Hello Mamas, I just want to share with you today my family’s experience in visiting the sanctuary of The Virgen of Meritxell in Andorra with our 2 small kids.
My husband, amidst his busy schedule, suddenly said that we haven’t visited the Meritxell sanctuary yet (I didn’t even know about it before), and he wanted us to visit the sanctuary on the weekend.
Fun fact: My husband and I love visiting religious sites with our kids. Whenever we go on long-distance trips, we always check if there’s a religious site that we can stop by and visit along the way.
So, I looked at our calendar to make sure that there’s no conflicting schedule and booked a hotel for one night. It was a quick trip (September 25-26), but a very memorable one.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Meritxell in Andorra
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Meritxell is considered the most important religious temple in Andorra, a neighboring country of Spain.
Our Lady of Mertixell is also considered as the patroness of Andorra. The festival of Our Lady of Meritxell is celebrated every 8th of September.
It is said that The Virgin of Meritxell has always been linked to the history of Andorra and that the country cannot be explained without its Virgin and vice versa.
The Story of Our Lady of Meritxell
On our way to Andorra, I googled to learn more about Our Lady of Meritxell. I find the story so fascinating.
According to the legend that has been passed on from parents to children from generation to generation, the inhabitants of Meritxell were about to attend Mass at Canillo (a neighboring town).
It was a Sunday and also coincided with Epiphany (3 Kings).
As the people were walking, they saw a flowering wild rose bush which is very unlikely in the winter season.
The people got curious, so they got closer to look at the flowers. They found that between the branches was an image of Our Lady with the Child Jesus in her arms.
They reported the incident to the parish priest, and with his leading, they moved the image of the Lady to the church in Canillo.
The following morning, the image had disappeared from the church and was found once again under the wild rose.
The entire village went to see the miracle. Despite the fact that the day was snowing hard, but no snow has fallen on the flowering wild rose which was sheltering the Virgin.
They all realized that the Lady wished to remain at the exact spot, so they built a chapel right in the area where the sanctuary of Our Lady of Meritxell stands today.
About the Image of The Virgin of Meritxell
The image of the Virgin located in the main altar of the church of the sanctuary is already a replica of the original image that was burned in the fire of 1972.
The right hand of the Virgin stood out because its proportion is notably bigger in relation to the rest of the body.
According to the explanation, this is so, as to emphasize the Blessed Virgin’s gesture of blessings and welcome to the children.
The right hand of the Child Jesus, seated on her left side, is raised as a sign of blessings, as well.
If you want to read more details about the Virgin and the sanctuary, just visit the official site of Meritxell Sanctuary.
The Old and New Sanctuary of Meritxell
The old church or sanctuary of Meritxell was said to be constructed with a Romanesque style before the second half of the 12th century.
A new and larger church of baroque style was constructed around 1658 as a reply to the increase of veneration from the faithful to the Virgin of Meritxell. However, a fire destroyed almost the entire church on the night of the 8th until the 9th of September in 1972.
The church remains were used in its reconstruction that started in 1974.
The reconstruction process of the old sanctuary of Meritxell lasted for 20 years and finally, it was completed in the year 1994.
The Prayer to The Virgin of Meritxell
The parish priest of Canillo and rector of the sanctuary, Fr. Ramon (Mosen Ramon) wrote the prayers to the Virgin of Meritxell as a reflection of the meaning of the sanctuary for pilgrims and the devotees.
I have reread the prayer many times and I just find it sooo beautiful!
Opening Hours & Mass Schedules of Meritxell Sanctuary
Things to Do When Visiting the Meritxell Sanctuary
The visit to the Meritxell sanctuary is about an hour to 3 hours, depending on your pace and on what you want to do and see.
We took some photos at the entrance of the sanctuary while appreciating the beauty of the walls and the entire structure. Its stone walls are sooo beautiful!
Then we went straight to the altar where the image of the Lady of Meritxell was located. My husband and JP lighted a candle.
We also made sure to attend the Mass since our visit was also on a Sunday. My husband was approached by the sacristan mayor to do the 2nd reading.
He also told us that we can take a look at the Bible exhibit on the right side of the Church after the Mass.
We settled on the last bench at the back close to the door, so it would be easy for us to go out for a while, just in case one of the kids make noise.
While waiting for the Mass to begin, we looked at the miniature of the sanctuary that was displayed inside a glass cubicle located at the back end of the church.
Right after the Mass, we signed in the logbook that was located on a bookstand close to the miniature sanctuary, which is intended for pilgrims and visitors so they can write their names or their family’s name with the date, place of origin, and a prayer if they like.
Then, we went to look at the exhibit that the sacristan mayor suggested, but the door leading to the Bible exhibit was closed.
However, there was an exhibit displayed in the hallway of different miniature churches of Andorra. We enjoyed looking at them and reading about the short history attached to each miniature because some of the churches we recognized as we saw them previously on the roadside.
After looking at the exhibit, we went to the left side of the church which is a huge open space, and took our time reading the framed stories and photos displayed on the walls.
Then, we went to see the old sanctuary. Took our time to read the stories and look at the photos inside. Then we stayed for a while outside taking photos and just enjoying the beautiful nature surrounding the sanctuary.
We originally planned to eat in the restaurant just beside the sanctuary’s parking area (the husband learned about it the night before). Unfortunately, it was close. had
Since the kids were sick, we decided to just start driving back to Spain. And just stop on our way for lunch.
Sanctuary of Meritxell as Part of Ruta Mariana
Days prior to the trip, the husband mentioned that the Meritxell Sanctuary is the place we haven’t visited yet to complete the Ruta Mariana. But I was not listening thoroughly.
I only learned and understood completely about Ruta Mariana as I was reading more articles about Meritxell sanctuary while on our way to Andorra.
Ruta Mariana (or Marian Route in English) is a route formed by 5 sanctuaries that are considered important centers of Marian devotion. The 5 sanctuaries are: El Pillar (in Zaragoza), Torreciudad (in Huesca), Lourdes (in France), Montserrat (in Barcelona), and Meritxell (in Andorra).
We had completed the Ruta Mariana and I only learned about it at our final destination (this is one of the reasons why I want to keep blogging because it makes me learn new things and information).
I just learned from reading more about Meritxell and Ruta Mariana (after our trip to Andorra to write this post) that the pilgrim or traveler who arrives in the sanctuaries of the Marian Route can actually obtain a ” Passport of the Pilgrimage” (Pasaporte de la Peregrinación), similar to the one that can be obtained after doing the Camino de Santiago. Then you can have it sealed as you visit each sanctuary.
I’ll make sure to obtain one on our next visit to one of the sanctuaries, so we make another round of Ruta Mariana in the future. I am sure, it will be a fun and memorable experience especially when kids are a little older.
A Bit of Info About Andorra
Andorra (officially known as the Principality of Andorra) is a small mountainous country located in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. It is the 6th smallest state in Europe with a population of approximately 77,006 and an area of only 468 square kilometers.
The official language of the country is Catalan, though Spanish, Portuguese, and French are also commonly spoken.
Other Things to Do in Andorra
Andorra is famous for its cheaper shopping experience because there’s no tax included in the prices. This is what I know since I arrived in Spain. Most Filipinos make a trip to Andorra before their Philippine vacation to buy chocolates and other “pasalubongs“.
The country is also a famous skiing and snowboarding destination. My husband had been to Andorra several times for skiing when he was still single.
The mountainous country of Andorra is also home to many spas. But one of the most famous is Caldea (a futuristic mirror-covered building that has everything from jacuzzis, hydromassage jets, saunas, and relaxation pools), which is definitely on the bucket list the next time we visit.
Some other things that you can do in Andorra are hiking in the natural parks, exploring its Romanesque churches, visiting some of its unusual museums, and trying some of its delicious cuisines among others.
Where to Stay in Andorra
There are a lot of hotels and other types of accommodations to choose from in Andorra. But I realized that accommodations in Andorra are more expensive compared to those in Spain.
While I was searching for one-night accommodation for our family, I saw listings that cost 200-800€/night, and some were even more than 1,000€/ night. Whoaaaa!
We stayed at Hotel Segle XX in Tarter. It was a decent hotel, which costs a few euros less than our accommodation in Santiago de Compostela. But the one in the Galician Capital, Gran Hotel Los Abetos, was way bigger and nicer compared to the one in Andorra.
Weather in Andorra
Andorra weather is always colder than Spain, so make sure to bring an extra jacket or jersey depending on the time of year.
The sun was out and shining when we went, so we had to remove our jackets on and off, depending on how we feel. But nevertheless, we kept on bringing our jackets in the stroller just in case.
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Meritxell is a very beautiful, scenic, and tranquil place. I totally loved it! I kept teasing my husband that it’s completely ok with me if he decides one day that we are moving to Andorra, as long as we live very close to the Meritxell sanctuary. 🙂
He just replied with a laugh and said: you can’t survive the very cold winter here (of course, he knows me)!
Anyways, I am digressing. Are you planning to visit the sanctuary of Meritxell with your family? Or have you been there? Please feel free to share your plans or experience in the comments section below.