The Fair of Santa Faz is celebrated around the Thursday after the octave of Easter (two Thursday after Holy Thursday), day in which the city and the Horta d’Alacant celebrate the festivity of the relic and commemorate the miracle of La Lágrima that took place in 1489. Two pilgrimages take place in this celebration, the first one departs from Alacant on Thursday and the later on Sunday from Sant Joan d’Alacant. For four days the traditional Fair is held with craft and food stands and attractions in the streets of Llogaret and Sant Joan.
Pilgrimage from Alacant
Nowadays, it is a compulsory annual meeting that has a great tradition and has been adapted over time to the present day. The main events are held on Thursday when the pilgrimage is celebrated with the replica of the Santa Faz that departs at eight in the morning from the Concatedral of San Nicolas or the Alacant City Hall, and after crossing part of the old town, follows the motorway 332 until reaching the Monastery of Santa Faz. Some pilgrims are dressed in the typical ‘huertano’ (market gardener) blouse and a scarf around the neck with white and blue squares. Another essential element are the cane rods with rosemary carried by the walker. The official procession with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities departs from the Black Door of the Concatedral of San Nicolas and carries a replica of the relic.
Families, groups of friends, associations and festive representatives, attend to the pilgrimage accompanied by the ‘dolçaina’ and the ‘tabalet’ (typical music instruments), heads and giants like Nicolauet and Remeiets, who bear the names of the patrons of the city.
It is curious and interesting the diverse predisposition of the attendees. Some people are praying, others singing, others talking and others drinking, especially the youngest who have competed in recent years for carrying the most decorated and drink-filled trolley. Halfway, near a farm known as Lo de Díe, the ‘paraeta’ or rest takes place within the municipal area of Alacant, in which the participants in the pilgrimage eat anisette and mistela rolls, given by an association known as ‘Pa i Dolços’ (bread and sweets).
From there the pilgrimage continues to the village of Santa Faz. Most of the pilgrims enter the monastery, although others go to the nearby fields, to Sant Joan or to the beach. The streets of Santa Faz are always full of life thanks to the typical stalls of the fair that are traditionally a fundamental part of the celebration.
The official procession enters into the monastery and goes to the niche to extract the relic from there. This is done following a protocol established by King Carlos II, whereby four keys must be used to open the tabernacle where the Santa Faz is located. Two keys are guarded by the City Hall of Alacant and two others by the abbess of the monastery.
The municipal secretary reads the minutes that always begin with the formula: “in the very illustrious and always faithful and heroic city of Alicante … the Very Illustrious Canonry of the Holy Concatedral of San Nicolas and the municipal authorities met …”. The person in charge of opening the tabernacle is a councillor of the City Council of Alacant elected as Trustee of the Santa Faz. Once the relic is extracted from the niche, and in the middle of the cries and entreaties of mercy, it is transferred to the square and placed on the altar where the Mass of the pilgrim is celebrated, which concludes with the blessing of the people with the Santa Faz.
After the Mass, the Santa Faz returns to its niche and it begins an incessant activity of pilgrims, devotees and curious who pass before the relic in an endless queue that is repeated during the following three days.
It is a festive journey very complete and it is usual to eat that day in the surroundings, either in the stands of the Fair under the shade of the pine trees and cypress or camping in the nearby fields among olive and carob trees enjoying a typical day in which the stars of the gastronomy are the potatoes omelette, the meat with fried tomatoes, the sardines, the salted meat or fish, the sausages or the beans, ingredients of the typical ‘esmorçaret’ (brunch) alacantí. The paella is also present, especially meat and vegetables, well marinated with wine of Alacant. Among the desserts we find the dates, the turron (nougat candy) and the marzipan accompanied always with the sweet wine, which have become typical products of the Fair.
The stands or ‘paraetes’ of the fair have a great variety, especially those of traditional crafts such as pottery produced in Agost, which have always been located in front of the Monastery. Earthenware pitchers, ‘xiulets’ (whistles), little bells and innumerable artisan decoration objects fill these stands run by several family generations. There are also stands with turron and traditional sweets where you will always find ‘gossets de massapà’ (puppies of marzipan), date or fig bread, ‘turron de novia’ or almond cakes. However, children always choose caramelized apples, cotton candy or sugar cane. Other typical stands are those which sell dates that can be found in all colours, provenance, nature and flavours; wood handicrafts like the typical walking sticks of different sizes; or those which sell pots or pans. Of course there is also a great variety of religious items specially dedicated to the Santa Faz, which these days compete with the small shop of the Poor Clarise Nuns in the interior of the Monastery. To complete the Fair, there are always raffles with guaranteed prizes, ‘churrerías’, portable establishments of restoration where we can eat or have a snack, and the funfair with its shock cars, flying carpets, evil casseroles, giant monkeys and fantastic trains.
Pilgrimage from Sant Joan
All this festive character continues, as we have mentioned, until the following Sunday, day in which more people come. This day the pilgrimage departs from Sant Joan at Plaza de la Constitución and runs along the old Camino de Lloixa where the first pilgrimage took place in 1489. Many neighbours participate in the event, especially numerous ‘peñistas’ (member of a club or association) and representatives of the festivals accompanied by the ‘dolçaina’ and the ‘tabalet’. Do not miss the typical ‘paraeta’ halfway with ‘mistela’ and ‘rollitos’ (rolls). In the end, the procession arrives in Santa Faz and is surrounded by the atmosphere of the fair, which is still full of visitors that day, many of them from towns throughout the province.
Did you know…?
The celebration of the fair caused important conflicts between the city of Alacant and the then University of Sant Joan and Benimagrell, about the jurisdiction of the boundaries of each one. In the case of Santa Faz there were always problems with the territorial delimitation and incidents occurred on many occasions as in 1772 when the authorities of Alacant sued the mayor and sheriff of Sant Joan for entering carrying their jurisdictional batons in the Fair of Santa Faz claiming the jurisdiction until the wall of the monastery as it had been established in a previous division. The suit was settled in favour of Sant Joan in 1780.
At the present time this same division between the terms of Sant Joan and Alacant is maintained, so that the district of Santa Faz is divided between both municipalities. Most of the stands of the Fair are settled within the municipal term of Sant Joan d’Alacant.