House of the Festa Major de Vilafranca

Welcome to the Festa Major de Vilafranca!^

In this building, constructed in 1913, you’ll find a display featuring all the main elements of a festival dating back to the 17th century. It exhibits the history and the protagonists of a festival that simply must be experienced and understood beyond its five days of sublime celebration. It’s a journey through time and space, in which you’ll discover the emotions, traditions and beliefs that make up the Festa Major de Vilafranca, known as ‘the most traditional festival in Catalonia’ since 1907, and declared a heritage festival of national interest in 1991. You’ll feel as if you were immersed in the joyful hullabaloo that fills Vilafranca from 29th August to 2nd September.

The origins: the administrators ^

Every year, the Ajuntament (Local Council) of Vilafranca appoints five people from the town as the administrators of the Festa Major. This selection generates great excitement, as the role involves organising the whole festival, from laying out the programme of events to seeking the resources to fund it.

The origins of the administrators date back to 1699, when Sir José Molines, Archdeacon of Penedès and Dean of the Roman Rota, obtained a large relic of a saint from the Holy See. According to Roman documentation, it belonged to a martyr named Felix who was buried in the catacomb of Calepodi (Rome). Sir Molines donated this relic to the parish clergy and the town councillors, and upon arrival in Vilafranca in 1700, it was deposited in the crypt of Santa Maria. Its maintenance was entrusted to four people. They were the administrators, who, along with a priest, would organise the festival of Saint Felix from then on.

It was agreed that the Ajuntament would pay for the music, candles and sermon for the festival, and that the clergy would not receive a stipend for the religious acts. The administrators were in charge of managing the money provided by the municipality, and also for collecting donations for more festive events. Until 1940, they even assumed any shortfall for the festival.

For a good part of the 20th century, the administrators were composed of three men and a priest. In 1971, the priest ceased to be part of the festival administration, and as of 1979, women could also take part. The number of administrators was increased to five.

Every year, when the festival is over, each administrator keeps the image of Saint Felix in their home for two and a half months, until the following Festa Major. During this time, their doors must be kept open so that people are able to visit the image of the patron saint.

Captas, programmes and images^

A few days before the Festa Major begins, the administrators (accompanied by a miniature image of Saint Felix, gralla players [a type of woodwind instrument] and a large group of people of all ages) walk around the town. In exchange for a financial contribution, they offer the programme, the image of Saint Felix and a gift, in order to round off the festival’s accounts. This is known as the capta (begging).

The capta, which has been part of the Festa Major almost since its very beginnings, was formerly divided into two: the capta general, which took place in the town itself, and the capta a les eres, which was held the month of August in the lands outside the walls when grains were being threshed. Both were accompanied by the sound of grallas, and what was collected was basically goods in kind.

The programme is the printed publication that includes all the events that will take place during the Festa Major. It is always accompanied by the image of Saint Felix, which is one of the most important components of the festival due to its symbolic and religious nature. It is created by an artist selected by the administrators, and offers a visual interpretation of the image. In homes in Vilafranca, it is customary to hang the image behind the door throughout the year, until it is replaced by next year's image. Both have become collectors' items for many locals in Vilafranca.

Novena and Cant dels Goigs ^

Deu Fèlix vostre favor... From 22nd to 30th August, Villafranca dedicates itself to the saint in the Basilica of Santa María with this refrain, as part of the Novena and the Cant dels Goigs (Song of Joys), one of the most traditional celebrations of the Festa Major. The event has been preserved as a unique tradition since the 18th century, one that goes beyond the religious sentiment of the individual.

Texts from the oratories dedicated to the saint, known as villancicos or sacred dramas, have been preserved since 1722. The earliest goigs date from 1733, and a Novena text published in 1775 has also been preserved. The ritual includes Compline, prayers and the Cant dels Goigs. When there was a good orchestra, they would play an opening with operatic music.

The Goigs a Sant Fèlix that have been performed until the present day, more or less without interruption, are the result of an adaptation of the original score by Josep Badia, which dates from 1857. It was adapted by Francisco de Paula Bové in 1905. Pere Lluís Biosca reviewed and edited the original score for voice and orchestral instrument, meaning that as of 2005, female voices have been incorporated into the choir. The chorus and the orchestra of the goigs only come together as a musical ensemble for these nine days of the year.

As the Cant del Goigs ends, the audience awaits the llibertats d’orgue (the liberties of the organ), when the organist of the Basilica plays melodies from the dances. It is customary for the Ball de Foc (the ‘Fire Dance’, danced by the Dragon) to be played on the 22nd, and for the Toc de Castells (Sound of the Castles) to be played on the 30th, to celebrate the Diada Castellera (Human Tower Day).

The proclamation^

On 28th August, at the end of the Novena, in front of the Palau Baltà, a person designated by the administrators presents their vision and experiences of the festival, calling for participation. This is the public, oral announcement of the start of the Festa Major.

The proclaimer is usually a person from Vilafranca, or someone connected to the town. In the early years of this solemn event, which dates back to 1963, the role was also held by some prominent names in Catalan culture.

29th August^

The day before

The 29th of August is a day of joy and excitement that kicks off the festival and transforms Vilafranca into a place alive with dance, music, joy and living history. Everything is ready, everything is new, and anything could happen. 

La tronada

Midday. Rambla de Sant Francesc. The first peal of bells accompanies the administrators as they light the five lintstocks that will kick off la tronada (the ‘thunderstorm’). This is an earthquake of noise that progressively increases and rises with gunpowder until it reaches an exalted finale, giving rise to personal and collective emotion, which leads to kisses, hugs, and a warm wish: have a bona Festa Major (a good festival)!

The procession

The first parade of the dances that celebrate the start of the Festa Major, in a route where Saint Felix and the masquerade are reserved for the first procession. Those who have updated their wardrobe will be wearing their new items for first time today, and everyone else will also be looking smart with clean, well-pressed clothes.

The eyes of young and old eagerly await the parade along the route through the city centre. The place is made by the people, and the people make the festival.

Once in the Plaça de la Vila, the first casteller (human tower) exhibition begins. On this occasion, it will be performed by local groups on the Diada de Vigília (Day of the Vigil).

The music of the festival^

Music is an essential part of the Festa Major. The groups that accompany the dances and the colles castelleres (human tower teams), the band that closes the parades and processions and many other collectives turn the five days of the festival into a great open-air concert.

Among the traditional instruments we can find the gralla, flabiol and tarota (all woodwind instruments), the timbal and the tamborí (kinds of drums), bagpipes, the violin and the diatonic accordion, as well as elements necessary for the dances themselves, such as bastons, castanets and tambourines. And let’s not forget the bells, which are integrated into the costumes worn for many dances, adding their sound to the rhythms and music.

The gralla

The gralla is the most representative instrument of the Festa Major. It is part of most of the popular dances, it is essential to human towers and it is the sonorous announcement of the festival days, with a solemn melody in the early mornings.
In the early 20th century, changing fashions and lifestyles in villages led to the decline of the instrument. Just when it seemed that it might disappear for good, its importance in the Festa Major of Vilafranca and other local festivals helped to revive young people’s interest in the gralla. Very soon, new groups of gralla players emerged, who worked to promote and teach this traditional instrument.
But the gralla is not only necessary for dances and human towers. During the festival, it enjoys two moments in which it takes centre stage: the reed instrument concert and the Dance of the Grallas.

Reed Instrument Concert

In 1968, a reed instrument concert was organised for the first time, to allow the various groups participating in the Festa Major to play pieces other than the repertoire of dances. High level harmonisations can be heard with primitive instruments, making it a renowned event in the world of gralla music. 

Ball de Grallas

Since 1976, the groups of gralla players who take part in the festival have been organising the unique and traditional Ball de gralles (Dance of the Grallas), an event that has become so popular that since 2012 it has been held at Plaça de la Vila, a large public space, and reorganised into two parts. The first is dedicated to nineteenth-century themes, while the second has a more modern feel, featuring adaptations of current pieces.

30th August^

Saint Felix

Announced by ringing bells, as the relics of Saint Felix are put on display in the crypt of Santa Maria for public veneration: it is the main day of the Festa Major, 30th August.

The relics are kept in a closed urn with four locks. In the past, only the priests (archdeacon, rector, incumbents) and the Ajuntament (Local Council) held the keys. The key pact established by Sir Molines indicates that ‘it is with the consensus of the four people in charge that the relic will be available for festive rituals or rogations’. St. Felix's Day is the only day of the year that the urn is opened. When the procession returns to the church in the evening, the relics are once again locked away, in a ceremony attended by the priests, the Ajuntament and the administrators.

While they are exhibited, Villafranca is experiencing a very intense day where epics, emotion, nostalgia, euphoria and excitement come together.


The sound of the gralla at the break of dawn, to the rhythm of the Toc de Matinades (Daybreak Song), announces a big day of festivities in the town’s streets and squares.

On the 30th, at 7am, people who have just woken up and others who have not yet gone to sleep accompany the grallas and drums, following the solemn beat of the melody, starting from Plaça de la Vila. 

Neighbourhood associations and other generous groups of locals treat the whole musical procession to food at the various stops, which ends up constituting a hearty breakfast served in instalments.

Felix in Calepodi

In 1700, the Bishopric of Barcelona established 30th August as the day for the veneration of the relics of Saint Felix, meaning it coincides with the liturgical celebration of another Felix, a Roman martyr who died in the year 304. This led preachers and goig lyricists to adopt features from the hagiography of the martyr to enrich that of Felix in Calepodi, the saint venerated in Vilafranca. All we know is that he was a martyr, thanks to documents signed in Rome.

The image of Saint Felix that we see today dates from 1959, the work of sculptor Josep Ricart, who was inspired by and then enlarged a small baroque carving held in the Vinseum wine museum. There is evidence of various images of the saint. Some have been lost, while others have been vandalised. The most popular was an image from 1859, showing the saint with a moustache and goatee, cassock and bonnet, as was the fashion at the time. However, on 30th August 1936, this image was burnt in a bonfire at Plaça de Jaume I. In 1939, a replica was made.
The current image, in which he is dressed as a priest, with the heart-shaped habits worn by the incumbents of Vilafranca until 1936, weighs 51 kg and stands at 155 cm high. It is carved on overlapping planks of Flanders wood and was decorated and polychromed by Barcelona artist Jaume Sanjaume. There is an image of reduced dimensions (68 cm) that is brought out for the capta. It is also the work of Josep Ricart and Jaume Sanjaume, who made further copies in plaster.

The Diada Castellera de Sant Fèlix (Human Tower Day of Saint Felix) ^

The Diada Castellera de Sant Fèlix (Human Tower Day of Saint Felix) on 30th August is one of three casteller (human tower) days during the Festa Major: there is also the Diada de Vigilia on August 29th, and another on 31st August. Local groups take part in the Diada de Vigilia and on 31st August. However, the most eagerly awaited by both the town and the casteller world in general is without doubt the 30th: the Day of Saint Felix.

Castellers first took part in the Festa Major in 1803, although prior to this they were part of the Ball de Valencians (Dance of the Valencians). Since then, Saint Felix's Day has cemented its status as one of the most important days of the festival. 

The most renowned teams in the casteller world meet at midday, at Plaça de la Vila, to offer the most competitive and complete programme, as part of a day with great prestige. This is why Plaça de la Vila in Vilafranca is famous around the world as a casteller destination.
In a space of just a few square metres, the typical casteller qualities of skill, strength, balance, courage and good judgement are concentrated, mixed with nerves, respect, strategy, joy, fear, sadness, rivalry and friendship. This chromatic expression of so many emotions is a work of art when seen from a bird's eye view.

Procession and arrival of Saint Felix ^

The Dragon, which leads the procession through the historic centre, is the first to arrive at Plaça de Jaume I. One by one, each of the groups that are part of the procession arrives at the square.

Cardboard figures, dances, falcons and casteller teams are ready to accompany Saint Felix’s arrival at the Basilica of Santa Maria. 

Once all the folkloric elements are in place, mixed with the public who want to experience the show from the front row, San Felix reaches the square, accompanied by the masquerade, the administrators, the members of the consistory and the band. As the image turns to face the square, in front of the steps of the Basilica, an intense firework display begins. The bangs mingle with the music of all the dances taking place at the same time, the sound of the rockets, the cries of enthusiasm and the applause. This is the climax of the festival. In just a few minutes it all forms a unique, intense and one-of-a-kind performance: an outburst of joy, ancestral hope, pride, happiness, renewed desires and faith in the future.

31st August^

Day of Saint Ramon

Vilafranca bids farewell to Saint Felix on a day when the dances reach peak brilliance.

It is the Day of the Dead, when tribute is paid to those who have departed during the year. This will be the last chance to see the entire Festa Major procession, which will take Saint Felix into the seclusion of the house of the administrators.

Dance performances 

On the 31st August at midday, on a stage in front of the Town Hall, there is a performance by various groups from the procession. This is the moment when we can see the most characteristic dances of each group from an unusual perspective. This is also the day on which the Ball de Diables (Dance of the Devils), the Ball d’en Serrallonga (Serrallonga Dance) and the Ball de les Gitanes (Dance of the Gypsies) are performed. They are spoken dances, during which verses are recited that reflect current affairs.

Spoken dances: popular theatre

Spoken dances are a form of popular theatre usually performed on the streets. They have a very simple dramatic structure and involve practically no scenographic elements. There are four groups in Vilafranca.

The Ball de Diables (Dance of the Devils) represents the eternal struggle between good and evil, which culminates with the triumph of the archangel Michael over Lucifer. At the end of the performance, satirical and topical verses are recited.

The Ball de Serrallonga (Serrallonga Dance) depicts the recruitment of bandits by Juan de Serrallonga, a 17th century outlaw, and some of his misdeeds until he was arrested and later freed by his men.

The Ball de les Gitanes (Dance of the Gypsies) is a small performance by gypsy couples who look at aspects of Vilafranca's social and commercial life. The verses recited are interwoven with the dance.

The Ball dels Malcasats (Dance of the Unhappily Married) plays out the fights of several ill-fated couples under the supervision of the authorities. This is the only of the four groups that performs in parallel with the processions on 29th and 30th August, in another location.

Ball dels malcasats

A spoken dance that depicts quarrels between couples from different social classes (the bourgeoisie, notaries, farmers and boatmen). The performance takes the form of an old man and a younger girl who go to the local authorities (mayor, priest and municipal police) to request a divorce. With coarse language and countless sexual references, it is a cutting criticism of the events that took place in the country over the last year.

The first reference to this group dates from 1828, and it was reinitiated in 1999. This is the first Ball dels Malcasats to be performed in Catalonia since its disappearance. In the first years it was part of the parades and processions, but since 2012 it has been performed in several of the town’s squares. 

Arrival at the administrator's house 

On the evening of 31st August, following the procession and the firework display, Saint Felix enters the home of one of the administrators for the first time, thus initiating the ritual of remaining here until the next Festa Major. People take one last look, with a hint of nostalgia and the hope that they will all be there again next year.

The family of the Festa Major ends the day here, in this House of the Festa Major, where all parts of the procession will be replaced throughout the year, looking ahead to the next 29th of August.

1st and 2nd September^

The pieces and the whole procession are already resting. So is Saint Felix. But the people of Vilafranca are still in the mood for a party, and they continue attending shows and concerts of all kinds.

For their part, little ones remember the main festival with their miniature festival. And the devils perform their fire dance.

All together, they say goodbye to these five days of festivities with the last firework display, on 2nd September at midnight.

Festa Major dels Petits 

From a very early age, the boys and girls of Vilafranca make the Festa Major their own. They are always very excited for it, and see the whole event through the eyes of a child.

Since 1982, on 1st September, there has been the Festa Major dels Petits (Children’s Festa Major), where the little ones recreate the festival by participating in all the dances of the procession and performing their own version.

There is a proclamation, a children's human tower day, which takes place alongside the grown-up version at noon at Plaça de la Vila, in which the youngest members of the local teams participate. There is also a parade featuring children’s versions of all the dances of the Festa Major: the dragon, the giants, the dwarves, etc. It begins at 5pm, starting at Rambla de Sant Francesc, after the small but mighty tronada. All groups are represented. When they arrive at Plaça de la Vila, they share their Balls de Lluïment (Dance Performances), which are rewarded with the applause of all the spectators, and followed by a snack.

Ball de Foc 

Starring the devils of Vilafranca, this is a great spectacle of pyrotechnics, juggling, light and music.

Since 2003, as an evolution of the popular correfoc (literally ‘fire run’ in English), it tells the story of the alchemist Silè and his obsession with stealing the infernal fire. Accompanying this protagonist, the nyoquis, the monster Sileno, the scholars and the devils perform the spectacle of a fire war.

The whole route of this event is full of light and sound, giving the impression of a firework display at ground level. The spectators watch and dance to the sparks of battle, set to the rhythm of the drums and the music.