The festival in honour of the ‘Santísimo Cristo de la Paz’ (Holy Christ of Peace) is the Major Festival of Sant Joan d’Alacant, which is celebrated between the 12th and 16th of September each year. The main day is 14 September, known as the Day of the Christ.
The devotion to the Christ of Peace is very ancient. The first data of the image dates from the seventeenth century, although it is very likely that the devotion to this image was older. In 1600, the Second Synod of Orihuela granted Sant Joan the celebration of the festivity of the Most Precious Blood, 1 July, as a precept, a celebration that would undoubtedly be linked to the Christ, being the date in which the ancient festivity was celebrated. According to some chroniclers, the festivity would be moved to the month of September during the eighteenth century, focusing on the festivity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrated by the Catholic Church on 14 September. Among the reasons given, there is the economic reason, since in September the town would have finished agricultural tasks and the neighbours, in addition to more time, would have more money to be able to celebrate it. However, we do not know the exact date on which they moved it to September.
The religious acts consisting in dawn, matins, three major masses, procession and novena have always played a central role in the celebration, although the profane acts were expanded over time with other diversions and popular activities such as dances and festivals, fireworks, amateur bullfight with heifers and parades or cavalcades. The plaza Maisonnave was very important during the festival. After the Civil War, and with some timid previous precedent, the figure of the ‘Reina de les Festes’ (Festival Queen) and its Court of Honour was incorporated, women who have been the main festive representatives of the municipality since 1948.
In 1982 the first ‘Penyes de les Festes’ (festive groups) appeared, with the objective of recovering the popular character of the festival, at a time when the traditional celebration began to decline and in other towns with similar festivals the Moors and Christians celebration was adopted. The ‘penyes’ occupied the street and helped the celebration to become more participatory and varied.
At present, and after some previous acts like the Coronation of the Queens and Lady’s Companions and the Paellas Contest, the festival begins the night of 12 September with the ‘Entrada de Penyes’ (entrance of the festive groups). In the Church, the down is celebrated, while the image of the Christ of Peace is discovered on the high altar. Next, the Preach is read from the Town Hall. After the interpretation of the hymns and the firing of a fireworks castle, the festival is inaugurated and people move to the ‘penyes’ to enjoy the nightlife.
Day 13 begins with the ‘despertà’. The first of the ‘mascletàs’ (an explosive barrage of coordinated firecracker and fireworks displays) takes place at noon. In the afternoon the Offering of Flowers and Fruits to the Blessed Christ takes place. On the chapel gate a floral tapestry is made around an image of the Christ, while the food is placed in the chapel for social purposes.
Day 14 begins with a thunderous ‘despertà’ of gunpowder, bells and music. At noon, after the celebration of the Main Mass sung by Orfeón Sant Joan, the ‘mascletà’ takes place. In the afternoon, the main event is the Procession with the image of the Holy Christ of Peace, that, in its triumphal float, walks along several streets accompanied by thousands of devotees with candles. Upon arriving at the church there is a spectacle of image and sound and the blessing with the image takes place, a unique moment of faith, tradition and devotion of the ‘santjoaners’. At night, the party continues and a monumental fireworks castle is fired.
On day 15, in addition to the usual ‘despertà’, the parades and the ‘mascletà’, the Fancy-Dress Costume Parade takes place. In the afternoon the Children’s Contest is held with prizes for girls and boys, and at night, the Great Fancy-Dress Costume Parade for the Adults, followed by the night party in all the ‘penyes i racós’ (festive group sites).
The festival continues on day 16 in the customary order, and it is specially reserved for the spectacular Procession of floats. The day concludes with a monumental fireworks castle.
The religious acts continue between the days 17 and 25, when the Novena takes place in honour of the Holy Christ of Peace. Every day of the Novena, the ‘Gozos al Santísimo Cristo’ (the Joy to the Holy Christ), a set of verses that tell the story, devotion and miracles of the image in Sant Joan, are sung. There are two different compositions of joys: one from the seventeenth century and other from the eighteenth century. In addition there are several hymns composed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Did you know that…?
The legend and oral tradition narrate the appearance of the image of the Christ in Sant Joan d’Alacant in an indeterminate moment. Two pilgrim sculptors passed through the town and were commissioned an image of a crucified man; after a few days and due to the silence from the house where they were working, the neighbours entered the building, verifying that the pilgrims had disappeared without trace and had sculpted the image of Christ, so the inhabitants considered these men to be angels. It seems that the title of Peace was chosen by sortition and from the origin of this devotion numerous miracles were recorded in many places increasing the devotion to the image.
According to some chronicles, in 1624 the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish took place during a pro-rainy pilgrimage to the Virgen de las Virtudes Sanctuary of Villena, a date that has been questioned in some recent historical research. It is not known the date in which the old image was sculpted but by its characteristics it is similar to other close ones dated from the sixteenth century. A cape as a tapestry with rich embroidery with the ‘Armae Christie’, as well as a crown, were added to the image. Among the several crowns that the image had, the one made at the beginning of the twentieth century by the sculptor Bañuls is remarkable. The image usually processed under a severe crimson damask pallium, preceded by two lanterns, but in 1886 an artistic processional float was built. Everything was burnt in July 1936, at the beginning of the Civil War. After the war, the Valencian sculptor José María Ponsoda Bravo made a new image in 1940 and at the beginning of the fifties the solemnity cape and the triumphal float were recovered. At present, this same image continues to process every Holy Friday, on a silver and gold metal throne, carried on the shoulders of about 40 members of the brotherhood.
One of the most original and picturesque traditions, currently lost, was the ‘Ball de Torrent’ (Torrent dance), a sample of the typical folklore of the Horta.
In 1885, the festival had to be delayed to the 22, 23 and 24 September, due to a strong cholera epidemic. Curiously, that same year the king Alfonso XII granted to Sant Joan the title of ‘villa’ (borough).
In the festivities of 1886 the bullring of Sant Joan was inaugurated at the end of calle San Antonio, coinciding with the works of the bullring in Alicante. However, the life of the building would last little. A bullfighting company called ‘Sala Hermanos y Compañia’ was set up to build it. In 1886 some ‘diestros’ (right-handed bullfighters) known as ‘El Punteret’, ‘El Ecijano’, ‘Frascuelo’ and ‘El Meri’ fought there. For the following year the performance of ‘Lagartijo’ was announced. However, in 1888 the society was dissolved by economic and organizational problems and, at the end of the nineteenth century, the bullring was demolished. The area, however, is still called ‘Plaça de Bous’ (bullring) There are some remainings of the bullring such as a ‘canet’ preserved by the Banegas family.
The bullfighting of the festival is well known and old. Some data speak of its celebration from the seventeenth century. It was banned for some years, but since 1924 it has remained unchanged. Throughout the twentieth century it was one of the main attractions of the festival and many people from the surrounding towns as well as some foreign tourists took part in the amateur bullfight with heifers.
EIn 1924, on the occasion of the III Centenary of the Miracle of the Cristo de las Virtudes of Villena, a special festival was celebrated with the first Procession of Floats and Flower Games with a Literary Contest.
At the arrival of the Second Republic, in 1931, the procession of the Christ was suppressed, and only the blessing took place with the ancient image at the gate. The procession was celebrated again in the years 1934 and 1935, being the last times it was done with the old image of the Christ, since it was destroyed in 1936 during the assault to the church. During the Civil War the festival was not celebrated, but once it finished in 1939, the celebration was recovered and an image of a Christ from Cocentaina was brought, probably the Cristo dels Llauradors, lent by the ‘Diputación Provincial’ (Provincial Council). In 1940, the image was finally recovered.
For many years, the Preach was pronounced by Mr. José María Torregrosa Juan. Also during some years, the Queens of the Festivals of previous years were the ones in charge of doing it. At present, it is some neighbour of the town the representative of this honour.
In 1998 a special celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Queens of the festival was held and an act of Exaltation took place with the attendance of all those who had held this position during all these years.
In the celebrations of 2014, the celebration of the 75 anniversary of the arrival of the new image of the Holy Christ of the Peace to Sant Joan d’Alacant began with the concession of the Jubilee Year between the 14 September 2014 and 25 September 2015. Throughout that year, the Santísimo Cristo visited important enclaves of the Horta d’Alacant, as well as several streets and residences of Sant Joan.