The procession of La Beata in Valldemossa

The procession of La Beata in Valldemossa.

28-07-2014P. BOTA

Certain towns and villages have fiesta celebrations that are unique to them or almost unique. Valldemossa comes under the latter. The triumphal carriage for La Beata would be Valldemossa’s and Valldemossa’s alone if Palma hadn’t decided to have one as well. Palma’s carriage isn’t rolled out until October, however. On Sunday, the more famed of the carriages will have the spotlight all to itself.

The celebrations for La Beata, Santa Catalina Thomàs, are not marked by a great deal of logic when it comes to when they are held. The saint’s feast day, strictly speaking and according to the “Martyrologium Romanum” book of Roman Catholic saints’ dates, is the fifth of April. She died in Palma on that day in 1574, yet fiestas for her there are none. Not then, anyway. How about her birthdate? That’s not much help either: the first of May. Beatification? Third of August. Canonisation? June the twenty-second. Of all these dates, that for the beatification comes the closest, but this still fails to explain why Valldemossa plumped for a day towards the end of July. And it certainly gives no clue as to why Santa Margalida has its La Beata procession (without a triumphal carriage) at the start of September or indeed why Palma chose the third Saturday in October. Little rhyme or reason.

La Beata’s triumphal carriage in Valldemossa is one of Majorca’s most important fiesta celebrations because the saint was herself Majorcan; she was born in Valldemossa. Until recently, she was the only homegrown saint; Petra’s Juniper Serra has now joined the canonised ranks. The uniqueness of the carriage occasion - or near uniqueness - has further guaranteed this position of importance.

Two days before La Beata, there is a fiesta celebration which is similarly revered and is unquestionably unique. Alcudia doesn’t have one of its own to honour; instead it long ago reached out to the very heights of Christianity - Christ himself. The Sant Crist Triennial doesn’t perhaps merit being referred to as a fiesta, given that the word does imply a bit of a party. The solemn procession for Sant Crist is definitely no party. It is gruelling, especially for those in bare feet.

The Triennial marks what is said to be Majorca’s most famous miracle. It outdoes Sebastian and ridding Palma of the plague or Sant Roc and his plague-eliminating feats, and this is because there were two miracles. The second was the rain that followed the first - the image of Christ oozing blood and water.

The Majorca of 1507 was no island paradise. Quite the contrary. If famine, drought, pestilence and disease weren’t bad enough, there was also the general lawlessness. It did, therefore, require a miracle to survive, and the villagers of Alcudia had been badly affected by a winter drought. On February 24, there was to be a procession and a pleading to Christ. Worthy and respected men accompanied that procession. They were to testify to the miracle of the image of Christ. Within little time, the clouds gathered. The rain came. The harvest was good. The villagers survived.

But, you may wonder, why is the Triennial taking place this Friday, around five months after it should do? Rather like La Beata and her dates, there isn’t much logic to it. The answer lies with a decision taken in 1697. A Sant Crist commission, of which the canon of Palma Cathedral was a member, among others, determined that Sant Crist should be moved from February to July 28, only to then have a rethink and decide on the 26th.

Moreover, it wouldn’t be every year, it would be every three years. The 26th was the feast day for Santa Anna, Christ’s grandmother, and the day after Sant Jaume, Alcudia’s patron saint.

A reason for every three years was that the commission decided it cost too much, what with Sant Jaume being at the same time. A second reason was to try and ensure that the celebration remained special and wasn’t simply an excuse for extending the revelry for Sant Jaume.

A cost element had to do with all the pilgrims who were turning up. The 1507 miracle did naturally attract attention, once news spread, though the first documented pilgrimage to the image of Sant Crist wasn’t until 1556. The infirm from across the island went to Alcudia to pray and beg Christ for a miracle. The final pilgrimage from outside Alcudia was in 1902. The poet and priest Miquel Costa i Llobera organised one from Pollensa.

The triumphal carriage and the Triennial. The dates don’t seem to make a lot of sense, but for very specific Majorcan reasons they make complete sense.