By Gemma Kavanagh
Catalonia is famous for its festivals and lucky for us we landed right in the middle of one. After getting a late train in from Barcelona, we arrived in Tarragona and went to explore the old town. As we drew closer we heard drums and whistles and then came across hoards of people dancing in the street, it was amazing. A group of drummers were snaking their way through the old narrow streets, dressed in black with blue ribbons and face paint.
Throngs of people surrounded them as they made their way to the town hall dancing all the way. The local bars set up table tops outside lining the streets and sold cups of beer and spirits and the local wine Vermut. The atmosphere was electric, we couldn’t believe we walked into a Catalonian St. Patrick’s festival. It was the festival of Santa Tecla, celebrations continued all week with drumming, dancing and music in the streets. During the day they held events for families and children with bouncing castles and ‘big head’ carnival figures that paraded through the streets to traditional music.
One of the most popular events is the ‘Correfoc’ or fire-running, which is also the closing event of the fiesta. People run and jump over characters dressed up as devils and dragons, carrying fire.
On the Sunday of our visit we witnessed one of the highlights of the festivals, ‘castellers’, the human castles. Hundreds of people gathered at the town hall to witness the spectacle. There were huge teams of people constructing human pyramids, climbing over each other and holding on to each other’s legs. They created these structures of people, some of which can reach up to nine stories high. The children wore helmets and climbed to the very top, the smallest child would scramble up to the top, raise their hand and very quickly descend and the structure would dismantle. The children were so fast they were like spider monkeys. Once they got to the top the crowd let out a huge cheer and would congratulate the team.
Santa Tecla was a native of Iconomium, in the region of Galatia in modern Turkey. She lived during the period following the crucifixion of Jesus when Paul the Apostle was spreading the Christian faith. Thecla heard the preaching of Saint Paul and converted to Christianity. She was arrested for her faith and sentenced to death in the arena. The legend states that she was exposed to the lions in the amphitheatre at Antioch, but they refused to touch her. Thecla was so impressed by the preaching of St. Paul on virginity that she broke off her engagement to marry Thamyris to live a life of virginity.
Paul was ordered to be scourged and banished from the city for his teaching, and Thecla was ordered to be burned to death. When a storm rose up and extinguished the flames, she escaped with Paul and went with him to Antioch. She was dressed as a boy and was commissioned by him to preach the Gospel. She then became a recluse and lived as a hermitess in a cave for seventy-two years and died there, the story goes that she was miraculously transported to Rome, when she heard St Paul had died, and was buried near his tomb. Her feast day falls on the 23rd of September.