Saturday, January 07, 2017

Julian And The Cossiers Of Campos

One Saint Julian, there's only one Saint Julian. If only there were. There are Julians aplenty and the legacies of no fewer than eight of them are celebrated during January. However, there is only Saint Julian in the town of Campos. Sant Julià is its patron, assisted to a degree by Santa Basilisa, who was his wife.

Tradition, aka legend, has it that Julià and Basilisa met their maker in the year 304 in Antioch. Or possibly Antinopolis. History is vague on the matter to the extent that the rival places of death are in different countries (Turkey and Egypt) and are divided by some considerable distance. What is certain, insofar as there can be any certainty, is that they were victims of Diocletian, the Roman emperor who made a habit of creating martyrs.

According to legend, neither Julià nor Basilisa was minded to getting married. Julià had vowed chastity. Basilisa was determined to maintain her virginity. Coercive parents insisted otherwise, though history is silent on the question of marital consummation. He founded a monastery, she a convent, and together they established a hospital, which is a reason why the Campos Julià is often confused with one of the several other Julians - the Hospitaller.

Whether they really did have a hospital is open to doubt. History, lacking firm information (if any) about either of them, has been forced to bow to legend and storytelling. It is possible that they did exist, unlike some saints who were total fabrications. But real or not real, their place in the saintly hierarchy is nowadays a fairly lowly one when compared with more famed saints of whom there are serious question marks concerning their existence, such as Valentine.

They did, once upon a time, command higher status. From the eighth century they were accorded great veneration, but their demotion may well have owed something to the way in which their liturgical celebration was moved around. Even now, there are four competing dates - sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth of January. The most recent reform of the Martyrology applied the first of these dates. In Campos, they've stuck with the ninth.

Basilisa, strictly speaking a joint patron the town, is generally disregarded in all the celebrations. The town's church is Sant Julià, the fiestas are Sant Julià. But they reside next to each other in the splendidly massive neoclassical church that dates from the nineteenth century.

The fiestas, it's fair to say, do tend to be rather overlooked. It's Julià's misfortune to have at least one of his competing dates clash with Epiphany. The ninth of January falls close to the Kings and also to Anthony and Sebastian, the two saints among the saints of a Mallorcan January. Another obscure saint, Honorat of Algaida, likewise goes to the back of the queue; his day runs up against Sant Antoni Eve, so there's little contest.

Mindful perhaps of all the fiesta competition, a new ingredient was added five years ago. Following a hiatus of some one hundred years, the cossiers of Campos made a comeback. Promoted by a local association, Pinyol Vermell, the folk dancers emerged after mass on the evening of 9 January. There was at least one problem with this revival: making the cossiers as authentic as possible with their ancestors. There was firm evidence of the cossiers' past - the Archduke Louis Salvador had noted their existence in his epic "Die Balearen" - but of images there were none. In the end, Pinyol Vermell borrowed from styles that were current in towns where the cossiers had endured and adopted the siurell figure for the demon of the dances.

Despite the Archduke's records, the church (Sant Julià) was unable to provide much by way of archive material. It was able to confirm that the church had once upon a time paid a small sum to the cossiers to dance. It has been suggested that they weren't therefore from Campos, and it's possible they were not. There were, after all, any number of cossier performances in villages and towns where they have long ceased to be staged. These cossiers may well have been itinerant performers.

But now they are definitely Campos's own. The fiestas are a further example of tradition that has been revived, and so the cossiers dance for Sant Julià (and Santa Basilisa). The only slight further issue with this is that no one knows the exact date when they used to dance over a century ago. A bit like the exact date of Julià's fiesta then.

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