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 the Friday 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.
Visca la Geperudeta! All Hail the Hunchback!