Photo by Aisling Callinan
The gegants of Sant Pere de Ribes.
You may have seen these oversized spectacles bobbing up and down during the last Festa Major, but where did these quirky giants come from? Hannah Pennell has all the answers.
A GIANT HISTORY
• The origins of the gegants (giants) can be found in the Catholic Church’s efforts in the Middle Ages to share Bible stories with an illiterate public, which gave rise to theatrical representations of key concepts and feast-days, such as Corpus Christi. They included dragons (representing evil), eagles, lions and oxen. On the human side, David and Goliath featured, along with the four Evangelists and Saint Christopher carrying a child.
• Costumes were quite basic in the beginning with furs worn to represent animals and wings for angels. They became more sophisticated over time, with the eventual creation of the carcassa—the structured frame for each character inside which a person carries the gegant.
• For some time, the female giant was a fashion trend-setter, with bourgeois women waiting to see what she would wear in the Corpus Christi procession, then buying an outfit accordingly. The city council spent a lot of money on bringing clothes and tailors from Paris. In contrast, the male had to wear the same items year after year.
• In the 19th century, trade organisations (gremis) and other associations started to take over responsibility for gegants from municipalities.
• At an international level, 89 countries have some kind of gegant culture, with around 10,000 giants between them; in Catalunya, there are an estimated 4,000 gegants and in the rest of Spain around 7,000.
This capgros (‘big head’—a gegant alternative that is human size but with an outsized head) was designed to represent a Moorish man and was originally incorporated into church organs; the organist would then operate it in such a way as to make its eyes move and tongue stick out. In Barcelona, the Cathedral and church of Sants Just i Pastor still have an organ carassa, with the former dating from the 16th century. In 1988, a ‘mobile’ carassa was created to take part in street processions. His busiest time of year is in December, when he appears on various days of the Christmas Santa Llúcia market.
WHEN TO SEE GEGANTS IN ACTION IN BARCELONA
• Every Saturday afternoon in September (except 22nd) in front of the Cathedral, as part of the Festa Catalana de la Cultura Popular.
• October 7th: the neighbourhoods of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi and Eixample Esquerra celebrate their festa major around this time of year, and ‘giants’ will be there for the occasion. On October 21st, it’s the turn of the Sagrada Família.
• On New Year’s Eve, l’Home dels Nassos (the man of the noses) can be seen in different parts of Barcelona.He is said to have up to 365 noses, but only shows one for each day of the year left.
• Each year on February 12th, the feast-day of the city’s ‘other’ patron saint, Eulàlia.
1424 is the year that the gegants of Barcelona are first mentioned in writing.
“A small giant sells for €3,000 to €4,000 and a large giant, €5,000 or €6,000. A lot depends on the clothing and hair. A wig [made from real hair] is very expensive, and can cost up to €1,500.” - Giant-maker Jordi Grau in an interview with Genevieve Shaw for Metropolitan in 2008.
Jaume I and Violant d’Hongria are the names of Barcelona’s gegants, which were changed to Ferdinand and Isabella (the Catholic Monarchs) during the time of Franco.