La Mercè is a, more than a century old, festival to celebrate the declaration of the Virgin of La Mercè as patron saint of the city Barcelona. Nowadays the festival is programmed around Mediterranean culture. It takes place every year in September.
The legend goes that on the night of 24 September 1218, the Virgin appeared simultaneously to King Jaume I, Saint Pere Nolasc and Saint Ramón de Penyafort. She asked all three to create an order of monks dedicated to saving Christians imprisoned by the Saracens. It was the time of the wars of religion.
Centuries later in 1687, Barcelona suffered a plague of locusts, and placed itself in the hands of the Virgin of La Mercè. Once the plague had been overcome, the Council of the City named her patron saint of Barcelona. The Pope did not ratify this decision until two centuries later, however, in 1868.
After Pope Pius IX declared the Virgin of La Mercè the patron saint of the city, Barcelona began to celebrate a festival in the month of September. Today it is a festival held in a large number of public places with a programme centered on Mediterranean culture. In less than a week Barcelona brings together a huge programme of events, which forces you to choose between them: street arts, street processions, concerts, traditional dances.
The most traditional activities of the Mercè Festival are, in fact, a compendium of popular culture from all over Catalonia. There is the Gironese Sardana, the human castles and devils from the Camp of Tarragona, dances that still survive today all over the Catalan lands. But the great Barcelona speciality is its street parades, originating from the spectacular processions, which took place centuries ago for the celebration of Corpus Christi.