The origins of Mallorca’s pancaritats

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The year was 1407. On February 4, a poor soul was burned at the stake – Jaume (Jacobus) de Galiana. This wasn’t his original name, as in 1391 – a year of full-on persecution of Jews – he had converted to Catholicism. Previously he had been Ahim Magaluff. Ahim was a conversion recidivist. Was he from a blood line that had given its name to a place on the Calvia coast? Possibly, though the theory regarding the name Magalluf is of Arabic origin. Ahim is Arabic, but archives list him as having been among the Jewish ‘conversos’ of 1391, as the archives also note a number of other people called Magaluff (or a derivative thereof).

This curiosity is perhaps a story for another time. For now, it’s safe to say that had Ahim remained steadfast in his conversion, he would have been able to seek the protection of the Guardian Angel two months later. No protection was certainly afforded to him on that day in early February. Where exactly did he meet his unpleasant end? Did they march him up to Bellver Castle?

In 1407, there was a fairly remarkable occurrence in terms of Mallorca’s traditions. Some days after Ahim’s execution, the ‘jurors’ of the ‘universitat’ (a bit like town hall councillors) finally achieved the objective of having a chapel at the Cathedral dedicated to the Guardian Angel. These good men therefore declared a holiday. It was to be on the first Monday after ‘Dominica in Albis’, the second Sunday of Easter, a week after Easter Sunday. There would be a procession, they decided, and it would take the same route as that for Corpus Christi.

This first celebration was therefore scheduled for April 5, the day after the Guardian Angel officially became the protector of the city of Palma and when the first stones for the chapel were laid. Come the day and it was said that the Feast of the Angel would henceforth and for all time be celebrated with a solemn festival on the Monday following the second Sunday of Easter or, as was commonly referred to in Mallorquí, the day of ‘Caritat’ (charity).

No charity had been shown to the wretched Ahim Magaluff, for those were persecutory and inhumane times. But charity there was to the poor and clearly had been before 1407, though it hadn’t always been on the day after Dominica in Albis. The charity, the giving of bread, was what gave rise to the ‘pancaritat’ (pa amb caritat), what is nowadays a pilgrimage combined with fiesta all over Mallorca. The origins of the pancaritat are typically linked to the Guardian Angel’s official protection in 1407, but it is obvious that they were older.

The charity can in fact originally be linked to Pentecost, White Sunday, aka Whitsun. There was a mediaeval tradition for Pentecost to be a day of charity, which owed at least something to the farming cycle and the blessing of crops. In Palma, this day of charity was changed to the day after the second Sunday after Easter. Precisely when is unknown, but from 1407 there was the definitive link to the Guardian Angel because of the newly declared feast day.

It is known that there was a procession of sorts plus the distribution of bread to the poor by the jurors from at least 1343 and that this, at one time, had certainly been at Pentecost. The procession, from what one can make out, was not an official religious ceremony but one staged by young people of the city – the “caritaters’. After the procession was formalised in accordance with Corpus Christi in 1407, the church and civic authorities were to disapprove of elements of this caritater theatrical performance, which had seemingly continued to exist alongside the official procession. It was first banned in 1443 and then again (once and for all) in 1565; the procession had become too profane in the eyes of the authorities.

In 1627, the church decided to move the Feast of the Angel (plus the day of charity) to the second Sunday after Easter. Fifty-five years later, the church had second thoughts. It would be the first Sunday after Easter (i.e. the second Sunday of Easter; apologies if this all sounds rather confusing). And so it has been ever since, but not without interruption. As with many a tradition, it fell into abeyance until there was a revival in 1982. This was when the Bellver Castle Day of the Angel fiesta started, it being unclear whether the old tradition had ever involved the castle, which did have something of a gruesome reputation, and not just back in the early fifteenth century.

The old caritater procession suggests that this had long been a bit of a fiesta, which is how the pancaritats now are – they start on Easter Monday, depending on the village or town. And as with any fiesta, there has to be the food. Long gone are the days when the Day of the Angel was just the charitable giving of bread. The pancaritat, perhaps more than anything, popularised the ‘panades’ of Easter, traditionally lamb pies.

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