Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Three-day holiday weekend a jumble of events demanding Valencian attention

Saint George (275?-303) has been the patron saint of the Aragon region since 1096. Peter I of Aragon and Navarre (1068-1104) reconquered the city of Huesca in the Battle of Alcoraz that year. After freeing them from Moorish rule, the crown of Aragon tied Barcelona and Valencia together with a common language, Catalonian.

The dialect derived from this period remains a source of civic pride in Valencia today. The distinctive spelling associated with Catalonian is featured more prominently than Spanish in museums and, as though to confuse us, on street signage.

But, back to Saint George. His saint’s day is celebrated in much of Spain as a holiday, and this year it landed on a Monday, creating a three-day weekend. At least I assumed George should get the credit.

Throughout the prior week, carpenters scrambled to erect elaborate stages, some almost as gaudy as New Orleans Mardi Gras floats, directly in front of numerous churches. We came across several women and young girls attired in crinolined full-length dresses made from yards and yards of brocade posing for portraits in front of notable landmarks. Stores displayed these quaint-looking costumes and bolts upon bolts of fabric, probably more brocade than Orville Carr used to upholster sofas and chairs for clients during his entire lengthy career in San Antonio.

The preparations remained mysterious to us at the beginning of the weekend, so we launched out with the lofty goal of finding the book fair – Fira del Llibre (note the tricky spelling). Thinking we spied it, we instead stumbled into a regional wine festival in the Turia Gardens.

Books published in languages I can barely comprehend or wine? Good intentions hijacked.

The wine festival presented my first close-up sighting of the hairpiece(s) I nicknamed dona buns. I so wanted a coiled trio for Fiesta, but, as I am ungracefully letting my hair assume its natural color, I have no idea yet what shade of gray, white or in-between stripes that is. Aside from the lack of the comb-over camouflage, these dona buns matched the hairstyles of the costumed women we noticed earlier.

The next day, we resumed our quest for the book fair. We found it. It was large, some 300 vendors, and absolutely packed with people seduced by books above the nearby wine festival. Or maybe they follow a books-first, wine-second rule.

Not lingering long at the crowded literary event, we risked temptation by taking the bridge crossing the Turia Garden above the wine festival. Could we avoid the siren-like call of all of those clinking glasses?

Amazingly, the Mister managed to steer me clear. Only, though, because I spied a trio of women wearing beautiful long black mantillas crossing the bridge (No, daughter, I was not nun-hunting again.). These mantillas were not everyday headgear. I opted to follow the path from whence they came, instead of heading for more wine. Photos snapped from where that led will be in the next post.

Back to Saint George. While I assumed the holiday in Valencia related to him, the performances on Monday made me realize the day might focus on multiple saints. The second Easter Monday in Valencia is celebrated in honor of Saint Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419), not to be confused with Saint Vincent Martyr whose semi-incorrupt arm resides in the Cathedral.

Born in Valencia, Saint Vincent Ferrer was named in honor of Saint Vincent Martyr. Fortunately, his path to sainthood was not as brutally painful as that of the martyr who preceded him. Saint Vincent Ferrer was a powerful Dominican who became embroiled in politics during the schism that created rival papacies in Rome and Avignon and was part of a panel selecting Ferdinand I (1380-1416) as king of Aragon in 1410.

Saint Vincent Ferrer reputedly spoke in tongues, allowing people of many different nationalities to understand his preaching, and his vocal chords somehow projected his sermons over massive gatherings. The church credits his words with the conversion of thousands of Jews and Moors to Catholicism.

The saintly deeds ascribed to him include bringing numerous corpses back to life; reviving a dead man to testify to free an innocent man; ending a fidelity dispute by commanding the infant to identify his real father (the child, fortunately, pointed to the woman’s spouse); and beautifying a woman who had been beaten by her husband who deemed her ugly (and, hopefully, also freeing her from the marriage).

The altars erected on plazas around town were used as stages for children under age 13 to reenact, in Valencian verse as they have for about the past 500 years or so, some of the miracles attributed to Saint Vincent Ferrer. We are not sure which miracles were included in the plays due to lack of comprehension of the dialect and one might need to be related to a cast member to endure sitting or standing through an entire performance, but probably some of the above were left out of the scripts. We missed seeing a statue of the saint carried aloft through the streets, but certainly heard the firecrackers heralding his return home.

And, as I surely have lost your attention by now, more about the dona buns and brocade parade later.


Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Why women love Santa Claus

In Spain, women seeking intercession from Saint Nicholas (270-343) traditionally walk from their homes to the nearest church dedicated to him to pray on three consecutive Mondays. If that distance is too great or their health too frail, any church with a statue of him can be substituted. In Italy, young women yearning to find appropriate mates leave three coins for Saint Nicholas in the donation box.

Their devotion stems back to an early generous action by the young man who would become a bishop and saint. Nicholas was born into an affluent family in Turkey in the second half of the second century, but his parents died of the plague. Their death left him alone, but wealthy.

As the story goes, a man living nearby had three daughters of marriageable age (an age now categorized as well underage) for whom he had not been able to find suitable suitors willing to pay the dowries he desired. Upon hearing the man planned to obtain funds by launching his daughters into careers of prostitution, Nicholas anonymously left a cloth bundle of gold on three consecutive nights at the man’s house – sparing the young women (children, if you prefer) from subjection to their father’s plans for their future.

He is valued as the patron saint of many causes, children being the major one. Possibly his role as protector of children stems from the above story and also a gruesome tale of a child he saved from a crazed butcher. It’s not hard to imagine how the bearded image and his sly deposit of sacks bearing gifts evolved into American traditions relating to, as we affectionately call him, Santa Claus.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, perhaps because he took grain from the rich to give to the poor. Maybe grain needed to make beer? Sailors prayed to entrust him to guide their ships through storms, after Nicholas was said to have brought a sailor back to life after the man fell from the mast of his ship in rough seas.

The purported powers of Saint Nicholas’ remains are so potent, daring military maneuvers have been made to obtain them. After the Turks took over Myra, sailors from Bari, Italy, staged a raid to seize his relics in 1087. Venetians later did the same to capture the few shards they had left behind. In Bari, the bones are said to exude myrrh, which smells like rosewater and has miraculous capabilities. The precious myrrh is collected in a flask annually on his day, December 8, and small vials are available for purchase.

Residents of Valencia are fortunate to have a major church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and tourists are not allowed to interrupt the Monday visitations by the faithful praying for his assistance. The church was founded in the 13th century, but the interior was heavily baroqued up at the end of the 15th.

The church also houses an important statue of Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes, who attracts crowds seeking his intercession as well. Many of the Monday women are known to pause to pray to both, as some of their problems involve men who might be regarded as lost causes.

Postcard from Bergamo, Italy: A skeletal glance at her churches and religious art

Continuing on a sped-up photographic post-mortem of our visit to Bergamo this past summer….

These randomly combined snapshots are assembled primarily from her Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Alexander, a Roman soldier beheaded on this spot in 303 when the emperors created many martyrs in their efforts to purge their legions of all Christians; a baptistery first constructed in 1340, deconstructed but saved three centuries later and then finally reassembled across from the Cathedral another two centuries later; and the adjacent Colleoni Chapel, a church and mausoleum with distinctive marble patterns and a rose window built by the Colleoni family in the late 1400s. Plus, some other church images and religious art from Bergamo’s museums.

Apologies to Bergamo and artists including Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Oh, and to San Alessandro, for forgetting to mention flowers sprang up and bloomed from the blood shed during his martyrdom.