The decline of beasts and rise of giants: the festivities celebrating St Josep Oriol's beatification in 1806

Josep Oriol, a priest at the Pi Parish Church, was beatified on 5 September 1806. He had died on 23 March 1702 and a large popular cult that had grown up around him pushed for his beatification, a process that went ahead out relatively quickly. So, just over a century after his death, his beatification was celebrated with great ceremony throughout Barcelona. One of the most splendid celebrations was held at the Santa Maria del Pi Parish Church, where Josep Oriol had been a priest and spent the last years of his life.

The chronicles speak of a long period of celebrations full of processions and inter-parish rivalry. However, from a historical point of view regarding those festive figures, these documents prove to be very important when it comes to their descriptions of the participation, aspect and state of the figures from the city’s festive imagery. To follow the evolutionary trail of these figures, historians need to refer to sources that talk of celebrations of this kind. There is a notable mention of the Feast of Corpus Christi in Barcelona in 1424 in the ‘Llibre de Solemnitats‘, a book of chronicles on the respective canonisation and beatification festivities held for St Ramon de Penyafort in 1601 and St Josep Oriol in 1806.

In the case of the latter, Amadeu Carbó’s study, entitled ‘Festes de beatificació de sant Josep Oriol a Barcelona 1806-1807’, is based on three sources: a collection of pictures with captions appeared in 1807; the documents preserved in the Pi Parish Church’s archives and the references made by the Baron of Maldà in his personal diary, ‘Calaix de Sastre‘. Carbó also uses an indirect source: the testimonies collected by Joan Amades years later, in his ‘Gegants, nans i altres entremesos’. Based on the references made about the Àliga de la Ciutat [City’s Eagle], the Bou [Ox], the Mulassa [giant mule], the Lleó [Lion] and the giants, we can find out the state they were in and the importance they held and draw various conclusions from all that.

It turns out that the Àliga, having traditionally been the city’s highest ceremonial representative , had lost all its importance. It was in a fairly poor state compared to the other figures, taking second place, in the company of the retailers’ guild. The reason for the Àliga‘s decline was that it had been one of the festival figures worst hit by the Bourbon’s 18th-century prohibitions, given that it had been identified with the Austrian pretender’s cause. After it had been taken out for the celebrations held for St Josep Oriol’s beatification, it vanished completely from the scene.

The study is centred on the figures of the Bou and the Mulassa, which epitomised revelry. It was certainly for that reason that they were relegated as exclusively recreational elements, far removed from any formal ceremony. As curiosities, the Bou and the Mulassa of 1806 were very different in aspect from their incarnations of today; they were more like guites berguedanes [mule figures].

With the Àliga relegated to second place, the Lleó was the star of the processions. It is said that it shined more brilliantly than ever when accompanied by a curious group: it was led by Pare Lleó [Father Lion] and its bearers wore lion masks. This figure retained its links to the guild of launderers, which is possibly why it survived much longer than the others, since it was known to have continued up to the second half of the 19th century.

Finally, the author of the study refers to five pairs of giants from various parishes which took part in the celebrations. There is a story given by the Baron of Maldà that claims the giants had the appearance of French ladies of the time and the giants as helmet-wearing warriors. The rise of the giants to the detriment of the other animal figures is the study’s most important conclusion. Carbó says that the collective ownership of the giants, which belonged to the parish churches, turned them into a symbol of identity even stronger than that of the animals, which belonged to guilds, and a way of understanding a world undergoing a clear decline.

Amadeu Carbó’s study, entitled ‘Festes de beatificació de sant Josep Oriol a Barcelona 1806-1807‘ was published in 1997 in the magazine Gegants’ de l’Agrupació de Colles de Geganters de Catalunya.