Festivals of Christ
The festivities in honor of the Holy Christ of Peace are the Major Festivals of Sant Joan d’Alacant, which are celebrated between September 12 and 16 of each year. The main day is September 14, known as Christ Day.
The Fiestas del Cristo are the Major Festivals of Sant Joan d’Alacant and there is evidence of their celebration for several centuries. Due to its historical past and its importance as a festival in the municipality, this year 2023, the Generalitat has granted the Christ Festival the declaration of Festival of Provincial Tourist Interest of the Valencian Community, a title more than deserved for Sant Joan d’Alacant and all the santjoaners.
Devotion to the Christ of Peace is very old. The first information about the image dates back to the 17th century, although it is very likely that devotion to this image was older. In 1600, the II Synod of Orihuela granted Sant Joan the celebration of the festival of the Most Precious Blood, July 1, as a precept, a celebration that would undoubtedly be linked to Christ, being the date on which the ancient festivals would be celebrated. . According to some chroniclers, the festival would be moved to the month of September during the 18th century, focusing on the festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross that the Catholic Church celebrates on September 14. Among the reasons given is the economic issue since in the month of September the town would have already finished the agricultural tasks and the neighbors, in addition to more time, would have more money to be able to celebrate them. However, we do not know the exact date they were moved to September.
The religious acts consisting of dawn, matins, three high masses, procession and novena have always occupied a central role in the celebrations, although over time the secular acts were expanded with other entertainment and popular activities such as dances and festivals, fires artificial parades, release of heifers and parades or cavalcades. During the holidays, Plaza Maisonnave was very important. After the Civil War and with a somewhat timid previous antecedent, the figure of the Queen of the Festivities and her Court of Honor was also incorporated, women who since 1948 have been the main festive representatives of the municipality.
En el año 1982 surgieron las primeras Peñas de las Fiestas, con el objetivo de recuperar el carácter popular de las mismas, en un momento en el que la fiesta tradicional empezaba a decaer y en otros pueblos con fiestas similares se adoptaban los Moros y Cristianos. The ‘penyas’ occupied the street and helped make the festival a more participatory and varied celebration.
Currently, and after some previous events such as the Coronation of the Queens and Ladies and the Paella Contest, the party begins on the night of September 12 with the Peñas Entrance. In the Church the Alborada is celebrated, while the image of the Christ of Peace is revealed on the main altar. Next, the Proclamation is read from the Town Hall. After the interpretation of the hymns and the firing of a fireworks display, the festivities are inaugurated and people move to the clubs to enjoy the nighttime atmosphere.
The 13th begins with the ‘awakening’. The first of the ‘mascletàs’ takes place at noon. In the afternoon the Offering of Flowers and Fruits to the Holy Christ takes place. On the doorway of the chapel a floral tapestry is made around an image of Christ, while the food is deposited in the chapel, destined for social purposes.
The 14th begins with a thunderous ‘despertà’ of gunpowder, bells and music. At noon, after the celebration of the High Mass sung by the Orfeón San Juan, the ‘mascletà‘ takes place. In the afternoon, the main event is the Procession with the image of the Holy Christ of Peace which, in its triumphal float, travels through several streets accompanied by thousands of devotees with wax. Upon arriving at the church, an image and sound show takes place and the blessing with the image is performed, a unique moment of faith, tradition and devotion of the Santjoaners. At night, the party continues and a monumental fireworks display is set off.
On the 15th, in addition to the usual ‘despertà’, the parades and the ‘mascletà’, the Costume Parade takes place. In the afternoon, the Children’s Contest is held with prizes for girls and boys, and at night, the Great Costume Parade for Seniors, which is followed by the night party in all the peñas and racós.
On the 16th the festival continues in the usual order, and is especially reserved for the spectacular Float Parade. The day concludes with a monumental Fireworks Castle.
The religious events continue between the 17th and 25th, when the Novena takes place in honor of the Holy Christ of Peace. Every day of the novena, the Joys to the Holy Christ are sung, a set of couplets that tell the history, devotion and miracles of the image in Sant Joan. There are two different compositions of the joys: one from the 17th century and another from the 18th century. There are also several hymns composed in the 19th and 20th centuries.
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Legend and oral tradition narrate the appearance of the image of Christ in Sant Joan d’Alacant at an undetermined time. Two pilgrim sculptors passed through the town and were commissioned to create an image of a crucified man; After a few days and due to the silence prevailing in the house where they were working, the neighbors entered the property, verifying that the pilgrims had disappeared without a trace and had sculpted the image of Christ, which the people considered to be angels. It seems that the title of Peace was chosen by insaculation and since the origin of this devotion, numerous miracles were recorded in many places, increasing devotion to the image.
According to some chronicles, in 1624 the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes took place during a pro-rain pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Virtues of Villena, a date questioned in some recent historical investigations. The date on which the old image would be sculpted is unknown, but due to its characteristics it is close to other nearby ones dated to the 16th century. A cape was added to the image as a tapestry with rich embroidery with the ‘Armae Christie’, as well as a crown. Among the several crowns that the image had, the one made at the beginning of the 20th century by the sculptor Bañuls stands out. The image was usually processed under a severe canopy of crimson damask, preceded by two lanterns, but in 1886 an artistic processional float was built. Everything went up in flames in July 1936, at the beginning of the Civil War.Once the war was over, in 1940, the Valencian sculptor Mr. José María Ponsoda Bravo created a new image, and at the beginning of the 1950s, the solemnity cape and the triumphal float were recovered. Currently, this same image continues to be processed every Good Friday, on a silver and gold metal throne, carried on the shoulders of about 40 brothers.
One of the most original and picturesque traditions currently lost was that of the Ball de Torrent, a sample of the typical folklore of La Huerta.
In 1885, the festivities had to be delayed to September 22, 23 and 24, due to a strong cholera epidemic. Curiously, that same year, King Alfonso XII granted Sant Joan the title of town.
During the festivities of 1886, the Sant Joan bullring was inaugurated at the end of San Antonio street, coinciding with the works on the Alicante bullring. However, the life of the building would be short-lived. A bullfighting society was established to build it called ‘Hall Brothers and Company’. In 1886 some right-handed bullfighters known as ‘El Punteret’, ‘El Ecijano’, ‘Frascuelo’ and ‘El Meri’ fought. For the following year, Lagartijo’s performance was announced. However, in 1888 the society was dissolved due to economic and organizational problems and, at the end of the 19th century, it would be demolished. The area, however, is still called Plaça de Bous. There are some remains of the square, such as a ‘canet’ preserved by the Banegas family.
The bullfighting hobby of the festivals is very well known and ancient. Some data speak of its celebration since the 17th century. For some years it was prohibited, but since 1924 it has remained unchanged. Throughout the 20th century it was one of the main attractions of the festival and a large audience from the surrounding towns as well as some foreign tourists participated in the bullfights and release of heifers.
In 1924, on the occasion of the Third Centenary of the Miracle of Christ in the Virtues of Villena, special festivities were held with the first Float Parade and Floral Games with a Literary Contest.
Upon the arrival of the Second Republic, in 1931, the procession of Christ was suppressed, and only the blessing took place with the old image at the door. The procession was celebrated again in 1934 and 1935, being the last times that the old image of Christ did so, since in 1936 it was destroyed in the assault on the church. During the Civil War the festivities were not celebrated, but after it was over, in 1939 they were recovered and an image of a Christ of Cocentaina was brought, probably the Cristo dels Llauradors, which had been lent by the Provincial Council. In 1940, the image was finally recovered.
For many years, the Proclamation was delivered by Mr. José María Torregrosa Juan. Also for some years the Queens of the Parties from previous years were in charge of doing it. Currently, a local resident is the representative of this honor.
In 1998, the 50th anniversary of the Queens and Ladies of the festivities was celebrated in a special way and an Exaltation ceremony was held with the attendance of all those who had held this position during all these years.
During the 2014 festivities, the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the new image of the Holy Christ of Peace to Sant Joan d’Alacant began with the granting of the Jubilee Year between September 14 of that year and September 25, 2015. Throughout that year, the Holy Christ has visited important enclaves of the Huerta de Alicante, as well as several streets and residences of Sant Joan.