The patron festivities of Maó are celebrated on the 7th and 8th of September in honor of the Virgin of Grace.
In the past, the main festival of Maó (documented at least since the 16th century) used to be celebrated during St. John’s Day, which is in June. During this time, a “colcada” procession took place, heading to the hermitage of the saint located in Pla des Vergers, where the religious acts took place that were the origin of the Menorcan festivities. Additionally, there were street dances in Maó, and in the evening of the festival, horse races took place.
When these festivals ceased to be celebrated in the mid-19th century, taking advantage of the tradition of worship and devotion to the Virgin of Grace that had existed in the city for four hundred years, starting in 1890, the main festival was moved to September 8th and celebrated in honor of this virgin, who was declared the patron saint of Maó in 1962.
The Gràcia hermitage was built between 1436 and 1491 on a hill located two kilometers from Maó, so the devotion to the Virgin of Grace dates back to ancient times. In 1729, Pope Benedict XIII established the Brotherhood of the Virgin of Grace and fixed September 8th as the day of the titular festival. Since then, every year, the people of Maó gathered on that day around the hermitage to dance, hold races, and distribute aigua-ros (rose water).
When Maó’s main festival moved from Sant Joan to Gràcia, in addition to the events already taking place at the hermitage, the most significant elements of the previous main festivals were incorporated, especially the colcada. In the first year (1890), the colcada was organized in s’Esplanada and went down to the Town Hall, where the president and the chaplain joined. Then they headed to the Gràcia hermitage, where the new festival flag was blessed, and a mass was held. Back in Maó, the colcada disbanded and reassembled in the evening to go to Santa María to pray Completas. On the day of Gràcia, the colcada was only formed in the evening to attend the horse races.
Since then, the festival has undergone various changes and additions, in line with the changes in society, until reaching the current structure, regulated by the Protocols approved in 1984. These protocols specify aspects such as the selection and roles of the participants, the order of the composition of the colcada, the invitation of cavallers (knights) from outside Maó, attire and behavior of the caixers (riders), the ceremonial, etc. In the same year, the ‘Junta de Caixers‘ (Riders’ Board) was also created.
Structure and Development
Saturday of Gràcia
On September 7th, starting at four in the afternoon, coinciding with the bell ringing that announces the start of the festival, the fabioler (flag bearer) requested permission from the caixer batle (chief rider) to start forming the Colcada. The first to participate is the caixer fadrí (youngest rider), and once he has collected the Town Hall flag, the members of the Junta de Caixers (Riders’ Board) are added, except for the caixer batle and the chaplain, who are the last to join the Colcada.
Once formed, the procession travels through the streets of the town and heads to the Gràcia hermitage, where at seven in the evening, Completas (a Catholic prayer) are recited in honor of the Virgin, and aigua-ros is distributed. After this celebration, the Colcada returns to Maó and heads to the Pla de la Parròquia, where the Jaleo takes place. After completing three rounds, a snail-like maneuver called caragol is performed, and finally, the Caixer Batle and the chaplain are escorted to the Town Hall, where the caixer fadrí hands over the flag, and the Colcada is dissolved.
Day of Gràcia
In the morning, the colcada assembles starting at nine, following the same ceremonial as the previous day. Once formed, it follows a route through the streets of Maó. Simultaneously, the figure of the Virgin Mary is transferred from the Gracia hermitage to the Convent of the Conceptionists, from where the knights go to fetch her and take her to the Church of Santa María for the Misa de Caixers (Mass of the Riders), followed by the traditional distribution of aigua-ros.
After the Mass, another Jaleo takes place in the square, during which the participating knights receive a green cane and a silver spoon in the final round. After this, the Town Hall offers a convidada (refreshments) to all the caixers and knights.
In the evening, the fabioler forms the procession of the knights, who gather in the Conquest Square to attend the horse races that take place on the Cós. The horse races in the Cós de Gràcia, an event that had been discontinued for about twenty years, were brought back during the 1990 festivities. These races are carried out in pairs, and after every two races, the riders return to the starting point for a new round. Currently, the most anticipated is the third round, when at the sound of the fabiol, the horses gallop from the top of the cós to the other end of the street, where the winners are awarded a green cane.
After the races, another caragol is performed in the old town, and with the sun setting, the solemn Farewell to the colcada takes place at the Pla de la Parroquia, with the final fabiol call.
The Festival’s Pregón (Opening Speech)
The announcement of the Virgin of Grace festivities by the Town Hall’s pregonero (proclaimer) as they go through the city’s streets is an ancient tradition. In recent years, this has been complemented by another well-established event within the festival: the institutional pregon (official proclamation), which takes place on September 6th. Pronounced by a representative figure of Mahon society or someone with a special connection to the city, this marks the start of the festivities.
Although the first pregon took place in 1971, it wasn’t until 1983 that it acquired official status, with Mateu Cunill’s glosa (traditional verse) marking the change. Over the years, the event has grown in size, moving from inside the Town Hall to the balcony, where the mayor and the pregonero, at the end of the speech, sing the song “Es Mahón,” followed by musical performances and correfocs (fire runs). Before the pregon, the departure of the giants and big-heads from the city and guests is also planned.
The ‘Volem vi’ Tradition
There is an event that has become very popular in recent years, taking place on the Day of Gràcia. After the Jaleo, while the members of the Colcada enjoy refreshments at the Town Hall, the audience gathered in the square also wants to participate. They request drinks to the tune of the popular song “Volem vi” (We Want Wine), until from the Town Hall, wine bottles are thrown with the inscription “Fiestas de Gracia” and the year.