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Friday, 25 January 2013

Building of the Canal's Jan 16th Fire and Visit to Teruel

And After:
The finished result!  Tree/fire of San
Before... building the
enormous tree that will
become a fire
A couple of months ago I wrote about the amazing fire built in Canals, Valencia Province, to celebrate San Antoni.  The information about the festival tells us that the fire is built as tall as the church and I planned to go back to Canals to see for myself.  I was therefore fortunate enough to see how they build the fire and to then witness the lighting of it on September 16th.

The pine logs and branches fill the whole of the square outside the church and even spill out along the pavements leading to the church.  There is a huge team of people who build the fire with great humour and passion and they construct it so that it will safely collapse in on itself as it burns.  When the square is packed with people it is very important and the crowd gets incredibly close to the fire!  We were in fact only about 2m from it when the priest lit the firecrackers which surround the tree and start the celebrations and the fire.

The fire starts to take
The houses and church next to and surrounding the tree have metal covers over windows and doors to stop the glass shattering or the wood catching fire.  There are a few police (all in good humour) to check on the order of things and a fire engine or two to make sure all stays in control and who also spray water at intervals to keep things cool and make sure buildings are safe.  Many of them were also filming the events.  It is the most amazing spectacle and well worth attending if you are visiting the area.  It takes place on September 16th and usually starts around 21.00hrs.  We attended the little service in the church beforehand - packed with people - and where a choir sang throughout.  It was a wonderful "occasion" and very beautiful with a great energy among all those there.  One really experiences the passion and joy of the Spanish people at these events and how they are also happy to share with all those who are interested in learning about the culture.

Oranges around St Antoni
Around the door of the church there are oranges decorating the statues and alcoves and on top of the fire/tree itself are orange leaves and more oranges.  I am guessing because oranges are a very big part of the region's agriculture.

The fire takes hold and
once about half way up
really spreads quickly
After the service the priest walks with one of the big church candles out to the fire and lights the tree with great ceremony.  He was also smiling and amused by the whole thing - enjoying the tradition and this important role!

As the flames grew higher and hotter, the crowd moved back - all very politely and without panic - totally in an "orderly fashion" and something that I'm not sure would have been the same in the UK!  Not only that, but you'd never have been allowed to light such a huge fire in the middle of a town in the UK!!  Not without a 10m barrier around it anyway - here there were people from the crowd virtually leaning into the flames to have their photos taken - until it got too hot!  The bell towers rang out in magnificence and glowed orange in the light of the fire.  Every now and then the cross on the top of the church could be seen through the thick smoke and it was a very dramatic scene.  It reminded me of the photographs of St Paul's Cathedral in London during one of the air raids during the war - surrounded by smoke and flames, but still standing proud and strong and in defiance of the enemy, a symbol of resistance to oppression and defying defeat.

Every now and again the cross on the top
of the church would appear through the
flames and smoke.  You can also see the
bell tower (right) glowing in the flames
The orange leaves and oranges on top
of the tree/fire and the cross boldly
standing above on top of the church


The fire really taking hold and the size of the crowd who turned out to watch.  Apparently the next day everyone comes to cook breakfast on the embers - or that is what we were told. I would think you could continue to cook on it for several days!    I have also included below a couple of videos - one of the building of the fire and one from the fire itself.  
In addition to this festival, and something that takes place in all the villages, there is a blessing of the animals.  It does not always take place the day after, some towns do it on different days, but as one Spanish news item notes:  
"If you like animals, there is no entertainment quite like seeing hundreds of pets, dogs, cats, horses, and even iguanas, snakes, and roosters, all converging in one square to be sprinkled with holy water!  January 17th,  is yet another important Saint’s Day in Spain, that of San Antonio Abad, patron saint of animals.
Naturally there’s an important backstory to Antonio Abad, also known as Anthony the Great. He was a Catholic (Coptic) monk born in 3rd-century AD Egypt who was known for spreading monasticism, but is now most famous for being the first to practice the asceticism of going into the wilderness to renew one’s faith through nature. This is how he became associated with animals. (Odd side note: He is also the Saint to whom you appeal to get rid of skin diseases, i.e. “St. Anthony’s fire”!)"

The website for Canals gives you all the details about the event and it is worth taking a look at it:

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