Algemesí goes back to medieval times to celebrate its festivals

Publishing date 1/09/2014

Algemesí dresses up and goes out to honour their patron saint, the Mare de Deu de la Salut. The village becomes a living museum where you can admire the Muixeranga (human towers), the Tornejants and Bastonets (ancient war dancers), the Pastoretes (shepards) or the Llauradores (farmers). Each neighbour in the town becomes a part of its history and tradition in this medieval festival, Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Tradition, culture and faith come together in a celebration that each year welcomes thousands of visitors, on September 7th and 8th.
Algemesí goes back to medieval times to celebrate its festivals

The procession of Mare de Deu de la Salut (Our Lady of Health) is a celebration of medieval origin performing rituals transmitted from parents to children, which takes different forms: theater, 63 musical compositions, dances and performances reminiscent of Roman, Christian, Muslim and Jewish cults, getting together all the cultures which have woven the essence of this land.

The devotion to a Marian image, found back in 1247, according to legend, in the trunk of a mulberry tree, has become a benchmark on which a unique procession of dance and music is based. The first news we know about the celebration of this Festivals is a plea document on the cost of the festival of Our Lady dating from1610, held at the initiative of the neighbours of Berca Street, where the Capilla del Hallazgo (Chapel of the Discovery) is located. In 1680, the festival evolves from a single street festival to become a festival of the whole village. It is possible that the festival was instituted on1747, with the commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the discovery.

Every 7th and 8th of September, the processions of Our Lady of the Health fill the streets of coloured contrails which reproduce the capricious movements of theMuixeranga(human towers),els Bastonets(warrior dance),the Carxofa(the dance of the weavers preceded by a large artichoke), theArquets(a variant of theCarxofa dance), thePastoretes (dance performed by children), thellauradores orBolero(dance with wind music) andels tornejants(war dance). The melodies of the traditional instruments, thedolçainaandtabalet, sound. These are the dances and music of a people who, for generations, were involved, consciously or unconsciously, in the construction of their festival, in the construction and development of their own identity.

The first sounds that announce the imminent start of the festivals, starting on September 6th, is theNit del Retorn.The bells of the Basilica of Sant Jaume play nonstop overnight. It is a unique ritual in which the miraculous return of the image of Our Lady of Health from the town of Alzira to a fledgling town of the early thirteenth century is remembered. Algemesí turned the Marian image into the backbone of its independence.

On September 7th, the main festival is celebrated. When evening falls, the bells of the Basilica of Sant Jaume initiate a powerful rhythm that resonates throughout the city, isthe Xerevia Peal,a bell ring native to the Valencia Cathedral which marks the immediate beginning of the celebration.

When the ringing ceases and the silence descends from the top of the bell, the Basilica doors will open. Thedolçainashall start its sound and the dances begin the first of the processions, the Procession of the Promises, in honour of the many neighbors involved. The towers of theMuixerangarise, the beating of the Bastonets sounds, the neat costumes of theCarxofadance,theArquetsand thePastoretes flow, theBolero music of thellauradoresdancers sounds, whilethe majestic tornejantswarriors double their steps. The ritual becomes a parade where all players know exactly the date, time and place requiring their participation.

The procession, which starts with the ritual of the mysteries and martyrdom, has a scrupulous order with theMuixerangatowers on the second place followed by theBastonets, theCarxofa dance, theArquets, thePastoretes, theBolero orllauradores. The second part of the procession is the religious part. It is led by the Main Cross and followed by thetornejants,the banner of Our Lady of the Health, the public, and the participants in the festival. The presidency is the responsibility of the clergy, the custodian, the secretary, and the participants of the organizing district, the members of the municipal government, the music band and the promises.

Colour has a special role in the second procession, on September 8th. The day of the patron saint, a new sample of popular devotion known asProcessoneta del Matí (Morning procession) is held,offering a number of unique details and nuances in daylight to the visitor who sees this traditional show. This is the shortest but definitely the most intense and visited of the processions. In the few meters separating the Capella de la Troballa (Chapel of the Finding) in the Basilica of Sant Jaume, all dances are concentrated along Berca Street and Carbó Square. One of the highlights of the festival is the entry of the image of Our Lady of the Health in the Basilica of Sant Jaume. Within a small space in Plaça Major all dances are performed at the same time. For a few minutes, an indescribable spectacle occurs: the images speak for themselves. It is one of the most impressive moments of the festivals.

The third and last procession is the longest. It lasts about seven hours and starts at 8 pm from the Minor Basilica of San Jaime and always ends after two o'clock am, even though there is not a settled time. It is popularly known as the procession of the general return. The traditional dances of Algemesí and the image of the patron saint pass back through the old centre of town, following the original itinerary of 1724, when the first news on this celebration appear.

The final destination of this journey is the Plaza Mayor, point of departure and return, where the audience waits for the arrival of the image. The long journey of this last procession makes it inevitable that the last entry of the image in the temple occurs late in the morning. The last access of the virgin in the basilica means the final highlight of the festivals.

Pictures:  Ximo Bueno, Paco Donderis, Enrique Castell, Vicente M. Granell, Elena Tornero,  José Portoles Victor San Germán. Museu Valencià de la Festa (Valencian Museum of Traditional Festivals).

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