The origin of this festivity is not known with certainty, but it is known that since the Middle Ages in Europ. The celebration takes place in the parish of San Juan Bautista during the days 11, 12 and 13 of March. It is believed that its origin is linked to the aim of repairing the excesses that were committed during the days of Carnival and, possibly, to Christianize this pagan festival. The number 40 also has a clear biblical and religious importance since it is the number of years that the Israelites walked through the desert, the days that Christ was praying and meditating in the desert, or the hours he was in the tomb before resurrecting.
The festival ‘Las XL Horas de San Gregorio’ is a very old and popular religious celebration that consists in the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day until dusk. However, unlike many churches and towns that celebrate this festivity on the established days, in Sant Joan and Mutxamel it takes place on fixed days, without any relation to the Carnival.
In Mutxamel it is celebrated from March 10 to 12 and in Sant Joan from 11 to 13 of the same month. This could be explained as an attempt to avoid the coincidence of this celebration with that of the Virgin of Loreto, on 1 March, a festivity that was of precept in both populations, a fact that would have motivated the transfer of the XL Horas to a fixed days in the calendar. The name of San Gregorio seems to come from the fact that the festivity of San Gregorio Magno was celebrated on 12 March, before it moved to 3 September.
At present, the three days consist of an exposition of the Body of Christ from the morning to the night in the silver custodia from the 17th century. At dusk, an ancient invocation hymn to the Trinity known as ‘Trisagio’ is sung, often performed by a chorus of children. In addition, on the last day, a cloistral procession and blessing takes place as the colophon, in which the Band of Sociedad Musical La Paz de Sant Joan (Musical Society La Paz) participates. The importance of this festival lies in its antiquity, traditional rites and public assistance, which makes it one of the most significant religious celebrations of Sant Joan d’Alacant.