Sant Medir, a festival which unites various Barcelona neighbourhoods

27 February, 2015 | Barcelona People, Networking, Unknown City

A good many people automatically think of the Gràcia neighbourhood, at the mere mention of Sant Medir. That’s because the tradition grew up in the old village of Gràcia and its main events are still held in Gràcia’s streets, even if other Barcelona neighbourhoods today also celebrate that traditional festival. In fact, as many as eight neighbourhoods besides Vila de Gràcia have played host to Sant Medir collas or festival groups at some point in their history: Sant Gervasi, Sarrià, Sants, La Salut, Camp d’en Grassot, La Bordeta, Poble-sec and the Raval.

The traditions’ obscure origins are often lost as they are passed on by word of mouth. Not so with Sant Medir, however, whose origins are very well documented. The pilgrimage is the result of a promise that Josep Vidal i Granés, a baker based in C/ Gran de Gràcia, had made to the St Medir. Albert Musons includes one of the many chronicles from the start of this tradition in his book Les colles de Sant Medir, Història, llegenda i tradició, published by Barcelona City Council in 2007. Vidal’s promise was: “to spend the rest of his life making this pilgrimage to the hermitage on the saint’s day, riding a mare, playing a xeremia (bagpipes), all that as an attempt to catch people’s attention and tell them all that his faith had cured him of a terrible illness”.

However, every tradition needs to have its own mysteries and when it comes to the Sant Medir pilgrimage the curious part of the tradition lies in the request to the saint. Some versions say that Vidal i Granés asked to be cured of a serious illness, while others ascribe the origin to fact that the baker and his elder brother were Carlists and had asked the saint to help one of them out of a delicate situation brought about by their political beliefs. Whatever the origins, it was on the St Medir’s day in 1830 that Josep Vidal i Granés made his first pilgrimage to the hermitage. When he repeated his pilgrimage the following year, he was accompanied by a small group of family and friends.

The tradition gained momentum and became a media item within a few years. The Diari de Barcelona reported it on 4 March 1853: “A trail of some 300 everyday folk, bearing a banner before them and accompanied by various groups and horses, made their way to the Sant Medin Hermitage”. The festival continued to grow. This year saw a total of 24 collas from four of Barcelona’s neighbourhoods: Sarrià, Sant Gervasi, Sants and Gràcia. Albert Musons book cites as many 47 other collas in existence during the 20th Century.

While this a tradition strongly associated with Gràcia that came about from its old village, the main collais from the adjacent neighbourhood of Sant Gervasi de Cassoles: the Antiga de Sant Medir, which was founded in 1861. The more seasoned collas include three further hundred-year-old ones: the Agrupació Bonanova and the Unió Gracienca, both founded in 1887; the Humorística, founded in 1912. The newest is the Tradicional de Gràcia, founded in 1999. The Federació de Colles de Sant Medir was set up at the start of the 1950s and it currently in charge of organising and planning of the festival and all its activities.

Josep Vidal i Granés was born in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Santa Maria del Mar towards the end of 1802 or start of 1803. When he was eight, his family moved to Sant Cugat del Vallés where his father took over the bakery serving the nuns in the monastery there.After serving for three years with royalist volunteers, in 1826 he married Teresa Roig i Mora on 21 March and the couple opened a bakery at Gran de Gràcia, nº 103 (currently nº 111). He died in 1856, and is buried at the parish cemetery of Sant Genís dels Agudells.

The tradition has two highly characteristic elements: sweets and beans. The sweets have to do with the fact that the tradition’s creator them shared out, along with other goodies, on the way up to Collserola, being items typical of his work as a baker and confectioner. The beans refer to the saint’s legend, which has it that he was a farmer in Barcelona at the time of the emperor Diocletian. He had been planting beans just when the Bishop Severus, fleeing from Roman soldiers chasing after him, passed by his side. Suddenly the beans sprouted and flowered. When the soldiers arrived the farmer explained that the Bishop had passed by the area when he was planting the beans. The soldiers would not believe him, so that Medir ended up a martyr, as did Severus. As in the case of Santa Eulàlia, we have no documents to prove whether or not the saint really existed.