several Cells) rise generally out of the very Clefts of the main Rock, with nothing, to Appearance, but a Soil or bed of Stone for their Nurture. But though some few Naturalists may assert, that the Nitre in the Stone may afford a due Proportion of Nourishment to Trees and Vegetables; these, in my Opinion, were all too beautiful, their Bark, Leaf, and Flowers, carry'd too fair a Face of Health, to allow them even to be the Foster-children of Rock and Stone only.
Upon this Hill, or if you please, Grove of Rocks, are thirteen Hermits Cells, the last of which lies near the very Summit. You gradually advance to every one, from Bottom to Top, by a winding Ascent; which to do would otherwise be Impossible, by reason of the Steepness; but though there is a winding Ascent to every Cell, as I have said, I would yet set at defiance the most observant, if a Stranger, to find it feasible to visit them in order, if not precaution'd to follow the poor Borigo, or old Ass, that with Paniers hanging on each Side of him, mounts regularly, and daily, up to every particular Cell. The Manner is as follows:
In the Paniers there are thirteen Partitions; one for every Cell. At the Hour appointed, the Servant having plac'd the Paniers on his Back, the Ass, of himself, goes to the Door of the Convent at the very Foot of the Hill, where every Partition is supply'd with their several Allowances of Victuals and Wine. Which, as soon as he has receiv'd, without any further Attendance, or any Guide, he mounts and takes the Cells gradually, in their due Course, till he reaches the very uppermost. Where having discharg'd his Duty, he descends the same Way, lighter by the Load he carry'd up. This the poor stupid Drudge fails not to do, Day and Night, at the stated Hours.
Two Gentlemen, who had join'd me on the Road, alike led by Curiosity, seem'd alike delighted, that the End of it was so well answer'd. I could easily discover in their Countenances a Satisfaction, which, if it did not give a Sanction to my own, much confirm'd it, while they seem'd to allow with me that these reverend Solitaries were truly happy Men; I then thought them such; and a thousand times since, reflecting within my self, have wish'd, bating their Errors, and lesser Superstitions, my self as happily station'd: For what can there be wanting to a happy Life, where all things necessary are provided without Care? Where the Days, without Anxiety or Troubles, may be gratefully passed away, with an innocent Variety of diverting and pleasing Objects, and where their Sleep sand Slumbers are never interrupted with any thing more offensive, than murmuring Springs, natural Cascades, or the various Songs of the pretty feather'd Quiristers.
But their Courtesy to Strangers is no less engaging than their Solitude. A recluse Life, for the Fruits of it, generally speaking, produces Moroseness; Pharisaical Pride too often sours the Temper; and a mistaken Opinion of their own Merit too naturally leads such Men into a Contempt of others; But on the contrary, these good Men (for I must call them as I thought them) seem'd to me the very Emblems of Innocence; so ready to oblige others, that at the same Instant they seem'd laying Obligations upon themselves. This is self-evident, in that Affability and Complaisance they use in shewing the Rarities of their several Cells; where, for fear you should slip any thing worthy Observation, they endeavour to instil in you as quick a Propensity of asking, as you find in them a prompt Alacrity in answering such Questions of Curiosity as their own have inspir'd.
In particular, I remember one of those reverend old Men, when we were taking Leave at the Door of his Cell, to which out of his great Civility he accompany'd us, finding by the Air of our Faces, as well as our Expressions, that we thought ourselves pleasingly entertain'd; to divert us afresh, advanc'd a few Paces from the Door, when giving a Whistle with his Mouth, a surprising Flock of pretty little Birds, variegated, and of different Colours, immediately flock'd around him. Here you should see some alighting upon his Shoulders, some on his awful Beard; others took Refuge on his snow-like Head, and many feeding, and more endeavouring to feed out of his Mouth; each appearing emulous and under an innocent Contention, how best to express their Love and Respect to their no less pleased Master.
Nor did the other Cells labour under any Deficiency of Variety: Every one boasting in some particular, that might distinguish it in something equally agreeable and entertaining. Nevertheless, crystal Springs spouting from the solid Rocks were, from the highest to the lowest, common to them all; and, in most of them, they had little brass Cocks, out of which, when turn'd, issu'd the most cool and crystalline Flows of excellent pure Water. And yet what more affected me, and which I found near more Cells than one, was the natural Cascades of the same transparent Element; these falling from one Rock to another, in that warm, or rather hot Climate, gave not more delightful Astonishment to the Eye, than they afforded grateful Refreshment to the whole Man. The Streams falling from these, soften, from a rougher tumultuous Noise, into such affecting Murmurs, by Distance, the Intervention of Groves, or neighbouring Rocks, that it were impossible to see or hear them and not be chann'd.
Neither are those Groves grateful only in a beautiful Verdure; Nature renders them otherwise delightful, in loading them with Clusters of Berries of a perfect scarlet Colour, which, by a beautiful Intermixture, strike the Eye with additional Delight. In short, it might nonplus a Person of the nicest Taste, to distinguish or determine, whether the Neatness of their Cells within, or the beauteous Varieties without, most exhaust his Admiration. Nor is the Whole, in my Opinion, a little advantag'd by the frequent View of some of those pyramidical Pillars, which seem, as weary of their own Weight, to recline and seek Support from others in the Neighbourhood.
When I mention'd the outside Beauties of their Cells, I must be thought to have forgot to particularize the glorious Prospects presented to your Eye from every one of them; but especially from that nearest the Summit. A Prospect, by reason of the Purity of the Air, so extensive, and so very entertaining that to dilate upon it properly to one that never saw it, would baffle Credit; and naturally to depaint it, would confound Invention. I therefore shall only say, that on the Mediterranean Side, after an agreeable Interval of some fair Leagues, it will set at defiance the strongest Opticks; and although Barcelona bounds it on the Land, the Eyes are feasted with the Delights of such an intervening Champion (where beauteous Nature does not only smile, but riot) that the Sense must be very temperate, or very weak, that can be soon or easily satisfy'd.
Having thus taken a View of all their refreshing Springs, their grateful Groves, and solitary Shades under single Trees, whose Clusters prov'd that even Rocks were grown fruitful; and having ran over all the Variety of Pleasures in their several pretty Cells, decently set off with Gardens round the, equally fragrant and beautiful, we were brought down again to the Convent, which, though on a small Ascent, lies very near the Foot of this terrestrial Paradise, there to take a Survey of their sumptuous Hall, much more sumptuous Chapel, and its adjoining Repository; and feast our Eyes with Wonders of a different Nature; and yet as entertaining as any, or all, we had seen before.
Immediately on our Descent, a Priest presented himself at the Door of the Convent, ready to shew us the hidden Rarities. And though, as I understood, hardly a Day passes without the Resort of some Strangers to gratify their Curiosity with the Wonders of the Place; yet is there, on every such Occasion, a superior Concourse of Natives ready to see over again, out of meer Bigotry and Superstition, what they have seen, perhaps, a hundred times before. I could not avoid taking notice, however, that the Priest treated those constant Visitants with much less Ceremony, or more Freedom, if you please, than any of the Strangers of what Nation soever; or, indeed, he seem'd to take as much Pains to disoblige those, as he did Pleasure in obliging us.
The Hall was neat, large and stately; but being plain and unadorn'd with more than decent Decorations, suitable to such a Society, I hasten to the other.
When we enter'd the Chapel, our Eyes were immediately attracted by the Image of our Lady of Montserat (as they call it) which stands over the Altar-Piece. It is about the natural Stature; but as black and shining as Ebony it self. Most would imagine it made of that Material; though her Retinue and Adorers will allow nothing of the Matter. On the contrary, Tradition, which with them is, on some Occasions, more than tantamount to Religion, has assur'd them, and they relate it as undoubted Matter of Fact, that her present Colour, if I may so call it, proceeded from her Concealment, in the Time of the Moors, between those two Rocks on which the Chapel is founded; and that her long lying in that dismal Place chang'd her once lovely White into its present opposite. Would not a Heretick here be apt to say, That it was greaty pity that an Image which still boasts the Power of acting so many Miracles, could no better conserve her own Complexion? At least it must be allow'd, even by a good Catholick, to carry along with it Matter of Reproach to the fair Ladies, Natives of the Country, for their unnatural and excessive Affection of adulterating, if not defacing, their beautiful Faces, with the ruinating Dauberies of Carmine?
As the Custom of the Place is (which is likewise allow'd to be a distinguishing Piece of Civility to Strangers) when we approach the black Lady (who, I should have told you, bears a Child in her Arms; but whether maternally Black, or of the Mulatto Kind, I protest I did not mind) the Priest, in great Civility, offers you her Arm to salute; at which Juncture, I, like a true blue Protestant, mistaking my Word of Command, fell foul on the fair Lady's Face. The Displeasure in his Countenance (for he took more Notice of the Rudeness than the good Lady her self) soon convinc'd me of my Error; However, as a greater Token of his Civility, having admitted no Spaniards along with my Companions and me, is pass'd off the better; and his after Civilities manifested, that he was willing to reform my Ignorance by his Complaisance.
To demonstrate which, upon my telling him that I had a Set of Beads, which I must entreat him to consecrate for me, he readily, nay eagerly comply'd; and having hung them on her Arm for the Space of about half, or somewhat short of a whole Minute, he return'd me the holy Baubles with a great deal of Address and most evident Satisfaction. The Reader will be apt to admire at this curious Piece of Superstition of mine, till I have told him, that even rigid Protestants have, in this Country, thought it but prudent to do the like; and likewise having so done, to carry them about their Persons, or in their Pockets: For Experience has convinc'd us of the Necessity of this most Catholick Precaution; since those who have here, travelling or otherwise, come to their Ends, whether by Accident, Sickness, or the Course of Nature, not having these sanctifying Seals found upon them, have ever been refus'd Christian Burial, under a superstitious Imagination, that the Corps of a Heretick will infect every thing near it.
Two instances of this kind fell within my Knowledge; one before I came to Montserat, the other after. The first was of one Slunt, who had been Bombardier at Monjouick; but being kill'd while we lay at Campilio, a Priest, whom I advis'd with upon the Matter, told me, that if he should be buried where any Corn grew, his Body would not only be taken up again, but ill treated, in revenge of the Destruction of so much Corn, which the People would on no account be persuaded to touch; for which Reason we took care to have him lay'd in a very deep Grave, on a very barren Spot of Ground. The other was of one Captain Bush, who was a Prisoner with me on the Surrender of Denia; who being sent, as I was afterwards, to Saint Clemente la Mancha, there dy'd; and, as I was inform'd, tho' he was privately, and by Night, bury'd in a Corn-Field, he was taken out of his Grave by those superstitious People, as soon as ever they could discover the Place where his Body was deposited. But I return to the Convent at Montserat.
Out of the Chapel, behind the High-Altar, we descended into a spacious Room, the Repository of the great Offerings made to the Lady. Here, though I thought in the Chapel it self I had seen the Riches of the Universe, I found a prodigious Quantity of more costly Presents, the superstitious Tribute of most of the Roman-Catholick Princes in Europe. Among a Multitude of others, they show'd me a Sword set with Diamonds, the Offering of Charles the Third, then King of Spain, but now Emperor of Germany. Though I must confess, being a Heretick, I could much easier find a Reason for a fair Lady's presenting such a Sword to a King of Spain, than for a King of Spain's presenting such a Sword to a fair Lady: And by the Motto upon it, Pulchra tamen nigra, it was plain such was his Opinion. That Prince was so delighted with the Pleasure's of this sweet Place, that he, as well as I, stay'd as long as ever he could; though neither of us so long as either could have wish'd.
But there was another Offering from a King of Portugal, equally glorious and costly; but much better adapted; and therefore in its Propriety easier to be accounted for. That was a Glory for the Head of her Ladiship, every Ray of which was set with Diamonds, large at the Bottom, and gradually lessening to the very Extremity of every Ray. Each Ray might be about half a Yard Long; and I imagin'd in the Whole there might be about one Hundred of them. In short, if ever her Ladiship did the Offerer the Honour to put it on, I will though a Heretick, venture to aver, she did not at that present time look like a humane Creature.
To enumerate the rest, if my Memory would suffice, would exceed Belief. As the upper Part was a plain Miracle of Nature, the lower was a compleat Treasury of miraculous Art.
If you ascend from the lowest Cell to the very Summit, the last of all the thirteen, you will perceive a continual Contention between Pleasure and Devotion; and at last, perhaps, find your self at a Loss to decide which deserves the Preheminence: For you are not here to take Cells in the vulgar Acceptation, as the little Dormitories of solitary Monks: No! Neatness, Use, and Contrivance appear in every one of them; and though in an almost perfect Equality, yet in such Perfection, that you will find it difficult to discover in any one of them any thing wanting to the Pleasure of Life.
If you descend to the Convent near the Foot of that venerable Hill; you may see more, much more of the Riches of the World; but less, far less Appearance of a celestial Treasure. Perhaps, it might be only the Sentiment of a Heretick; but that Awe and Devotion, which I found in my Attendant from Cell to Cell grew languid, and lost in meer empty Bigotry and foggy Superstition, when I came below. In short, there was not a great Difference in their Heights, than in the Sentiments they inspir'd me with.
Before I leave this Emblem of the beatific Vision, I must correct some thing like a Mistake, as to the poor Borigo. I said at the Beginning that his Labour was daily; but the Sunday is to him a Day of rest, as it is to the Hermits, his Masters, a Day of Refection. For to save the poor faithful Brute the hard Drudgery of that Day, the thirteen Hermits, if Health permit, descend to their Canobium, as they call it; that is, to the Hall of the Convent; where they dine in common with the Monks of the Order, who are Benedictines.
After seven Days Variety of such innocent Delight (the Space allow'd for the Entertainment of Strangers), I took my Leave of this pacifick Hermitage, to pursue the more boisterous Duties of my Calling. The Life of a Soldier is in every Respect the full Antithesis to that of a Hermit; and I know not, whether it might not be a Sense of that, which inspir'd me with very great Reluctancy at parting. I confess, while on the Spot, I over and over bandy'd in my Mind the Reasons which might prevail upon Charles the Fifth to relinquish his Crown; and the Arguments on his Side never fail'd of Energy, I could persuade my self that this, or some like happy Retreat, was the Reward of abdicated Empire.
Full of these Contemplations (for they lasted there) I arriv'd at Barcelona; where I found a Vessel ready to sail, on which I embarked for Denia, in pursuance of my Orders. Sailing to the Mouth of the Mediterranean, no Place along the Christian Shore affords a Prospect equally delightful with the Castle of Denia. It was never designed for a Place of great Strength, being built, and first design'd, as a Seat of Pleasure to the Great Duke of Lerma. In that Family it many Years remain'd; tho', within less than a Century, that with two other Dukedoms, have devolv'd upon the Family of the Duke de Medina Celi, the richest Subject at this time in all Spain.