The Joys of Sant Antoni
Goig. There's an odd word. It is derived from the Latin gaudium, which means joy, pleasure or delight. It means the same thing in Catalan but it is also a verse in praise of the Virgin Mary or saints, and it was from Catalan that the genre came. This genre is described as a poetic composition, popular in character, which is sung collectively to give thanks or as a prayer to ask for the physical and spiritual health of a community.
Back in the fourteenth century, it was Saint Peter who was being sung to. The chronicler Ramon Muntaner noted what is taken to be the first documented evidence of a goig. The Catalan navy, all of its men apparently, called on Saint Peter in an action against Gallipoli. The Catalans and Aragonese set fire to the city in 1307. The chronicle in which Muntaner mentioned the goig came a few years later, but it may well have been this 1307 event that he was referring to.
Anyway, the navy had clearly started something of a trend, so much so that by the end of that century (1399 to be precise) the Red Book of Montserrat made reference to the popularity of goigs and dance in churches. This book contained choreographic notation for dances and also verses for songs that were performed during vigils in the square in front of the church of Montserrat.
While Saint Peter (Sant Pere) was doubtlessly felt to be useful to the Catalan navy because of his seafaring connections, other saints were to prove to be popular when it came to the odd goig or two. The rather obscure Sant Roc (not obscure in Majorca it must be said) was one of them, as was Palma's patron, Sant Sebastià. These two saints shared something in common - dealing with the plague. Prayers for physical well-being and an end to plagues became a goig speciality.
And there is another saint who was to acquire the goig treatment, more really because of thanks being given to him for being a saint and one embedded in Majorca's Christian culture. Who else but Sant Antoni?
The town which makes most of its joys of Sant Antoni, more so than Sa Pobla, is Manacor. Six years ago the then mayor of the town, Antoni Pastor, explained that the Sant Antoni fiestas were the most important ones for Manacor and for Majorca. The emotion of the occasion, for him, was partly because Sant Antoni "is my saint" but also because the singing of the goig by hundreds of residents of the town brought him out in goosebumps.
Manacor doesn't go mad for Sant Antoni to the extent that other towns do. Yes, there are bonfires, but there aren't demons roaring around on Sant Antoni Eve as is the case in the likes of Muro, where they take their Sant Antoni just as seriously. The centrepiece of the occasion is the singing. At the parish church the Compline service is sung, which doesn't happen in the same way elsewhere. And the goigs are very much part of the occasion.
So important are these songs that the good folk of Manacor put in some practice. Not one, not twice, but three times. One of these practice sessions involves a barbecue as well; not that any incentive is needed as the folk turn out in good number and in good voice. The final practice was yesterday evening (Saturday) after mass. The real thing is at half seven tomorrow, Monday, 16 January, as it always is.
And what do they sing about? Well, it's all about glory to the saint and overcoming Lucifer, that sort of thing. It may be recalled that Antoni had the odd brush with the devil while he was enduring his hermitic existence in a desert cave; the brushes, so it is said, were hallucinations. As for the singing itself, so ingrained are the goigs in local culture that many people know the words off by heart. In case anyone doesn't, song sheets are provided, and the result of all this is like some grand beer hall sing-song, except in a church.
Different it certainly is. If you thought Sant Antoni was just about demons and setting the place on fire, then Manacor proves that there is another aspect to his celebration. Joyous.