Each year on the second Thursday after Easter Alicante holds its traditional Romería al Monasterio de la Santa Faz, an eight kilometre route from the Cathedral in the centre of Alicante, the Concatedral de San Nicolás to the Monasterio de la Santa Faz.
This is a tradition dating back to the 17th March in 1489 when a miracle took place involving a reliquary of the Veil of Veronica ( when Jesus was carrying his cross to Golgotha an onlooker in the crowd, Veronica, handed him her veil so that he might wipe the sweat from his face. When Jesus handed back the veil, an image of his face had been imprinted into the cloth. The figure of the “mujer Verónica” holding the veil in front of her is one of the best known figures which parades in the Semana Santa just 2 weeks before this romería and is widely depicted in sculptural representations.)
In the 525th anniversary of the first miracle, 300,000 people made this a record breaking romería, the fine weather and the fact that Mayday fell on the second Thursday after Easter guaranteeing a huge turnout, which included the President of the Region of Valencia, Alberto Fabra.
From 7am in the morning, 10.000 bamboo canes, each topped with a sprig of rosemary, are distributed to those participating in the romeria, 4.000 by the Concatedral de San Nicolás and 6.000 from the basement of the Town Hall, the Ayuntamiento.
Some of the “romeros” wear black smocks , dressed with a blue and white ( the colours of Alicante) neck-kerchief to accompany their staffs, although thousands more opted for practical shoes, backpacks and peña t-shirts.
At 8am the Romeria departs from the Cathedral, the Concatedral de San Nicolás to the Monasterio de la Santa Faz taking a route through the centre of Alicante via Calle Miguel Soler, Calle San Nicolás, Calle Mayor, Plaza Santa Faz, Calle Villavieja, Calle Virgen del Socorro, before spreading out onto the main Avenida de Denia and the main Carretera Alicante – Valencia.
Drummers and a band accompany the romería, thousands of people filing closely behind like a liquid river of marching feet, the numbers growing at every intersection and junction as thousands more feed into the slowly swelling mass.
The mood is festive, peñas of youngsters wearing matching t-shirts pushing shopping trolleys full of cool beers and refreshments, entire families taking turns to carry babes in arms, music accompanying the marchers, who frequently burst into song, cheering and clapping as buses rumble past stuffed full with yet more participants, carrying them to the start point.
This is a well rehearsed operation, a constant stream of buses filling one side of the carriageway as the romería fills the other, participants starting hours after the head of the romería has reached its destination in the Caserío de Santa Faz, eight kilometres away.
Part way along the route, walkers are refreshed with sweet aniseed rolls and wine, (rollos de anís and mistela) at the Paraeta municipal, although the priests leading the romería set a cracking pace and those who stop soon find themselves well behind the leading flag.
At 10am the Romeria arrives at the monastery and the Sagrario de la Santisima Faz is opened with four keys, two held by the council and two by the monastery itself, following which the reliquary is brought outside and shown to those who have filled the little plaza in front of the building, the plaza de Luis Foglietti. The plaza is jammed full, and there is a static queue stretching right back down to the entrance of the village listening to the service on loud speakers, while thousands more continue to pour into the area behind the monastery where the refreshments stands and funfair are located. Following this, mass is celebrated outside, before the reliquary is returned to the safety of the church and put back under lock and key.
The participants disperse, enjoying the rest of the day in the company of friends and family, spreading into the area behind the Monastery where the park is filled with a large funfair, and dozens of stalls selling refreshments and gifts. Sweet sugar cane is sold in dripping chunks, candy floss in huge spun balls, toffee apples dipped in sweet red melted sugar offer a crisp treat, tangy pickled aubergines from Ciudad Real washed down with earthy red wine, satisfying empanadillas stuffed with tomato and tuna, while almonds toast and meat BBQ’s on sizzling racks, the air filled with woodsmoke, baking cakes and chattering voices.
And more people flow in to the park for hours afterwards: arriving both on foot and in the buses, which are rapidly refilled by those wishing to return to the city centre, the whole operation perfectly organised, efficient and inexpensive ( 1.40€ a ticket).
The party continues all day, participation almost mandatory for residents of the city every year, groups of youngsters ending up on the beaches, families enjoying the atmosphere of the artisan market and funfair, sharing picnics and snacking from the many stands before paying their final respects inside the monastery itself and then catching the bus home.
For more background information about the Romería and recommendations for participating next year, Click Romería de la Santa Faz, Alicante.
Images: 2 images of Alberto Fabra, copyright Calahorra, remainder copyright Valencia Today
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