I recently got this travel diary from my friend, Richard Joseph, who took a trip to a historic area- Morella, Spain. What adventures did he discover on this trip of a lifetime? Read on for his impressions of this lovely area. – Heidi.
There is a beautiful hill in Spain where every six years something that seems almost magical happens. That town is called Morella, you should be able to find it on a good map somewhere between Barcelona and Valencia.
Every six years there is a special event. You have to back to the 1600s to learn why.
It was then that a devastating plague came to an end. The people of Morella promised to hold an observance of gratitude each six years from then on.
It’s called the “Sexenni” Catalan for every six years.
We arrived on a Friday. As the taxi approached Morella the town appeared, kind of in the shape of a wedding cake from a distance. Its broad base extends upwards in layers with the spectacular remains of a castle perched on the top.
We were deposited by the taxi in front of one of the gates that allows you to pass through the ancient walls into what is Morella today.
Even without a major festival it would have been well worth the trip. The steep, narrow streets, the timbered buildings, the church, castle and fortress walls are reason enough, but this year was extraordinarily different.
For 12 months leading up to the festival, residents prepare elaborate decorations for their block. Each block has a theme. While this is primarily a religious festival, those themes can stray far from that.
For example, on one block bright Kleig lights lit up a red carpet. Festival goers passed by giant Oscar statues and movie marquees for films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “ Gone With the Wind”.
Another block dedicated its theme to Broadway with intricately made billboards for “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Sound of Music”.
But if there was any doubt who the real star of this festival is, the big event came Saturday evening with the arrival of Virgen of Vallahabana.
Hundreds of the faithful escorted the icon they discovered in 1683 and gave thanks to for the plague’s end. She is normally housed in a church sanctuary 24km or about 13 (hilly) miles away.
As thousands packed the streets of Morella, I exited the fortress to catch the much anticipated arrival. The pilgrim accompanying the icon of the Virgen clutched torches and sang hymns as they passed through a city gate. I was startled as loud bursts of fireworks suddenly marked the arrival.
The Virgen was transported to a court of honor. Young men bearing candles twice their size lead the clergy carrying the Virgen de Vallahabana through Morella’s packed streets.
There was applause as the procession made it’s way past the Oscars. For a few moments, it seemed a lot more like Hollywood than Rome as the setting for this Catholic ritual.
As the Mayor Ramses Ripolles told us, “It’s about religion, but also about having fun.”
The street that won my award for best decorated was right outside our hotel. It was done up like Venice, minus the water. Above the “canal” were dozens of umbrellas hanging from the sky. It wouldn’t have stopped the rain, but may have carried some religious significance that was well beyond my biblical knowledge.
The destination of the procession was a massive elegant church in the center of town.
There the gathered crowd broke out in tears and applause as the Virgen made her arrival for the 54th time.
The evening ended with residents of each block joining together for a dinner with tables placed end to end extending in some cases the length of a football field.
There was so much to photograph it’s a good thing I wasn’t using film. Kodak would have made a fortune.
– Story and Photos by Richard Joseph