open country

looking down on the monastery from the hill top
looking down on the monastery from the hill top

The mind can be a powerful thing. So it is to the memories in my head that I return when I need to escape the present. Part of the joy of writing is to exercise that retrospective journey.

Today, instead of going to the mountains in my mind, I returned to the Lluc Monastery in Mallorca. When I went to find the booklet I had bought from the shop I found it still in its paper bag. Ironically, the image on the bag has mountains at the top and a section of the building below. Written in between the two sketches are the words Sanctuari de Lluc.

Appropriate, as today it is my mental sanctuary.

When we arrived at the monastery, our Mallorcan guide, Catalina, stopped by a rustic looking building known as Els Porxets (the little shelters). These were built in 1739 in order to house the pilgrims who came on horseback. They are plain but attractive, with their weather-worn wooden railings in front of the upper floor’s walkway. There are troughs and places to tether the horses.

After politely listening to our guide, Chris and I sneaked off towards the hill path. We had just under two hours and we agreed quickly that we must go to the cross on the hill. The cross was made in Jerusalem.

The path up to the hilltop is a broad stone track, designed, I presume, to cope with large numbers of pilgrims. No-one followed us. At the base of the path was a large monument with three sides depicting scenes from Christ’s life. Although the main part is made of stone, the story plaques are in a metallic relief.

The action of looking up to them is reminiscent of being reverent, feeling small. The figures are exquisite and the dark emotions subtle in the smoothness of the metal. As my friend and I wound our way between the rocks and scrubby trees we found more of these adorations. The air grew cooler with each step – we were getting further away from the people and the buildings.

These religious edifices were actually part of the last works to be undertaken at the monastery in the early 1900s. They lead the pilgrim up to the Pujol de la Trobada (Meeting Hill). The only person we met was an elderly Spanish man that we passed as he took a slow and thoughtful walk on the Path of the Rosary Mysteries. The bas-reliefs, pictured top of page, were all carved by Josep Llimona, a Catalan sculptor born in 1864 and influenced latterly by Auguste Roudin.

Evidence shows that the site on which the monastery lies was used as a place of pilgrimage as far back as Roman times. Then it was a lucus, a holy forest, from where the name Lluc is thought to have derived. Certainly, the view from the hilltop showed the buildings nestled in the shelter of woodlands overshadowed by the hills.

Local tradition says that a shepherd saw an image of Our Lady (Virgin Mary) in rocks on the bed of a stream. His report was taken to the nearest church, Sant Pere d’Escorca. A chapel was built at this site and is first mentioned in written records in 1268.

Over the centuries the popularity of the simple chapel increased and became a monastery in the mid-1400s. In the late 1500s, accommodation had to be built for the pilgrims. Finally, in the late 1600s, the present church to Santa Maria was built and declared a Minor Basilica by Pope John XXII in 1962.

The church is typical in its ornate style with one strange little detail that Chris and I had separately photographed in the same manner. A comparatively small crucifixion, carved in wood, stands to the left of the high altar. Incongruous in the vast space with gaudy figures and reliefs it is individually lit by a soft light – the painful figure is delicately picked out, strangely elevated in the huge interior.

I spent a few minutes alone sitting on the rocky hilltop. I shut my eyes and felt a cool breeze finger my hair.