The origins of the Sant Medir festivities are well-known. It all started with Josep Vidal Granés, a baker from C/ Gran de Gràcia who went on a pilgrimage to the saint’s hermitage in the Collserola mountain range with a set of bagpipes and handing out sweets to fulfil a promise he had made. That first pilgrimage in 1830 was repeated the following years every 3 March for Sant Medir. Every year the number of friends and family members accompanying Josep Vidal on his climb grew. The first group, or colla, had been formed. The groups ended up becoming one of the main elements of the festival.
The first group of people to tag along with Vidal Granés on his first pilgrimages to the Sant Medir hermitage were soon joined by other groups and devotion to the saint spread beyond the Gràcia neighbourhood to various towns on the Barcelona plain, nowadays other Barcelona neighbourhoods. The journalist and local historian Albert Musons, who published the book Les colles de Sant Medir. Història, llegenda i tradició in 2007, explains that the tradition of forming groups dates back to before the Sant Medir festival started. Musons points to other traditions cited by the historian Francesc Curet in the book Visions barcelonines 1760-1860. Muralles enllà: “The joyful uniformed groups of pilgrims for Sant Mus paraded up the main street, as did carnival groups and Easter caramelles choirs which were very common in Gràcia”.
Getting together to form a colla was something of a logical process and the tradition began to spread around the plain. Musons explains the forming of the colla degana thus: “Just five years after the death of Josep Vidal in 1861, the then independent town of Sant Gervasi de Cassoles saw a new group formed, which has the honour of being the most senior, the Antiga de Romeus de Sant Medir, or Antiga de Sant Medir”. The founders appear to have been Isidre Figueres, who owned a grocery shop and blacksmiths in Pl. Bonanova, and Bernardí Valls, a cashier at the Sant Gervasi de Cassoles town council.
A few years later, in 1887 there was a split and some members broke away to form the Colla Nova de Sant Gervasi, which some years later would go on to be known as the Agrupació Bonanova. The name remains unchanged to this day and the group is the second oldest. In the 20th century, with the Vila de Gràcia neighbourhood already forming part of Barcelona, the Unió Gracienca was formed in 1901. Of those groups which are still going today, La Humorística was formed in 1912 and La Llibertat Gracienca in 1917. In the Sarrià neighbourhood, the Sant Medir tradition arrived in 1925 via Jaume Cadena, a trader from Gràcia who founded the Medins de Sarrià group. Three years later, in 1928, the Colla de Sarrià group was conceived, deriving from the Nova de Sarrià group. A year before that, the La Gardènia group had been set up in Gràcia.
In the Sants neighbourhood, records show the pilgrims’ associations Penya Romeus de Sant Medir de Sants was set up in 1933, while in 1949 the Parròquia de Sant Medir group was started by the first rector, the priest Amadeu Oller. In the Poble-sec neighbourhood, the Unió de Barcelona group dates back to 1919, while another group, Els Benavinguts del Poble Sec, were active between 1957 and 1984.
Albert Musons explains: “Over the course of the first third of the 20th century and up until the Spanish Civil War, these groups grew significantly in numbers. During that time, records show a total of thirty eight groups were conceived, lasting for different and irregular periods in various neighbourhoods: Gràcia, Camp d’en Grassot, Poble-sec, Sarrià, Ciutat Vella, Sant Gervasi and Sants”. Musons also affirms: “Many of those groups were linked or came about via the same network of associations, something which proves the undoubtable roots of the tradition in the respective areas”. One of the many examples given is the group linked to the Club Esportiu Europa, which this year is present again at the festival along with the group La Tradicional de Gràcia.
Among the groups set up after the Spanish Civil War is La Moderna de Gràcia, founded in 1948 and which owes its name to the fact that it was the first to accept women members on equal terms. During this period, and up until the 1960s, a new golden age developed for the creation of new groups, even though many would later disappear.
Many group names over the course of their 186-year history have been somewhat curious and clearly coined with irony. Others described the entity or bar which provided shelter for them, as the home for the majority of groups has more often than not been provided by bars. Some of the names of groups which have existed at some point in time include: Els Amics, Els Pacífics, Els Bons Amics, Els Recreats (who met at the Café El Recreo), Els Ben Fets de Gràcia, Els Ben Plantats, Els Formals de Gràcia, Els Tiets, El Xut, Els Desavinguts and the aforementioned Els Benavinguts del Poble Sec. As well as the colla from the Club Esportiu Europa, groups from existing entities also include the Grup Sant Medí de la Societat l’Artesà, Els Amics del Casal Català (which was the Casal Català Autonomista de Gràcia), and the Lluïsos de Gràcia.
There are currently twenty four groups belonging to the Federació de Colles de Sant Medir, the entity which organises the pilgrimage and all activities relating to the festival. The first time the groups all gathered for a single event was in 1926, when, according to Albert Musons, the initiative was taken by the pilgrims belonging to the Antiga de Sant Medir and Llibertat Gracienca groups. It’s unclear how long the initiative went on for, but evidence suggests it still existed in 1930. Some years later, in 1951, some of the pilgrims which had experienced the first gathering set up what is now the current federation.
Photo captions: Standard bearers for the Sant Medir groups. 1932. Author: J.M. Sagarra-AFB. | Standard bearer for the Nova de Sarrià group in Pl.Sarrià. 1935. Author: Carlos Pérez de Rozas-AFB. | The Ciclistes de Gràcia group heading up C/Gran de Gràcia. 1955. Author: Pérez de Rozas-AFB. | Els Novells de Sant Medir, in Pl. Sant Jaume. 1910s. Author: Frederic Ballell-AFB. | Pilgrims with horses on C/Gran de Gràcia. 1952. Author: Unknown -AFB. | Colla de Sant Medir at the start of C/Escorial (between Trav.Gràcia and Pl. Joanic). 1948. Author: Unknown -AFB. | Members of a Sant Medir group giving out sweets in Pl. Lesseps. 1932. Author: J.M. Sagarra-AFB. | A Sant Medir group passing through Pl. Lesseps in 1932. In the lower part of the image there is a wafer-seller carrying a machine on their back. Author: J.M. Sagarra-AFB.