On this page you can gather information on La Mercé or Virgin of Mary Festival as well as the history of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy and the Mercedarians.
The La Mercé Festival is dedicated to the patron saint of Barcelona, the Virgin of Mercy. The festival begins on the 24th of September and, with thousands of participants, it is the largest celebration in Barcelona. The Virgin of Mercy is credited with many apparitions and signs, as well as having contributed to winning battles, making her one of the Virgins with the most devoted following.
The story tells that the Virgin appeared before St. Peter Nolasco, from Barcelona, on the first day of August in 1218. It was a turbulent period of time in the Mediterranean, especially in the South of Spain. The Saracens and the Turkish were aggressively attacking the Spanish coasts and taking hundreds of prisoners as slaves to their territories. St. Peter Nolasco spent his fortune buying these men’s freedom while praying to the Virgin to shed light upon him.
The Virgin of Mercy appeared to him 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 put the plan into action.
The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy saved about 300,000 captives throughout history, but not without sacrifice. Many friars became martyrs, sacrificing their lives to save the prisoners. Many are now considered saints and are also revered during the celebration.
On the eve of the 24th, Barcelona transforms into a free event for all ages. Dragons, giants, cabezudos (costumed characters with large heads) and correfocs (devils with “fire” in the form of large sparklers) run through the streets causing havoc. They dance sardanas (traditional circle dances) and create castellers (human towers) to ensure that everyone enjoys the celebration, whether they are curious passers-by or dedicated followers.
The action takes place primarily in the Gràcia neighborhood, the Plaza Sant Jaume and along the ascent to Mount Montjuic, where one can also enjoy magnificent aerial views of the city.
The festivities are also celebrated in Latin America. In Peru, the Virgin is the patron saint of the country. The Mercedarians built a mission there dedicated to the Virgin which explains her loyal following in the country. On Peru’s centennial Independence Day anniversary, the Virgin of Mercy was named the Grand Marshal of the Army of Peru, to whom the army pays tribute.
In Argentina, they dedicate the victory of the battle of Tucumán to the Virgin of Mercy. The battle took place on the 24th of September in 1812 and was a determinant battle for the Argentinean provinces. The saint was declared General and Patron of the Argentinean army. Processions are held in her honor and also a solemn mass in the Plaza de la Independencia.