These festivals are celebrated all over Spain but the “Moors and the Christians in Crevillent” (Alicante) celebrated its 50th birthday this year. The town aspires for its annual event to become a Festival of International Tourist Interest.
Role-playing, costumes, beauty, light, colour, music and gunpowder. Those are the essential elements of the Moors and the Christians festivals held in various parts of Spain each year as well as in some Latin American countries. More than 300 locations recreate the clashes that occurred in the Middle Ages between the followers of the cross and of the crescent. Usually, the current parties are held in honour of the patron saint of the town or city that also had a key role in the battle because, due to its sudden intervention, the victory fell in favor of the Christian side, despite the higher numbers of Arab troops.
There are many variations of this celebration, as each town, in keeping with its own history, adds their own flavour to the traditional structure of the event. For their spectacular highlights , Alcoy and Villajoyosa have both been declared of International Tourist Interest. No less important, and after the same crown, is Crevillent.
It is a different kind of party, said the president of the Association of Moors and Christians in Crevillent, “in which our embassies are settled with no winners or losers, but with an agreement and twinning; in which the woman, somewhat forgotten in this great party, is the protagonist par excellence; in which the aesthetics of our festive costumes and trappings, the beauty of our sultanas and queens, the gallantry of our captains, ambassadors and knights are remarkable; and where the festive enjoy and share this entertaining and historical feeling.” This aims to be a great example of tolerance, although lacking the historical accuracy. At the end of the day, according to Crevillent, it is a party.
The ritual clashes, in which an ostensible exaltation of the Catholic religion is also made, is a fiery and rejuvenated version of popular entertainment more widely implanted in the Peninsula and then transported by the Spanish in all areas for which they extended their culture. The event covers at least eight hundred years. In essence, the Moors and Christians has evolved to become a representation of popular theater, expressing the fight between the Christians and Moors. Following the overall theme, most places pick their own battle or event to simulate.
For example, an Aragonese village performs the naval battle of Lepanto, with galleys made of cardboard that simulate the Christian fleet captained by Charlemagne. On Mexican soil a Turkish landing is represented in Yucatan, the challenge between the Cid and Pilate, King of Granada or the inclusion of both the Moors and Christians in the armies led by the apostle Santiago in their fight. In the Peruvian Andes, Santiago’s rival side appears as a horde of demons. In western Portugal it is Saint George who needs the help of an angel to free the maiden captivated by the Turks; and in Andalucia it is the Bishop of Sevilla, San Isidoro, and the grandmother of Jesus, St Anne, who aid the Christians in their win.
The story in Crevillent
The Fiesta held in Crevillent, which coincides with the celebration of its patron, St. Francis of Assisi, has its own version too. A Christian ambassador reaches the town castle and, in the name of King Alfonso X, claims that the Moorish leaders renew the oath of allegiance to “King Sabio”. The leaders refuse and so the hostilities begin.
To demonstrate their power, the armies of both sides parade in majestic costumes, one each day. At dawn, groups of revelers come out with bands or groups of bagpipes and drums to wake the people and gather the festive. Then, the groups go to find captains, their queens and sultanas for a Crevillentina parade through the streets. The parade moves slowly to ensure the crowds all get a good look at the participants.
Throughout the celebrations, the attendees enjoy fireworks and music. In addition to the permanent parade a musical Mass is celebrated, a score created for the occasion by Ramón López More and sung by the choral voices of well-known “Coral Crevillentina” and the choir “Alfombras Imperial”. Then, in the Constitution Square, hundreds of revelers and musicians, along with the choirs participating in the Mass, sing hymns whose lyrics were written by Ricardo Tejada and music by Ramón Más.
The highlights of Moors and Christians in Crevillent are the spectacular and colorful costumes and troupes. There are twelve troupes, six per side (Astures, Almogávares, Beduinos, Benimerines, Berberiscos, Caballeros del Cid, Dragones, Marroquíes, Omeyas, Moros Vells, Maseros and Castellano-Leonesa). The captains rouse the crowd to create more excitement as the troupes parade throuigh the town bringing music, noise and colour. Many of the troupes provide extra entertainment including dancing, acrobatics, warrior fighting, mechanical monsters and more.
Imagination and tradition
The parades are a spectacle of light, color and music. Each troupe wears costumes where imagination mixes with tradition. Each troupe has an average of 100 participants comprised of men, women and children. Each troupe also has a float upon which a beautiful queen, or sultana, sits adorned in beautiful dresses.
In short, the Moors and the Christians are an explosion of imagination, music, colour and light.
The last part of the event, after yet another mock battle, sees the troupes converge. The Moorish armies ask for help from King James I to release the Moorish leaders captured by Spanish troops in exchange for the Moorish surrender and the handing over of Crevillent and two castles. The release is agreed and the celebrations begin with fireworks, church bells and music.
In Crevillent there are no winners or losers, no gain or loss. It celebrates an agreement between two parties which has become friendship.