Tarragona’s local festivity is held after Santa Tecla, patron saint of the city. For ten days, from 14 to 24 September (and some other previous as a sort of gift), Tarragona absolutely transforms and their citizens and visitors take over the streets in order to celebrate and take part in the festive events, which come in great number and are designed to suit every need. Of course, those acts related to the patron saint are also very diverse: one can try the traditional cake of the so-called Braç de Santa Tecla (literally, Santa Tecla’s arm, a relic still preserved in the city), watch a staging of the Retaule de Santa Tecla by Esbart Dansaire, or follow the solemn and traditional procession of Braç de Santa Tecla. There’s also a lot of other activities such as “Santa Tecla in the school” or the “Santa Tecla gastronomy”, with a number of food suggestions that appear to be a true delicious bomb for your stomachs, like the very famous and genuine “espineta amb cargols” (tuna back with snails). Concerts, parades, “castells” performances (human towers), exhibitions… All this in order to honour Santa Tecla which, with the permission of La Mercè –Barcelona’s local festivity–, has become the mother of the country’s festivities.
The festivity’s climax is the entrance of the Braç de Santa Tecla into the Cathedral –on Wednesday 23 evening–, which becomes an amazing and unique spectacle one must definitely watch and experience. In fact, the Cathedral is the location that homes the highest number of references, works and iconography of the saint. There are over 2.500 Tecla “taus” letters inside the building, which are distributed all across the temple.
However, the High Altar is the are where the figure of Santa Tecla becomes more present inside the Cathedral. The Romanic altar Frontal, sculptured back in 1220, is considered to be one of the most relevant works in the Roman sculpture legacy of Catalonia. Inside the central “mandorla”, visitors can admire the Most Holy Trinity: Jesus Christ blessing Santa Tecla, the Father and the Holy Spirit. The High Altar Frontal, preceding the Main Altar, represents the different scenes of Santa Tecla’s martyrdoms by means of eight white marble reliefs.
The Main Altar, on the other hand, is a true jewel one should carefully admire. The high-relief predella shows six scenes of the life and martyrdom of Santa Tecla, all of them of extreme beauty. For example, we find the scene with the lions contemplated by twelve spectators from up a tribune that stare Santa Tecla praying while the beasts rest miraculously calm. Also, the last of them all, with the finding of the miraculous Braç de Santa Tecla, visible among the rocks that blocked her sepulchre, and taken by a prelate in the presence of the clergy and the worshippers. Worth mentioning is the fact that no cape is the same, and they have all particular decorations.
On the right of the High Altar, there’s also the sepulchre of the archbishop Joan d’Aragó, on top of which there’s a niche that had preserved the primitive reliquary of the Braç de Santa Tecla until the siege of the Cathedral by the Napoleonic troops.
Today though, the relic is located in the Santa Tecla chapel, although we must say that the ancient reliquary was found by the French troops during the above-mentioned siege to the Cathedral, and that today’s version was made by Josep Rovira in the 18th century.
Santa Tecla is omnipresent inside the Cathedral through a thousand details. In order to know more about it, we do recommend that you take the especially designed tour, listen to the audio guides or get the Catedral de Tarragona book, by Antonio P. Martínez Subías.