This celebration is held each year on March 3rd, in honour of Sant Medir, in the Gràcia neighbourhood of Barcelona – although it’s also worth noting that a similar festival is held at the same time in the nearby town of Sant Cugat. The occasion is marked by a large procession involving hundreds of horses, as well as popularly organised floats representing various clubs or ‘colles‘ from the community. Together they parade through the old part of the neighbourhood, known as ‘Vila de Gràcia’, before ending up in the Jardinets de Gràcia.
The celebration has earned itself the nickname of ‘dolça festa‘ or ‘sweet festival’ owing to the estimated six tons of candy, handed out each year on that day. Each of the colles is loaded with sweet treats of all kinds which are thrown to eager on-lookers (who usually turn up equipped with carrier bags to take their haul home).
A word of caution to those planning to attend, it often rains on the Festa de Sant Medir, so much so that there are two different routes for the procession, depending on the weather. If you are planning to attend it’s worth remembering to dress for the occasion, if you want to keep dry.
As is often the case when you dig far enough into the history of a holiday or celebration, the origins of the Festa de Sant Medir are somewhat surprising. There are in fact two stories to be told in order to make sense of this curious celebration.
The first is that of the story of Sant Medir himself, believed to have been a lonely farmer, who worked the fields on the outskirts of the town of Sant Cugat around the 4th century AD. At that time Christians we under persecution by the Romans and one day the Bishop Sever of Barcelona had to flee the city in fear for his life. He came across Medir sowing seeds in his field and explained to him that he had escaped and that he was ready to die for his faith. He told Medir that should the Romans come looking for him he should not try to lie to protect him but rather tell them the truth.
Sure enough the Romans soon came by, and when Medir told them that he had indeed seen the bishop when he was out in his field, his crops suddenly grew from the earth and rose to full size before them. Believing that Medir was playing tricks on them, the Romans captured him and killed him, and then the Bishop too. Centuries later, a chapel was built in Sant Medir’s name, in the Collserola park on the outskirts of Sant Cugat and remains there today.
As for the origins of the Festa de Sant Medir, they can be found in much more recent history, when in the 1830s a local baker from Barcelona fell ill and prayed to god that if he recovered he would make an annual pilgrimage to the chapel of Sant Medir. He soon recovered and honoured his commitment, walking to the top of the hill and worshiping in the small chapel there. Before setting off he played music to inform his neighbours of his journey and handed out sweet treats to those who looked on. As the annual pilgrimage grew in popularity, with more neighbours and friends joining in each time, eventually the town organised a group or ‘colla‘.
Today the Festa de Sant Medir remains a religious and traditional celebration although the handing out of candy has also made it a very popular event for children! It’s a great opportunity to see Catalan folklore and music, and to get a glimpse of a more traditional side to the city.