All Hail the Hunchback!
No, not the Hunchback of Notre Dame! The Hunchback (La Geperudeta) is what the Valencians have affectionately nicknamed the leaning statue of the Patroness of Valencia, the Mare de Déu dels Desamparats (Our Lady of the Forsaken).
The story behind the title of this virgin all starts in 1407 when Father Jofre was on his way to give a sermon at church and witnessed a mentally ill person being attacked near Santa Catalina Church. He saved the mentally ill person from such despicable treatment and took care of him. That following Sunday during his sermon, he preached against the mistreatment of the mentally ill especially those who were defenseless and poor. He also pleaded for a hospital to be built to protect these people from abuse. His wish was granted: in 1410 the Hospital de Ignoscents, Folls e Orats (Hospital of the Innocent, Mental & Insane) was opened. It is considered the first psychiatric hospital of its kind in the world as it was the first to remove the chains from the mentally ill and treat its patients with care and respect instead of thinking they were just possessed by demons. Following the opening of this hospital, a Brotherhood was founded in 1414 under the advocation of Our Lady of the Insane & Forsaken Innocents (later shortened to Our Lady of the Forsaken as we know her today).
Legend has it that the statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken was discovered in a chapel located in this Hospital (where the Provincial Public Library is nowadays). It is believed that a few young pilgrims arrived in Valencia in 1414 and asked Father Jofre if they could have the honour of making the statue. Their wish was granted so off they went into the chapel to make the statue. However, a few days later people were surprised that they couldn’t hear any noise coming from the chapel so they forced their way in only to find that the pilgrims had mysteriously vanished into thin air and the only thing present was the finished statue of the virgin. This gave way to the legend that the statue was “made by angels”. The actual statue was sculpted in 1416 by order of Alfonso the Magnanimous and is now kept in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Forsaken. However, the statue that is nowadays paraded in the street is actually a replica built in 1966 known as La Peregrina (The Pilgrim) as she travels a lot around the Community of Valencia.
The Feast of Our Lady of the Forsaken (Festividad de la Virgen de los Desamparados) is celebrated on the second Sunday of May with great devotion and fervour. Events start on Friday 12th May but the main events dedicated to Our Lady of the forsaken start in the early hours of Sunday as people make a pilgrimage to the Plaza de la Virgen (Virgin’s Square) to attend mass from 5.00am onwards. The moment which most people anticipate, however, is when the replica statue of the virgin, known as la Peregrina (the Pilgrim), is carried from the Basilica to the Cathedral and showered by flower petals. It’s amazing to witness the sea of people crowding around the statue who want to get as close as they can to her; in fact, it all turns into a sort of “holy” mosh pit where babies and small children are even carried over the crowds of people so that they can have the honour of touching the statue. Do not be alarmed if you see people crying; sometimes the heartfelt emotion and love for their Hunchback is just so great that they can’t contain themselves and are extremely moved. Although, I’m sure a few have also cried because they just didn’t get the chance to get close enough to the virgin and receive her blessings directly.
Enjoy this video so you can see what to expect, hopefully this year it won’t rain so that the statue doesn’t have to be covered in plastic like last year.
PROGRAMME OF EVENTS
FRIDAY 12TH MAY
5.00pm Solemn Pontifical Vespers at the basilica
11.00pm Traditional folk dancing in honour of Our Lady of the Forsaken
SATURDAY 13TH MAY
Around 10.00am a large tapestry made from different flower petals, blossom, herbs and spices is hung outside the basilica; each year there is a different design.
11.30am Solemn Mass in the basilica
12.00am Children’s traditional folk dancing
1.30pm Solemn Mass in the basilica
6.00pm Traditional folk dancing in honour of Our Lady of the Forsaken
8.00pm Salve Regina Hymn sung in the basilica
11.00pm Municipal Band Concert at Plaza de la Virgen (next to cathedral and basilica)
12.00pm Fireworks display in the old riverbed next to the Torres de Serranos (Serrano Towers)
After the fireworks display there will be traditional folk dancing (Gran Dansa) and singing (Cant d’Albaes) dedicated to Our Lady of the Forsaken.
SUNDAY 14TH MAY
4.00am The basilica is opened
5.00am Misa de Descoberta: mass celebrating the discovery of the statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken
6.00am Mass for the Association of the Friends of the Way of Our Lady of the Forsaken
8.00am Misa de Infantes: open-air mass celebrated at the Plaza de la Virgen.
10.30 Traslado de la Virgen: Transfer of Our Lady of the Forsaken from the basilica to the cathedral. Route: Basilica – Plaza de la Virgen – Calle Miguelete – Plaza de la Reina – Cathedral through the Baroque entrance.
2.00pm Mascletà (a traditional type of fireworks display where sound is the protagonist rather than colour) at Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
6.30pm Solemn Procession of Our Lady of the Forsaken. Route: Plaza de la Virgen – Calle Caballeros – Plaza del Tossal – Calle Bolsería – Plaza Mercado – Calle de María Cristina – Calle de San Vicente Mártir – Plaza de la Reina – Calle del Mar – Calle de las Avellanas – Calle del Palau – Plaza de la Almoina – Basilica.
OTHER RELATED EVENTS:
WEDNESDAY 24TH MAY
From 7.00am onwards there will be a Besamanos in the basilica. This is a traditional act whereby the faithful are permitted to kiss Our Lady of the Forsaken’s hand (well, the statue’s hand). Last year a mind-blowing 30,000 people attended so watch out for long queues if you feel the need to kiss her hand.
THURSDAY 25TH MAY
9.00pm Ronda de los Tunos a la Virgen: Traditional music by Tunas (no, not the fish) dedicated to Our Lady of the Forsaken. Tunas are university groups who maintain an old Iberian (Spanish & Portuguese) tradition of playing traditional instruments such as guitars, bandurrias (type of mandolin), Spanish lutes and tambourines whilst singing songs especially serenades and pasodobles. These Tunas will parade around the basilica and sing inside the basilica at the feet of Our Lady of the Forsaken.
Visca la Geperudeta! All Hail the Hunchback!