By Tess Knighton
Last weekend I popped in to see the exhibition dedicated to the fiestas of Sant Roc over the last 425 years at the Casa de Entremesos. As I expected most of the material on display was from the twentieth century, but it was interesting to see how fiestas of this kind blend continuity and change over time and adapt to the social concerns and political stance of a specific period. Sant Roc was, of course, the patron saint invoked for protection against the plague, and his feast day and Confraternity was particularly important for musical patronage and activity in Venice and its celebrated Scuola di San Rocco (founded in 1478). In Barcelona there was a chapel or shrine dedicated to him from the fourteenth century in the church of Santa Eulàlia del Camp, outside the city walls near the Portal Nou. With plague sweeping most of Europe, devotion to Sant Roc grew rapidly particularly in his home city of Montpellier, where he was born in 1295, and spread to Catalonia. The first procession organized by the Consell de Cent of Barcelona took place in 1515, and four years later Sant Roc was declared a co-patron of the city. In 1587 his feast-day was declared an official ceremony with a procession through the streets, and the celebration of Mass. By this time the focus of devotion was a small image of the saint placed in an alcove in a wall of the Plaça Nova near the cathedral. When the city was threatened by a devastating plague in 1589, the neighbourhood formed the Confraternity of Sant Roc in the cathedral (Confraria de Sant Roc de la Plaça Nova). From the start, trumpets, drums and wind-players were contracted and took part in the ceremonies.