Ah…fiesta time. It happens often in Spain and throughout Europe. You don’t have to wait long for a day of celebration to take place. No wonder we’re living here now! We began to hear murmurs of an upcoming holiday when we went to our nearby Mercado Central and new favorite local shops in our new neighborhood of Valencia’s historic district. So at least we weren’t caught too much by surprise. This recent Saturday, August 15th, was the national Spanish holiday of La Asuncion. How do you think we learned of its significance? Well hopefully that’s why you’re reading this post.
It made me chuckle when I learned nothing from asking one of the young ladies working at our favorite place for comida para llevar (a type of fresh-food deli but of Spanish foods – awesome deliciousness with convenience, but not to be mistaken for fast-food at all!). She was able to tell us that it was a national Spanish holiday and a religious one (almost all of them are), but beyond that she just couldn’t remember which one it was or the significance.
It turned out to be our new hair stylist, Maria Jose, who told us more. We enjoyed practicing our Spanish with her as we discussed how it’s a religious festival, which many Spaniards don’t believe in anymore, yet is still honored and enjoyed. In other words, the locals and any visitors alike turn out for the similar reasons – to honor and experience tradition and enjoy taking time off from the every-day. This is wonderfully commemorated by spending the day witnessing the festivities and relaxing at a local bar and restaurant savoring great drinks and food. What Maria Jose also informed us of is that this fiesta signifies the ascension of the Virgin Mary into the heavens, not only of her soul but also of her body.
We finally got around it Googling it and amidst all the information floating around, got as far as learning that this particular celebration in August is called by a few terms: Our Lady of the Assumption or the Miracle (which Eric likes to make fun of by calling it “consumption“), The Feast of the Assumption, or, as they call it in its true Spanish of course, La Asuncion. We really have no idea why they refer to it as a “feast” because we haven’t read or witnessed anything about eating in relation to this commemoration (except that people celebrate by going out and drinking and eating since everything is closed and there’s really nothing else to do). But we did get to see firsthand the procession that it is completely based upon. One which is in the morning and then another at night.
Living in the heart of Valencia has such perks. Most of all, when the city is celebrating something, we’re likely to be very close to it and have the best seats. In the case of this holiday, we learned from Google beforehand that the festivities begin at 9:30am and the holiday takes place annually on the 15th of August. In Valencia, this holiday is also famed for possibly being the oldest procession that is held in the city, dating back to 1352 – so beautifully old! Sure enough, we heard the bells ringing in increased peals of clanging, sending the ringing tones through our street with even more vibration than their customary hourly ring. This continued on at every 30 minutes throughout the day. All the shops, such as supermarkets and the Mercado Central, were all closed, as well as some local restaurants.
A little before seven in the evening, Eric and I made our way just the few blocks from our flat to the Plaza de la Reina. There we found one of the side entries open to the main Cathedral of Valencia and entered. We don’t usually sit down when visiting the churches, yet this time it seemed the perfect occasion. Rather than being in the very main area of seating, we found ourselves in a smaller area of benches to the side of the main altar and very center, thus even closer to the action.
The action taking place peacefully commanded quiet and reverence. It was touching and beautiful to not only hear, but also feel the rich voices of singing men with the tones of the organ vibrating throughout the elaborate cavern of the beautifully historic architecture. We could see the organ player at his instrument just in front of us and alongside the altar-area. What I also noticed was the main symbol of the fiesta situated off to a lower front corner of the altar. It was the precious statue of the Virgin Mary lying on a bier, a type of bed. She wore a large golden crown and I was drawn to the detail that her two small slippered feet stuck out from under the other end of the elaborate blanket covering. Everywhere I looked there was smooth marble, bright gold overlay, deep-rich blues and rainbow-colored stain-glass windows. It was an impressively beautiful interior.
The singing felt like it had been going on for some time, wonderfully so, and more hymns flowed out into the space until one of the priests began walking around the altar. He was a small, thin old man who was swinging a golden urn of sorts. It sent out plumes of what I believe were incense. The way he walked and handled the instrument was as one who certainly knew what he was doing – he was a master at it and although it looked like he would take out his own knees at times, he never did. The main priest and a couple other priests, walked up to the main altar and announced that the procession would begin to return the statue of the Virgin Mary to the Miracle Church.
Thus the commemoration was coming to an end. You see, in Valencia the statue is held all year-long, tucked away protectively, in what some call the “Miracle Church” or La Iglesia de San Nicolas. In the morning things start at 9:30am because men, dressed in historical costume as what looked to us like Biblical characters, carry the statue from San Nicolas through the city to the Cathedral. Here the church honors and commemorates the ascension that the Virgin Mary experienced, body and soul, into heaven. Then at around seven in the evening, the same appointed men carry her back to the Miracle Church, where she resides until the same occasion next year.
This national holiday was not the most rambunctious one I have seen in Spain. At least here in Valencia, it was a time when most areas of the city were very quiet and people came to the Cathedral to pay their respects and experience the tradition by watching and taking part. The time that we spent in the cathedral was the most beautiful for me. Elements of it had me thinking about how many things the different religions of our world have in common – from burning incense to utilizing the effects of sound, they all seek to create and inspire a sense of…well, it really can vary, can’t it. In this case, I felt that the sounds of the singing and the organ playing produced a vibrational energy that inspired comfort, reassurance and looking forward to our own expansion; our own ascension.