Festival of La Mercè, Patroness of Barcelona
La Merce, also simply known as Merce (in english Mercy and in spanish Merced), is the Patroness of Barcelona and also the most important national festival of the city called “festa major de la Mercè”. This traditional festival is celebrated on september 24 and like you may guess, it is a day off in Catalonia.
But before to be a famous festival in 1902 by the mind of Francesc Cambó, Mercè was a religious matter so before to tell you about the entertainment part, I will tell you quickly its origin.
According to a legend, on september 24, 1218, the Virgin appeared during the night, at the same moment,
in front of 3 important persons, the king James I the Conqueror, the saint Peter Nolasco and the saint Raymond of Penyafort and she asked them to create a monk order dedicated to save christians imprisoned by saracens.
Thus they created the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy, also known as Our Lady of Ransom, founded in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia of Barcelona located at the seu square in the Barri Gòtic neighborhood.
If you want to see a representation of the Virgin, a gothic work of Pere Moragues dating from 1361, you have to go to its basilica and look the statue on the dome. The Basílica of Our Lady of Mercy (in catalan, Basílica de la Mare de Déu de la Mercè) is located at the merce square in the Barri Gòtic neighborhood too. Built between 1765 and 1775, on the ruins of an old church dating between 1249 and 1267, was the work of the catalan architect Josep Mas i Dordal.
In 1687, Barcelona prayed for her to end a locust plague and it was what she did so the council of the city named her Patroness of Barcelona and in 1868, the Pope Pius IX ratified the decision. In 1871, the city started its celebration in her honor in september but like said above, it was not before in 1902 that it became famous as city festival (in catalan, festa major and in spanish fiesta mayor) by including new acts like the first giants of Catalonia, the first human
castle competition, the birth of the popular dance of Catalonia called “sardana”.
Before to start the funny part, I would like to clear this following little confusion, Merce is the Patroness of the Diocese of Barcelona and saint Eulalia is the Patron Saint of the city and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia is dedicated to her.
Depending on when the day 24 falls, the festival of the Merce can last minimum 3 days. For example, if it falls on friday, it starts on 23 until sunday and if it falls on monday, it starts on 21 until 24 but, to tell you the truth, don’t take care of the numbers of day, it is the party you don’t have to miss whatever if you plan your visit according to the festival or when you come in september at Barcelona.
So you may wonder what you can do ??? A lot of things because there are free concerts, dances, theatres… are organized all days from 9h AM until very late in the night around 5h AM and in different places of the city like in the downtown, montjuic, forum, parks... For instance:
- Barcelona Musical, to discover new sounds
- Barcelona Sky, to watch aerobatics of jets, balloons...
- Barcelona Street Art, to share with artists their work
- Barcelona Tradition, to live its culture like castells, sardana, giants...
- Barcelona Fire, to watch fireworks, piromusical, correfoc (people dressed in devils playing/battling with fireworks)... and much more !!!
Museums are free, only the most important ones like MNAC (National Art Museum of Catalonia), CCCB (Contemporary Culture Center of Barcelona), Cosmocaixa (science museum)… so a good way to save money if you don’t like events in the outdoor but the most traditional ones are celebrated in the streets which are:
- the enchanted show called “façana encantada”, a spectacle telling stories and legends taking place at sant jaume square at 19h the first day to start officially the festival.
- the parade of the giants, a parade where some people are hiding inside wooden giant statues representing legend and famous persons of Catalonia taking place at catalunya square.
- the traditional catalan dance called “sardana”, a group of men and women, forming a circle with their hands, raise them and moving their feet at the rhythm of the music taking place at seu square.
- the human castle called “castells”, a group of persons trying to build a castle with their own body without falling taking place at sant jaume square.
- the parade of the devils called “correfoc”, a parade of fire and fireworks with dragons and devils taking place at antoni maura square.
- the piromusical, a show of light, music and fireworks taking place at carles buïgas square at 22h on sunday to close officially the festival.
For children, there are also a lot of things for them in the ciutadella park, the montjuic castle and catalunya square for instance where there are musics, light shows, circus… a good way for a great time in family. In fact, the festival is a way to celebrate the most popular culture of Catalonia in which its origin took place centuries ago and its goal is to keep it alive and to transmit it to the future generation.
Don’t think that in one trip you will experience the Merce festival because programs change every year except the traditional ones, a good way to make travelers come back for the next year if they like it. One advice, download the whole programs from its official website, it will allow you to plan your day according to the events you would like to see but only available few weeks before the “fiesta mayor de la Merced” will start or go to the tourism office located at plaza catalunya.