Demonis at the Sant Antoni Fiesta

Sant Antoni: A much-loved fiesta that keeps January abuzz

In the middle of January, just as we’ve packed Christmas away, along comes the Sant Antoni Fiesta. A mix of fire and devils, animal blessings and barbecues, Sant Antoni’s is a firm favourite for many. Varying from town to town the basic premise is always the same. You can expect bonfires and you will be seeing demonis. Here’s a little background.

The History of Sant Antoni

Sant Antoni was a bit of a hard nut in his day. Resigning himself to seclusion in the desert, he was repeatedly tempted by the devil. During these desert-dwelling days, it’s said that “Anthony the Great” came upon a satyr and the centaur. But after a good dose of scaring, the creatures gave up and helped Antoni along his way and even asked for his blessing. The monk continued and found a plate of silver and gold coins, which he duly rejected as a devilish temptation. Hiding in a cave to escape the devil, Antoni was beaten half to death by demons and saved only by a flash of light that frightened the beasts away. 

Accompanied by his faithful black pig the whole time, Antoni is known for his love of animals and his talent at healing them – he became their Patron Saint. He and his team of monks were also very good at healing people, in particular those with Ergots Disease. The gangrenous poisoning became known as the ‘holy fire’ and ‘Sant Antoni’s Fire’. 

All of these elements – devils, fire and animal blessings – are clearly evident in the Sant Antoni Fiesta we see in the towns across Mallorca. In some town’s the celebrations take different forms, but nowhere are they more distinct that in Pollensa, where the origins of the pine tree tradition is a little harder to determine. 

The Sant Antoni Fiesta in Pollensa

The tree is felled and placed onto a cart for the Sant Antoni fiesta in Pollensa

It’s been going on for hundreds of years and ‘El pi de Sant Antoni’ is so etched in tradition that many come from across the island to see it. Starting weeks before, the organisers head to the forest in Ternelles to find the perfect pine tree. Once felled, the tree is stripped and placed onto a cart. 

Sant Antoni feast for the people of Pollensa

On the day itself (January 17th), when the animal blessing is done and dusted, the people of the town, hundreds of them, start the walk to the Ternelles valley. Once passed the gates (the controversial closed off route is a whole other story!) people gather around the tree and enjoy a lunch laid on by the council.

A spread of bread, olive oil, tomatoes and sardines make for the perfect pa amb oli accompanied by a cup of local wine. Weather permitting (no wind, and not too dry) communal barbecues allow for locals to barbecue butifaron (local sausage).

By 2pm the xeremiers (local pipers) have played for the crowds and everyone gets ready to drag the pine tree back into town. If you are there and want to get home before the end of the afternoon, make your way back to town before the tree does. With this amount of people dragging a 30-m tree, the walk is slow. Once in town the narrow streets throw up even more challenges.

Climbing the Pine Sant Antoni Fiesta

The tree’s final destination is in Plaza Vella, just outside the library, where the tree is winched into place. Once secured it is a race to the top. Not an easy task, given the tree has purposely been made smooth and even greased. The first to the top releases the basket of confetti and takes their prize. It used to be a live chicken but perhaps Sant Antoni had a quiet word about animal cruelty. 

The pine stays there until Ash Wednesday when it is taken down and chunks of the pine are handed to those who want it. In past years, the pine has been used to make the swords for Joan Mas and his crew on August 2nd.

The Sant Antoni Fiesta in Sa Pobla

The Main Square in Sa Pobla on the night of Sant Antoni

Perhaps the biggest party is in Sa Pobla, where the big man himself — Sant Antoni — is the town’s Patron Saint. The huge celebrations date back to 1365. These days, on the eve of Sant Antoni’s, there are over 100 bonfires around the town and the residents dance with the Demonis, Gegantes and Caparrots until the early hours. Part of the fiesta falls to the Clamater, the elected town crier who completes the Sant Antoni Mass every year with a vehement and symbolic cry of ‘Visca Sant Antoni’. 

History of Sant Antoni in Sa Pobla

Sant Antoni fiesta detail

To give some context to the Clamater, it dates back to the Antonian order of 1095 which  established that Saint Antony was the saint in charge of healing the sick from sacred fire or Saint Anthony’s fire. To maintain the hospitals founded throughout Europe, the Vatican sent friars, dressed in black habits, across the land to collect money for the Ciutat hospital. If people of the town did not make the donation, they had to remove the image of the saint from their churches, chapels and processions. 

In the mid-17th century, many towns in Mallorca surrendered to the power of the friars, but in Sa Pobla the townspeople refused to hand over all the donations, only a part. They also refused to remove the image from the main altar of the church.

A long and expensive lawsuit followed until the commander gave up and the lawsuit was terminated. The legal battle lasted 6 years and caused admiration among the Mallorcan people as well as a huge sense of pride in Sa Pobla. This was a small town that rose up against the powerful Antonian order.

The following year, in 1643, at the end of the final prayers of the Sant Antoni celebrations, the people broke out in cheers, whistles and shouts of VISCA SANT ANTONI! The same happened the next year, and the next, and the next… 

Sant Antoni fiesta detail
Sant Antoni fiesta detail

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