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La Mercé Festival

La Mercé

Festival of Our Lady of Mercy. The La Mercé Festival is a Spanish festival, dedicated to the patron saint of Barcelona, the Virgin of Mercy.

The La Mercé Festival is dedicated to the patron saint of Barcelona, the Virgin of Mercy. The holiday takes place every September 24th and is the largest fiesta that is celebrated in  Barcelona, where thousands fill the streets to participate in the activities taking place this day. Our Lady of Mercy is a Madonna that generates one of the most devoted of followings mainly due to the apparitions, signs and battlefield victories credited to her.

The origin of the Virgin goes back to an appearance witnessed by Saint Peter Nolasco, a resident of Barcelona, on 1 August, 1218. It was a turbulent period of time around the  Mediterranean, especially in southern Spain. The Saracens and the Turkish were aggressively attacking the Spanish coast and taking hundreds of prisoners to be used as slaves in their territories. St. Peter Nolasco used his fortune to buy these men's freedom and at the same time he was praying to the Virgin Mary to shed some light upon him.

The Virgin of Mercy appeared and inspired him to found a religious order, which years later would come to be known as the Mercedarians, whose purpose was to free the prisoners. St. Peter Nolasco, astonished by his vision, went to tell King James I of Aragon what had occurred. Curiously, the King had had the same revelation and together, they worked to bring to reality what was asked of them.

The Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives saved about 300,000 captives throughout history, but not without sacrifice. Many friars became martyrs, sacrificing their lives to save prisoners. Many are now considered saints and are also revered during this celebration.

On the eve of the 24th, Barcelona transforms itself into on giant fair open and free for all to enjoy. Dragons, giants, cabezudos (costumed characters with large heads) and correfocs (devils with “fire” in the form of large sparklers) roam the streets of the city entertaining and causing havoc to the delight of everyone. You will also see people  dancing sardanas (traditional circle dances) and  constructing castellers (human towers). This party is for everyone and as you walk around Barcelona you’ll find this to be more than evident.

The action takes place primarily in the Gràcia neighborhood, the Plaza Sant Jaume and along the ascent to Mount Montjuic, where you can also enjoy magnificent aerial views of the city.

Our Lady of Mercy in Latin America

This feast day is also celebrated in Latin America. In Peru, this Virgin is the patron saint of the country. This is because the Mercedarian Order built a mission in Lima dedicated to the Virgin and created a devoted following in this country. When Peru celebrated their 100th anniversary of Independence, the Virgin of Mercy was named the Peruvian Army’s Grand Marshal and as such, is its protector and guardian.

In Argentina, they have dedicated the victory of the battle of Tucumán to this. The battle took place on the 24th of September in 1812 and was a turning point in the war of Argentine independence. The Virgin of Mercy was declared General and patron of the army. Every September 24, processions are held in her honor and also a mass is held in her honor in Buenos Aires in Independence Plaza.