Sunday 24th April 2022 – Mike Smith
As the devoted gathered around the fortress-church of San Bartolomé in the heart of the historic centre, rockets could be heard exploding in the distance, the loud retort echoing around the wide bay, heralding the start of a very precious weekend for the people of Xàbia. Down in the port, the image of the Virgin of Loreto was on its way, making the journey up the hill for the first time in 26 years, a special occasion marking the 125th anniversary of the celebration which honour the Virgin, the patron saint of the port zone.
At precisely 8.30am, the church bells of San Bartolomé started to ring and more rockets pierced the moody morning sky as the treasured image of Jesús Nazareno, which has been part of the town’s story for more than two and half centuries, was carefully lowered through the San Gil doorway of the church and carried down the steps. A light drizzle had fallen, the square was damp, but the hopes were that this very special moment would not be broken. And, indeed, the light drizzle stopped as soon as the image was carried out into the open.
The drums and dulzainas of the Colla Portitxol de Xàbia broke into familiar tunes and began the slow journey down to the hill towards the port. Behind them, the devotees strained their bodies and lifted the image onto their shoulders, swaying gently side to side as they slowly walked forward in unison and behind them the faithful followed as well as a few curious onlookers.
Down in the port, the image of the Virgin of Loreto was making its way through the streets and up towards the Asilo Hermanos Cholbi where it would meet with the image of the Nazarene. Some 30 minutes after leaving their respective parishes, the two images met, surrounded by hundreds of people, some clambering up the walls to get a better look of this truly historic moment in the history of Xàbia.
With the mountain of Montgó in the distance, the Nazarene gently bowed towards the image of the Virgin, son honouring mother, and the efforts of those carrying the image honoured them with rousing applause as more fireworks shattered the relative peace of the moment. And then dancers from the Grup de Danses Portitxol took their place between the two images and performed several traditional dances, their fast wheels and swaying costumes garnering more admiration from the spectators.
And then it was time for the image of the Virgin to make its way up the historic centre. The carriers of the Nazarene slowly turned around and shuffled to one side to allow the Virgin of Loreto to pass and lead the way slowly up the hill. Just under halfway up, outside the Sanaret which has been responsible for creation of many of the town’s religious carvings, two more images stood – La Soledad and El Nazareno – made by local sculptor Juan Bautista Devesa. The Virgin and the Nazarene paused to pay homage to the important legacy and local heritage.
And then the journey resumed, more and more people lining the route to experience this special occasion. The images passed through the place where once stood the old gatehouse in the village walls – Porta del Mar – and past the small square where a chapel in honour of the Virgin of Loreto once stood as long ago as the 16th century. It was named as Jardín del Loreto until very recently when it was renamed in honour of the local stonemason Vicent de Gràcia and alongside the narrow steep street of Carrer Loreto drops down to the niche housing another image of the Virgin.
The bells of San Bartolomé rang in celebration as the two images were carried into the church square; more rockets thundered into the clearing sky, the sun making an appearance. Outside the main door, the dancers and musicians of the Grup de Danses Portitxol performed several more traditional dances before the images were carried into the packed church where a special mass was held to mark the occasion.
In a post on social media, mayor José Chulvi said that it was “an experience that, in addition to devotion and religion, makes us share the feeling of what it means to be a town and enjoy our music, our people and the traditions that have passed from generation to generation“.
On Sunday evening, after mass, the image of the Virgin of Loreto will be returning to the port via an extended route through the town and the commission of the Festes Mare de Déu de Loreto called on the population to come out and honour the image as it passes. “We encourage you, as a town with a deep-rooted tradition that we are, to come out and accompany the two images, on the street or from balconies and windows“.
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