Jujol’s Hermitage

You are walking through a fields, your feet sinking deep into the rich brown earth until you yes meet, in the far,  Jujol’s understated declaration of love to this place: the Mare de Déu de Montserrat de Montferri.

At first you are not quite sure at what you are looking at and the only giveaway is the highest element of the building, a weather wane built in the shape of a cross . The building looks as if shaped by the passing of of time, organic, a sedimentary structure, rising fluidly from the ground, all in splendid isolation. Built in humble brick and cement mixed with gravel, it gives the illusion of being far larger than it is. It reminds one of those Russian orthodox churches build in wood and delivering an equally astonishing architectural statement. It also reminiscent of the Sagrada Familia, which is not accidental as the collaboration between Jujol and Gaudí is well documented.

Yet, where the Sagrada Familia is a gigantic, increasingly convoluted contraption at the heart of Barcelona, the Mare de Déu de Montserrat de Montferri is probably much closer to the original spirit Gaudí envisioned for his own centrepiece. Here you have humility and brick, lots of brick,  and the effect is dazzling. The building is shaped like a ship pointing to Montserrat and is supported by elliptical arches which move deep into the ground. Jujol had a thing for marine life and,  as you walk in, the interior unfolds upon you like a giant octopus.

The temple rises fluid, organic, almost alive. There is no straight like just parabolics intersecting each others. Light filters through red, yellow and blue heart shaped glass which colour the air. From the main prayer hall steps rise enclosed by a simple wrought iron rail, made of clean segments and knots. You go up to see the copy of the Mare de Déu de Montserrat and then walk down again. Jujol understood movement and the visitors become part of it.

Construction began in 1925 but civil war brought everything to a standstill. When the conflict came to an end Juliol paid visit but left dismayed at the little progress made. It was only in the 1990, long after his death, that historian and architect Joan Bassegoda i Nonell gave the project a new impetus and together with Josep Cendrós, a local builder, work began anew. There was little money to pay for it so all the main elements were rendered locally by using the gravel of the river Gaià mixed with cement.

It is only relatively recently that people took notice of this unusual shape piercing the skyline. Increasingly, visitors began to stop by and take pictures to the bemusement of the local folk and it is telling that one can only visit the interior on a Sunday between 11:30 and 13:30 during the hours of mass.

As you walk away from it you keep looking back; among it’s island of cypresses, surrounded by vineyards and groves of olive trees, it seems to levitate, to take flight like a fata morgana, a story from One Thousand and One Nights. And then it’s gone.

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