It’s all about mothers in May. Like the rest of Spain, Valencians celebrate Mother’s Day on the first weekend of the month, treating their progenitors to special meals, gifts and flowers. But there is also another, very much loved Mother who celebrates her big day in May: Our Lady of the Forsaken, the Mare de Deu (Mother of God).
Not all Valencians are devout Catholics. Although that is the official religion in the city, as in the rest of Spain, not everybody will attend Mass regularly or consider themselves particularly religious folk. But, practicing Catholics or not, they all have a space in their hearts for the Virgen de los Desamparados, the patron saint of Valencia, whose big day falls on the second Sunday of May.
Valencians have a special relationship with their patron. She protects the city and looks after them with motherly love. They turn to her to tell her their worries and share their joy, to pray asking for special favours and thank her for her divine intervention. They love her, and even have an affectionate nickname for her: la Geperudeta, which means “little hunchback”, in reference to her nodding posture.
The statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken is kept in her own Basilica, behind the Cathedral. The 17th century Baroque chapel provides a refuge for believers and a calm space for reflexion. Whenever you visit, you will always find devout locals praying in silence. It is a moving place.
There is only one day a year when the statue is taken out, and that will be on Sunday 14th May this year, her big day. But there is a full programme of special events over the whole weekend and beyond to celebrate Our Lady. Groups of dancers in traditional costumes will perform to the sound of dolçaina and tabal (typical Valencian instruments) on Friday evening and throughout Saturday. There will be concerts and fireworks too (including the unavoidable mascletá at 2pm on Sunday). And the traditional craft market known as L’Escuraeta is back on Plaza de la Reina during May.
At 10:30am on Sunday 14th, the crowds will fill the Plaza de la Virgen to watch the statue being transferred to the Cathedral for a special Mass. And in the evening, from 6:30pm, she will be carried through the streets of Valencia on a solemn procession, broken often by the fervent clapping and the occasional shout of “guapa!” from the multitude lining the streets. The lucky ones with balconies will shower the Virgin with flower petals as she passes by, on her way back to the Basilica.
For the following nine days (the Novenario, from 15th – 22nd May), group after group of different communities will hold special services at the Basilica. Firemen, cleaners, flower sellers, pensioners… they will all have their private moment with Our Lady of the Forsaken to ask for any special favours. The most pious Valencians will be able to get close to her too on 24th May during the traditional besamanos, queuing throughout the day to kiss the statue and share their thoughts with the Virgin.
If you are visiting Valencia in May you will witness real passion and devotion as locals show their love for their one and only Mother.