The Santa Faz Pilgrimage
On the second Thursday after Holy Week around 200,000 people march from Alicante to San Juan for the Santa Faz pilgrimage. The day is one of Alicante’s most popular festivals, bringing the city to a near-standstill. Every year the faithful make the two and a half-hour journey into San Juan to the Monasterio de Santa Faz, meaning the Monastery of the Holy Face. The monastery takes its name from a veil that many believe was used by Saint Veronica to wipe blood and sweat from the face of Jesus as he carried the cross through Jerusalem. According to legend, the blood left a print of Christ’s face on the veil. The Monasterio de Santa Faz contains what is believed to be a part of this veil, kept under lock and key.
The annual pilgrimage is thought to have begun in 1489. A drought in the Alicante area prompted a pilgrimage to the monastery to prey for rainfall. As the locals prayed, a single tear fell from the eye of Jesus’ image and just a few days later rain fell on Alicante. Since then the pilgrimage has been made annually to give thanks to Christ.
Pilgrims gather outside St. Nicholas Cathedral in Alicante from seven in the morning before they set off on their journey at eight. Bamboo staffs are distributed to the gathered masses to assist them on the eight kilometre trip. It’s a slow walk due to the sheer number of people, eventually filling the whole route. To keep spirits and strength up, the pilgrims make a stop along the way to eat the pareta, a traditional breakfast of anise rolls and regional wine.
As people begin to arrive, candles are lit and the monastery is filled with the sound of prayer. Outside, pilgrims mill around an open-air market and some enjoy a picnic lunch. In the evening, locals hold fêtes and parties.
In 2013 the Santa Faz Pilgrimage falls on the 11th of April. For more information contact one of the tourist offices in Alicante City.