St Roch’s Day, this coming 16 August, marks the 425th anniversary of Plaça Nova’s festa major or big annual festival. That makes it Barcelona’s oldest communal and patron-saint’s day street festival. An exhibition is being held to commemorate the event, at Casa dels Entremesos, until 23 November. Entitled ‘4 1/4. 425 years of St Roch’s Day festivals in Barcelona. From city vow to Plaça Nova’s communal festival’, the exhibition explains the festival’s origins and development over the centuries and features documents never shown to the public before.
The relationship between the figure of St Roch and Plaça Nova –a square now demolished but formerly located between today’s Avda Catedral and Portal de l’Àngel– goes back to 1563. That year saw the city’s Consell de Cent [the municipal self-governing assembly made up of 100 representatives] offer a vow to St Roch, on behalf of the city, in exchange for his protection of its inhabitants from the numerous plagues laying waste to the city. The vow was renewed a few years later, in 1569, under a pledge to hold the festival with an official procession and mass. Today’s festa major is organised by the Plaça Nova Festivals Committee, an organisation deriving from the old brotherhood founded in 1589.
As you would expect from such ancient festivals, Plaça Nova’s overcame a whole host of adversities: wars, urban-development transformations and changes in customs. All that is borne out in the book published by Xavier Cordomí, the Director of Casa dels Entremesos and a member of the Plaça Nova Festivals Committee. The book, as is said of the exhibition, offers an in-depth look at the history of the Cathedral’s neighbourhood and the evolution of Barcelona’s oldest communal festival.