As in September every year, Barcelona is now preparing to celebrate the festivities in honor of the city’s patron saint, the Mare de Déu de la Mercè. The famous Festes de la Mercè will light up the heart of Barcelona with a number of traditional activities and an attractive program of music, dance, theatre, and other kinds of entertainment between the 22 and 25 of September
An explosion of art, tradition, and folk culture
With the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, the Festes de la Mercè have been held uninterruptedly for the last 46 years. The festival always features Catalan folk culture and a cultural program that evolves to meet the tastes of an ever-changing society. To bid farewell to the summer in style, Barcelona will be filled with music, sardana traditional dances, correfoc fire-runners, processions of “giants,” and castellers, who will build their legendary human castles.
New in 2023
This year, the well-known writer Najat el Hachimi will inaugurate the festival in the Saló de Cent on 22 September, and the poster advertising the festival has been designed by the artist Chamo San and features a large human castle with characters representing Barcelona’s open and diverse culture. Kyiv will be this year’s guest city and will present Barcelona with two “giants” in honor of its holy princes Olga and Volodimir. Similarly, the Ukrainian capital will be showcasing its culture in Barcelona with a workshop and show entitled Magic of Ukrainian Folklore by the Berehynia Kyiv Academic Theater.” There will also be contemporary dance by the Ukrainian dancer Alina Sokulska.
The Mercè has a number of different components: The Mercè Arts de Carrer street arts festival, showcasing new creations and emerging artistic talent, which this year is taking place in the Parc de l'Estació del Nord and in the Consell de Cent superilla pedestrian areaThe Terra i Gust event held in the Ciutadella Park will be offering music and a sustainable food fair. And BAM (Barcelona Acció Musical), Cultura Viva and Mercè Música will fill the streets of the city with numerous musical performances by local, national and international artists in locations that include Plaça Reial, Jardins Pla i Armengol, Rambla del Raval and Moll de la Fusta.
La Mercè will end, as is now traditional, on Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina with the Piromusical, an explosion of light and sound that is sure to impress everyone.
A festival steeped in history
Much has been said about this festival, but what do we really know about Barcelona’s most popular festival? The festivities of la Mercè are held on 24 September, and legend has it that on that night in 1218, the Virgin appeared to three illustrious figures—King Jaume I, Sant Pere Nolasc and Sant Ramon de Penyafort—and requested them to set up a religious order of monks whose task would be to rescue Christians imprisoned in the lands of the Saracens.
Since that event, a number of events that have taken place in Barcelona have been attributed to the miraculous intervention of La Mercè. In 1687, for example, the people of Barcelona invoked her to protect them when a plague of locusts invaded the city. When the plague was over, inhabitants of Barcelona continued to call on her to face misfortunes and adopted her unofficially as their patron saint. In 1821, the people of Barcelona organized a procession to ask for the intercession of the Virgin of La Mercè in the yellow fever epidemic that was breaking out in Barcelona. And she was officially declared patron saint of the city in 1868 by Pope Pius IX.
The origin of the Festa Major de la Mercè itself, however, dates back to September 1868, following the declaration of Pope Pius IX. It should be noted, however, that there were originally a number of acts and events held in the month of September itself, but there was no major event in her honor. Some chroniclers and historians have dated 1871 as the year in which the first real festival of La Mercè was held and Francesc de Paula Rius i Taulet, a city councillor, is believed to have been the driving force behind it.