The fiestas for Mary’s birthday are essentially Mallorcan village affairs.

The fiestas for Mary’s birthday are essentially Mallorcan village affairs.

08-09-2021J. BAGUR

A simulated set-to between Catalan-Aragonese forces and Muslims, running around Bunyola in your underwear, dancing archangels for Saint Michael (Sant Miquel). In a normal year, the fiestas don’t come to a complete halt on the eighth of September, but the day does mark an ending. Summer’s gone, the widely celebrated summer fiestas are done. Autumn’s coming soon, and the last of the summer melons have been consumed or hurled with gay abandon in an improvised battle pool somewhere in a field in Vilafranca de Bonany.

It’s someone’s birthday today. Not any old someone. The Blessed Virgin Mary. Wikipedia, which can normally be relied upon (sic) for giving accurate birth details, is equivocal in the case of the Mother of Jesus. 18BC, it suggests. Which is as good a guess as any. It would be alarming if it were 18AD. The eighth of September can be taken with a large chunk of Lot’s pillar of salt. Saints, for Mary is most definitely one, have often been assigned birth dates; sometimes through fictional necessity, given that they were works of fiction.

Mary, real enough, was allocated her birth date after a great deal more theological agonising than was the case with saints who couldn’t lay claim to have produced the originator of an entire religious movement. The birth date, to be accurate, was a by-product of all that agonising - when was the Immaculate Conception? Was there an Immaculate Conception? It did become a heresy to deny its truth and Mary having been free of original sin, and mediaeval scholars debated this truth long and hard.

Thus, Mary’s conception and birth came to have a Mallorcan connection. Polymath, mystic, writer of the first Catalan novel, inventor of a rudimentary computer, Ramon Llull was an important figure in what was to be the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Llull, among the many other things for which he is noted, wrote the words of the Lament of the Virgin about the suffering of Christ.

It is a text that in its musical form features at Lluc monastery in the Tramuntana, the spiritual land of Mallorca. In these mountains, Llull established his place of learning - Miramar in Valldemossa. The philosophy of the Immaculate Conception and events nine months later can be linked (possibly) to the mountains of Mallorca.

So much for the religious stuff, what about the fiestas you may well be asking. You may indeed, for they have been stripped of their vitality as other fiestas have been. Covid has demanded its fiestas’ protocols, and so a September 8 climax to the summer festivities, a waving goodbye to the vibrancy of summer is reduced to people remaining seated for “verbena” parties of middle-of-the-road singing troupes and local bands with an aspiring rock orientation.

The fiestas for Mary’s birthday are essentially Mallorcan village affairs. Banyalbufar, Fornalutx, Maria de la Salut, for example; they owe at least something to the farming calendar and to harvest. And it is one of these villages, Lloseta, which provides a remarkably detailed account of how the fiestas developed.

It would seem that the first year was 1881, the oratory of Cocú, dedicated to the Mare de Déu de Lloseta, having been built between 1877 and 1878. On September 7, 1881, there was an announcement in a newspaper that on the following day (the eighth), there was to be a “civic-religious fiesta dedicated to the birth of Our Lady”. There were to be religious ceremonies, races for “men and horses” (women were seemingly excluded), folk dance, music and fireworks. The report concluded that there would be everything that could be wished for by the people of the village and by “forasteros”, by which it probably meant people from neighbouring villages such as Binissalem.

The fiestas were not without their controversies. In 1899, butchers complained to the bishopric that the church had banned “simple peasants” from eating meat on the day of the fiesta because it was a Friday. Why was the church insisting on making the people be vegetarian for a day and on what grounds? By 1934, the Bishop of Mallorca was alarmed not so much by the eating of meat as to what young people might be getting up to. He had been sent a report stressing the need for efforts to be made because of “the great risks posed to the young of both sexes” from the dance and music shows. “We must work to correct the abuses that frequently take place.”

Innocent enough times nevertheless, one guesses. The jazz bands of the immediate pre-Civil War period have many descendants nowadays in Mallorca, but the Lloseta fiestas will end today with classical David Gómez at his piano surrounded by his 200 candles. And as the clock strikes midnight, they’ll blow the candles out, wish one final happy birthday and sigh a goodbye to summer.

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