The day has come: it’s Monday the 23rd, Diada de Santa Tecla, the day of Santa Tecla, patroness of Tarragona, the day when the festival reaches its culmination with the Entrada del Braç de Santa Tecla, the arrival of the Arm of Santa Tecla, in to the square of Tarragona’s cathedral.
Walking out in the the morning street of the Diada de Santa Tecla is a joyful and surreal experience. There are sights of small army of little men on horses, a mustached dame in period costume, gitanes who cannot seem to stop dancing and a square full of the protagonists of the Cercavila of the previous night ready to set off for an informal procession in to Plaça de la Font. There, on a large stage, each act is pushed in to the limelight with the ball de diables given the closing words but not before unleashing another charge of flares and sparks.
It’s the turn of the castellers represented by the four collas (groups) of Tarragona which in the searing heat raise is to Castells, torres i pilars (human castles, towers, and pillars) in a packed square. The spectacle of share determination drama and exultation is, as always, breathtaking but Colla Jove, which has been in fantastic form this year, failed to raise a pillar of 8, collapsing instead in to a heap. It was going to be their crowning moment but, alas, it was not meant to be perhaps due to the share reveling of the previous nights.
At 4pm the square emptied and in came the army of super efficient cleaners, who with a Mary Poppins gusto got everything back spick and span in less than thirty minutes. They are one of the unsung heroes of Santa Tecla without whom the festival would just drawn in to a sea of plastic cup and bottles and paper napkins.
The afternoon eclipses in a blip and it’s back to Pla de la Seu where the Braç de Santa Tecla, the silver container in the shape of an arm which encased the holy relic of the saint is ready to be taken out for it’s yearly public show. The Braç has a fascinating history and one of the anecdotes is that it was brought back to Tarragona from Armenia by Jaume the Second in exchange of a golden throne, 200 Andalusian horses and 400 rounds of cheese from Majorca.
The full Seguici Popular sets off though the streets of Tarragona for it’s final journey followed by the braç which is carried in full pop atop of a float. For over one hour all goes quiet as more people gather in front of the Cathedral for the grand finale. Then a storm of flares and gun shots announces the return of the braç. The Ball de Diables, the Drac, the Bou and Vibria take their position at the edge of the square and the fearsome looking Ball de Joan de Serrallonga (named after a mythical Catalan bandit who lived in the 15th century) form a dividing cordon. The float carrying the braç followed by dignitaries and clergy arrives and something which is a first happens: the gigantic crowd breaks in to a chant for independence and whistles and boos directed the the convoy overwhelm everything else. In-inde-independència and everyone joins in, from the castellers, the bearers of the Àliga to the the Ball of Serralonga. Then the fireworks starts from the roof of the cathedral and a shower of golden flakes rains down upon the festive square. Human pillars raise, the band launches in to the Amparito Roca, the Vibria, Drac and Bou snort fire, and the Ball de Diables set off for the final surge towards Plaça de la Font. It’s an unforgettable culmination, Tarragona finest moment.
There is a surge, it races down the the ancient stones and the square empties; the ball de Gitanes breaks in to one last elegant ball and then they are gone, the breeze lifting the golden flakes in to the air and an almost airy silence descends, a silence which even the fireworks from punta del Miracle cannot dispell. The Braç of Santa Tecla has dissapeared, almost unoticed, back in to the cathedral. The day is over.