In the Pyrénées Orientales
With the coming of the light in the northern hemisphere, the longest
day is incorporated in a festival where fire takes a role as a
sacred flame. Housed in Perpignan’s Castillet, where it burns
throughout the year, it is taken to be regenerated by three guardians
who make the climb up the slopes of Canigou and light the fagots
(bundles of wood) that form the first fire of St Jean.
In the week before the solstice the trobada commences, as bundles of
wood are carried up the mountain Canigou. Bound with wishes and
offerings they are left on the peak which is marked by a cross for
‘Pays Catalan’, adorned by those who have made the pilgrimage up
the slopes of the beacon that represents this region.
Les feux de la Saint-Jean
From Catalonia North and South, chosen flame-bearers flock to Canigou,
carrying flambeaux or blazing torches (or hurricane lamps) lit from the
bonfire, back to villages across the region, as each lights their own fire
on the evening of the 23rd, celebrating with a communal meal: usually a
grillade (with Catalan sausage) including ‘fougasse’ (a sweet bread-based
desert), and often accompanied by Xocolata (thick, rich hot chocolate),
feux d’artifice (fireworks) and dancing (la Sardane or a bal populaire).
Jumping the fire is akin to a rite of passage for young men – the higher
the flames the more courageous the act.