Santa Marta was quite a woman, at least as far as the little town of Villajoyosa is concerned. She conjured up two separate miracles, more than a century apart, which decided the fate of the community – and the people have been saying thank you with fiestas ever since.
Here’s the backstory. In 1653, the town was suffering from serious drought. Things had got so bad, they couldn’t grow enough food to support the population. So people from La Vila Joiosa (as the town is known in Valenciano) petitioned the king to build a dam to solve the water crisis. One day – at 11 am on May 8 , to be precise – the image of Santa Marta in the town church was seen to shed real tears for two hours.
Nobody knew quite what it signified – until some time later, when word came through from Madrid that King Philip lV had signed the order to build the dam on that very day, May 8. So Santa Marta had clearly been crying tears of happiness. To cut a long story short, the dam got built (at Relleu, in the hills behind La Vila), the water shortage was solved – and the dam is still there to this day. It’s well worth a visit by the way – check out my post here.
So every May, los vileros celebrate the Fiesta de las Lagrimas de Santa Marta (the Tears of Saint Martha) The fiesta went ahead in May 2022 after a two-year enforced break because of Covid.
The streets are filled with festeros and festeras, beautifully dressed in traditional vilero costumes, for the Ofrenda Floral, carrying flowers to the church in the old town where the Virgen de Santa Marta has her chapel. Once that’s done, there’s plenty of serious partying, as you’d expect.
However, it’s not the biggest fiesta in La Vila’s year. The main event is the Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos in July – and that’s also down to Santa Marta and a miracle.
More than a century before the miracle of the tears – in 1538 – an invading fleet of Berber pirates from North Africa attacked La Vila. Santa Marta summoned a flash flood which destroyed their ships and sent them packing. Some spoilsport historians think the victory had more to do with the local militia which did the hard graft, fighting off the attackers, but Santa Marta got all the glory.
The grateful vileros made her their patrona (patron saint) and La Vila’s fiesta of Moros y Cristianos celebrates the victory every July with parades and ‘el desembarco‘ – a re-creation of the Moors landing – on the town’s main beach. See my post here for more.
So who was Santa Marta (in English, Saint Martha)? Theology isn’t my strong point, but she was the sister of Lazarus, the fellow that Jesus raised from the dead. After Jesus was himself resurrected, so the story goes, she travelled to Provence in modern-day France.
If that sounds rather unlikely, the next legend is even less plausible. She apparently went to Tarascon, where the locals were having trouble with a dragon, the Tarasque – half beast and half fish. She sprinkled it with holy water, which seemed to do the trick – the tarasque allowed her to put her sash around its neck and lead it tamely around the town. Which is why some statues of Santa Marta show her standing on a dragon.
Want to know more about La Vila and Santa Marta’s miracles? Check out these blogposts:
- The miraculous Relleu dam and its spectacular walkway
- Moros y Cristianos – why Villajoyosa’s fiesta is unique in Spain
© Guy Pelham