Climbing of the Pine in Campanet, Mallorca. | R.F.


In mediaeval times, there was a day of charity for Pentecost, aka Whitsun. This charity day is said to have been related to the agricultural cycle and so when crops were blessed. It would rather depend nowadays on what crop one has in mind, but in mediaeval times there was no more important a crop than wheat. And wheat was central to the day of charity.
The day was to be moved, a tradition having started whereby the jurors of Palma and the Kingdom of Mallorca would dispense their charity to the poor. This consisted of bread. The concept of ‘pancaritat’ had started - pa amb caritat (bread with charity).

Way back in the day, there used to be processions. These were arranged by the young of the city - the “caritaters”. Because these processions acquired a certain reputation, they were banned: this was in 1443. Prior to this prohibition, however, the day had been moved forward. From 1407 it coincided with the day of the Guardian Angel (at that time Palma’s saint), which was on the Monday after the first Sunday after Easter. In 1627 the church decided to move the day of the Angel (plus the day of charity) to the second Sunday after Easter. Fifty-five years later, the church had second thoughts. The day of the Angel and the day of charity would be the first Sunday after Easter. And so it has been ever since.
The day of charity was therefore something of a moveable feast, and feast - in an eating rather than a religious sense - was to later surpass the meagre offering of bread.

The old mediaeval processions are nowadays typically in the form of pilgrimages. One of the best known is the pancaritat of Crestatx in Sa Pobla, which is always on the Tuesday after Easter - today, therefore. The pilgrimage is not solely on foot, as there are special buses to ferry the good people of Sa Pobla to the Oratory of Santa Margalida, she being one of Sa Pobla’s patron saints. So grand has this occasion become that the numbers taking part can get up to some 10,000. Given that Sa Pobla has a population around 13,000, that is a fairly significant turnout.

Once the religious part is dispensed with, it’s time for fun, games and food. As the event draws to a close around six in the evening, rockets are let off and there is a shower of hazelnuts, a sort of modern-day equivalent of the charitable giving of bread.

The party aspect of the pancaritat, far removed from what it originally was, is such that for yesterday in Muro - where they always have their pilgrimage to the Sant Vicenç hermitage on Easter Monday - the local police have been known to use an alcoholometer in order to determine if cups have alcohol in them. Local bylaw prohibits the drinking of alcohol on the public way, and that includes the pilgrimage.

Not everywhere has an alcohol issue with the pancaritat - Muro has acquired a certain reputation in this regard - but it is fair to say that these picnic-pilgrimages have become events as significant if not more so than Easter itself. The alcoholic behaviour, meanwhile, has a certain echo of the one-time caritaters, whose processions were banned.

This coming weekend, Muro holds its spring fair, a highlight of which involves feats of daring by the ‘quintos’. The word comes from a centuries-old scheme for selecting young army conscripts. It was introduced during the reign of Juan II of Castile in the fifteenth century. One in five males who had come of age - a fifth, quinto - would be called up. Nowadays it refers only to the coming of age. Hence there are quintos for different years. While quintos’ antics and events might usually be attributed to and be for the most recent ones, this isn’t always the case. Villages can obviously have several years’ worth of them.

The daring in Muro involves climbing a pine tree. This is in the style of the Pollensa pine for the Sant Antoni fiestas in January, and the prize for being the first to climb the stripped and soaped pine is a rabbit (now a toy version) on top of the pine. The tradition is said to date back to 1904.

In Campanet today, the pilgrimage picnic involves a rice lunch, and at five o’clock there is Campanet’s own soapy pine for the quintos to climb, the tree having been located and chopped down on Monday with the same due ceremony that the people of Pollensa reserve for the Ternelles tree, i.e. another occasion for plenty to eat and drink.

Back in mediaeval times, they came up with the idea for a spot of bread with charity. They could have had no idea that, centuries later, both the bread and the charity would have become almost secondary, that the local police would have alcohol controls and that the youth of the village would climb a pine tree.