Once upon a time, in the days before a bit of old bone from Saint Sebastian turned up in Palma in the sixteenth century, relieved the city of the plague and secured for Sebastian the gig as the city's patron saint, the Guardian Angel was Palma's patron. So revered was the Angel that the festival of the Angel was one of the most important religious occasions on the island. The day for this festival was established as being the Sunday after Easter. In Palma it still is the Festival of the Angel (it was in fact revived at the start of the 1980s) but it is also the day of the "pancaritat", which literally means bread charity.
Long ago, the festival and bread-giving were combined. The poor would receive bread which had been blessed at the oratory of the Knights Templar, but the nature of the pancaritat changed over the centuries. By the nineteenth century it was no longer a solemn and charitable affair but rather an occasion for having something of a party, and the tradition had long ceased to be confined to Palma. Pancaritats now take place in most towns on the island.
This diffusion has meant that the pancaritat doesn't have to take place on so-called Angel Sunday. It has, quite literally, become a moveable feast, depending on where it is held. The word itself has acquired a different meaning. It is a picnic but one which retains a religious overtone. It is a picnic that is also a pilgrimage. In Palma this means thousands of people schlepping up to Bellver Castle. Elsewhere it can mean taking a bit of a stroll down the road, armed with bread, pastries and what have you and usually accompanied by the ubiquitous pipers.
In Alcúdia, as one example, they have stuck with Angel Sunday as being the day for the pancaritat. There is not one mass, not two but three. The first two are where mass is normally held - in the parish church - but the third, at one o'clock (just in time for lunch), is at the cave of Sant Martí, the rather odd bit of iconography carved into the countryside near the Bellevue hotel complex which is subject to the occasional spot of graffiti. Once mass is dispensed with, it's time to open the cool boxes and the picnic hampers.
But Alcúdia doesn't only have the Sant Martí pancaritat. The walk to the cave isn't that difficult. Walking up the mountain from Bonaire to the hermitage of La Victoria presents an altogether tougher proposition for the picnic-bound pilgrims. And it takes place on Tuesday, which is an example therefore of how the feast has been moved.
Similarly, Tuesday is the day for the good people of Sa Pobla to rediscover their Crestatx roots and head off the kilometre or so to the old oratory of Crestatx. It is a rediscovery because Crestatx is where the people of Sa Pobla were originally from. Under King Jaume II's system of Mallorcan new towns (1300), Crestatx folk were relocated, and thus Sa Pobla was born.
The Crestatx pancaritat is of an altogether grander order than the events in Alcúdia. It's an all-day affair, the pilgrimage leaving Sa Pobla at nine in the morning and not returning until half six in the evening, and even then there is more of a celebration - folk dance back in Sa Pobla's Plaça Major. And the pilgrimage itself doesn't have to be on foot. There is a shuttle bus which goes every fifteen minutes.
Muro is another town which takes its pancaritat seriously. It's on Monday. Rockets fired at 10am are the starting-gun for the big day out (in Sa Pobla they ring the bells, minus the Antonia big bell, which has come down for repairs), and the "murers" trek off to the hermitage of Sant Vicenç (pipers in tow, naturally enough) for a spot of mass at eleven, some kiddies' ents at midday, ensaimadas and other nosh at the picnic tables and then some folk dance at half three once the food has been digested.
These are just a small selection of Mallorca's pancaritats. They are very much a Mallorcan tradition and Mallorcan only. In Catalonia there are "caramelles", which are similar in that they are an Easter festivity, but the pancaritat can rightly be claimed as being unique to Mallorcan culture and can also rightly be claimed as being one of the very oldest traditions on the island.