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.
Collaborator for years in the radio programme “El món s’acaba…” by Xavier Grasset in Catalunya Ràdio, Antoni Mas become famous for choosing and explaining an endless selection of anecdotes, ironic stories from the past decade about the villages’ daily nature. Between the late 90s and the beginning of the new millennium, the Mas family drove mile after mile so that Antoni, who has an extraordinary ability to talk to people, could store all sort of stories.
However, one of the anecdotes that made a more lasting impression on Antoni’s life was not very far from his home, as it actually went to visit him in his blacksmith workshop, located in Vila-seca. In 1983, a group of teenagers attended his house with an idea that would provide Santa Tecla, Tarragona major festivity, with a decisive push.
“They wanted to found a group of Ball de Diables and needed me to build some ceptrots (fireworks metal support) for both Llucifer and the Diablessa”, remembers. Three years later “they came back with an even more difficult project: they wanted the Àliga (eagle) back”, the legendary Àliga once property of the blacksmiths and that represented the city in the parade until its final appearance, in the 19th century.
This task got onto the best possible hands. Mas works on the “forging, tooling and deep drawing”; that is, the typically blacksmith’s duties. Actually, Antoni is still taming steel in the same way his ancestors did in the very same workshop. Among all his old tools hanging from the walls, he says, we can find some once used by prisoners digging the cliff at Balcó del Mediterrani, in the 19th century. It was with those stones that the port was built.
In fact, all Tarragona –not just the Balcó and port– was built thanks to many people’s effort and sweat. And there’s also a lot of effort, although more symbolic and figurate, in the recovery of Santa Tecla’s festivity. This very old ritual –almost killed by the lack of institutional interest– is today a massive success in local engagement and contribution; a true festive meeting that depicts Tarragona. All this, thanks to the commitment, farsightedness and hyperbolic will of a group of people that started as a small core, but that soon grew with their ideas.
“Not even when I got the task to build the Àliga, period on which the local festivity was getting some of that prestige, would I have never thought everything was actually going to catch on. Sometimes, when I see all those people in the street, desperately taking part in the so-called Processó del Braç or the Baixada de l’Àliga, I think it’s all a sort of collective madness. People lost their faith in many ways, but party has the ability to actually generate loads of devotion”, says Mas.
The process of creating the Àliga in itself was a little effort miracle. Antoni, trained in the “Escola d’Art i Disseny de la Diputació”, got inspiration from Girona’s Àliga and created a structure of steel dressed up with geometrical brass pieces. The result: the heaviest 80kg ever to come out of his workshop. “It was a very hard process. My eyes were watering as we assembled it. I would have never been so nervous at work. Besides, we had to really rush in order to have it ready for the local festivity of 1986, as it had already been announced”, says Mas.
“With the Àliga, we forged a symbol of Tarragona”. Antoni feels proud of being the father of such elegant, funny and symbolica creature, rounded off with a jewellery crown made by Blázquez. Mas himself has now taken part in the Àliga’s restoration, spoiled by years of festivities, which will soon get its best look ready for the upcoming Santa Tecla festivity, on the occasion of the 30th birthday of this celebration’s recovery. Concerts, meetings and varied parties will spice up an anniversary that will find its climax the night of 21 September, with the legendary “Baixada de l’Àliga” and the other members up from the Plaça de les Cols.
While the festivity is getting ready, Mas revises his pencil sketches, the first tests with feathers and the remaining steel pieces that were left in his workshop. “It was a really tough task, one that really challenged me as a blacksmith”, he explains. As seen throughout the years, contribution made by this master craftsman to the “Seguici de Tarragona” have become key in order to forge the legend. Diables, Àliga, Cucafera, Àliga petita, Cucafera petita, and the most recent Griu… they have all been born from the hands of Antoni Mas to gain the city’s everlasting love.