Le Procession de la Sanche
"Perpignan - Catalan city, Catalan traditions"
I have written about Perpignan in my frontispiece so this will concetrate on la Sanche
Perpignan, with its famous Railway Station that has been immortalised by Salvador Dali, was, according to legend, founded by a Catalan shepherd/ploughman called Pere Pinya (Father Peter). You can learn plenty from the Internet and guidebooks about Perpignan’s sites and sights so this ramble (as you can expect from me) will be about le Procession de la Sanche that takes place every Good Friday.
It is advisable to arrive early and to work out where you wish to be before the procession starts. It is not possible to move or leave once it does. First port of call, after a substantial late breakfast, is the Church of Saint Jacques. There you will find, poignantly, a ladder propped against a wall and the wonderful Perpignan wooden figure of the tortured Christ lying on a bier. Pause for a while, you will not get another chance to see this fabulous wooden sculpture so close again. You may find some elderly people kissing the feet of the statue. Make your way to the Place Gambetta and try and get a space behind the railings close to where the procession will pass and facing the large doors of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. It is worth getting there very early to secure the best place in the front row. If you have difficulty in standing for too long take a shooting stick or small fold up stool with you. The crowds will get thicker behind you. Stand your ground!
"Widows and Elders"
When everyone goes quiet (apart from muttered Hail Mary’s and the clicking of rosary beads – although I think I remember a drum being beaten at one point) you will see the tortured wooden figure on the bier being carried by what looks like the Klu Klux Klan but in red or black robes. They pause by each station of the cross set into the town walls and people pray loudly. Eventually they make their way into the Place Gambetta and place the bier on the steps of the Cathedral. The Priest steps out and stands on the steps. Behind the Penitents in the dramatic robes come the Widows. Dressed in black with black veils and bare feet, these ladies carry the Virgin Mary from all the local churches on biers. Each Mary is covered in black lace. The ladies stand in rows facing the Cathedral still holding their biers. Following come other penitents, the Mayor, priests etc, many bare footed, sombrely dressed, carrying the Saints from Churches on biers. Some of these figures are so large that it takes ten men to carry one bier. They line up behind the elderly widows. The priest conducts a service of sorts, mostly consisting prayers and a sermon. The Mayor relinquishes his place at the bier and goes forward and gives a talk which, my French isn’t very good but good enough, I thought was a bit “touristy” for such an occasion. Be prepared to stand for at least two hours or more before anything significantly happens. The priest returns to the service. Priests from other churches go forward to be blessed and receive communion. Any Nuns attending then receive communion. With a final bout of prayers and responses the procession then leaves in the same order in which it arrived.
"Preists and Police"
This bit can be a bit scary; if you take young children make sure you are not in a place where they can be crushed. On the way back through the streets to La Chapelle St Jean, the crowd begins to surge round the body of Christ. As they stop once again at the Stations of the Cross the crowds begin to try and touch the statue. They do the same will all the statues. It does become a bit claustrophobic. Even trying to leave after all the procession is dangerous as the crowds press forward into the Place Gambetta where the Priest and other priests and the nuns are willing to administer communion to whoever wishes it. The ten thousand, it seemed to me! Others continue on to La Chapelle to have their own service there. Although touristy in parts, it is mainly every moving. For me the widows were the poignant part, even if I did have my view blocked sometimes by a very stocky plainclothes policeman with a huge pistol in his pocket. No, I will not quote Mae West! A large police presence but there was no trouble; maybe a few crushed insteps during the day. I would certainly recommend it and can’t wait to see it again. The only other Sanche on this scale is in Spain. (Seville)
Perpignan, named Perpinyà in catalan language is an old town, with many years of history wich you can see in any corner of any center streets. Perpignan
has the charm of a tipical french city but with the touch of its past. You
have to know than it was the old capital of the kingdom of Catalonia in the
middle age. You can notice the flag in the top of many buildings is the same
But althoug the city, the surrounding area is as beatiful as the town.
You can go to the near city of Carcassone, one of the most important medieval
citys in Europe.Don´t forget the town of Colliure, a fantastic place near the
beach. The old Catar Castles, with all the history of war, religion and blood
are an excuse to change the traditional way of travel and understand something
more about the history of old Europe.
Just between Perpignan and Carcassonne there is another place to visit which will touch your heart:
Fontfroide ( Fontfreda in Catalan). There is a sensational old abbey, and it´s near the motorway A-9,
so it´s not a problem to find at all...
But Perpinyà is more than this. If you have a look to my travelogues, this is a city to walk with no map. This is a place to go up and down towards your heart goes. Every corner, every wall, every door could be a surprise for you.
"THE CATALAN GIPSIES OF PERPINYA."
I put a page in the travelogue about them. Yes!. GIPSIES , no one talk about them, no books, no guides about them, but there are many catalan gipsies living in Perpinyà. There is something curious about : They are the only ones who always talk catalan, not french!. You know that Perpinyà is in the North Catalonia, separated by the Pirenees mountains but with the same past and history.