This refers to a sacred lyrical drama from Elche that has been included in UNESCO's World Heritage catalogue and is put on during the festivities in honour of the town's Patron Saint together with exhibitions, concerts and international studios, which have brought international recognition to the festival. One of the objectives of the Festival Organisers is to make the Misteri d’Elx known throughout the world and it certainly appears that they are well on their way to achieving that objective.
The Mystery of Elche or the "Misteri d’Elx" as it is known in the language of Valencia, is a lyrical drama of medieval origin that was first staged in the 13th century. It is one of the representations of the Assumption that became popular throughout Mediterranean Europe. The text is written almost entirely in Valencian and is based on various texts taken from the Apocryphal Gospels that were very popular during the Middle Ages. Undoubtedly one of the most valuable elements of sacred lyrical drama is the music, and this work includes melodies from very different eras and composers.
A fundamental part of the festivities in honour of Elche's Patron Saint is the representation of the Mystery. A primitive example of lyrical theatre, the basilica of Saint Mary may presume to have been the only one in the world that was allowed to stage a powerful sacred drama inside a church, thanks to a special privilege granted by Pope Boniface VIII.
To commemorate the lyrical Mystery, during the festivities in honour of Elche's Patron Saint which take place between the 10th and the 15th of August, the representations of the "Misteri d´Elx" are performed together with the "Nit de l´Alba" or the Night of the Dawning, in honour of the Virgin of the Assumption. This involves all the local townspeople sending endless fireworks into the night sky from their terraces, creating a pyrotechnic display that is well worth seeing. This tradition goes back to the Middle Ages, and began as a way of thanking the Virgin for blessing the people with children.
Around midnight, all the lights are traditionally switched off and the centre of the town is plunged into total darkness. That is when the hymn of the Coronation of the Mystery of Elche begins to sound. On the stroke of midnight, following the tradition, an incredible fireworks display begins that featured thousands of rockets that look like palm trees in the night. The rockets, which can reach up to 300 metres into the sky and cover a radius of up to 800 metres, slowly light up the city, as if morning has broken. This is the Night of the Dawning. Immediately afterwards, in the Basilica of Saint Mary, an image of the Virgin of the Assumption made from flares is brought out to the sound of Elche's unofficial hymn, the habanera song "Aromas Ilicitanos" (Aromas of Elche). Once the flares have been lit, the tradition is to enjoy a juicy watermelon.
When this spectacle has come to an end, the wheelbarrow war begins and the local youngsters hurl rockets at each other. This however takes place in an area that is cordoned off for them to enjoy themselves in…
Intensity, spectacle, fervour and culture combine in this marvellous Elche festival that is suitable for all tastes and something you should definitely not miss if you are in this part of Alicante around the middle of August.