Devil Costumes Are Traditionally Catholic, Too

In Mallorca/Majorca, they have a local saint called St. Catherine of Palma, or St. Caterina Tomas.

When she was still with them, she was the kind of saintly girl who bore patiently with being tormented by nasty people and poltergeisted around by devils. (Yes, there are quite a few folks like this in the saintly rolls. It doesn’t happen often, but they tend to get notice.)

Before she became a nun, she lived a perfectly normal life, albeit she was an orphan who got treated like Cinderella by her uncle’s family. After she became a nun, her whole convent witnessed a lot of bizarre demonic phenomena. The most notorious moment was when she was minding her own business, and suddenly got lifted in the air about thirty feet and then dropped down a well. This happened in full view of all the nuns while they were having a recreation period, and it pretty obviously wasn’t something the girl could do herself. (And did I mention that she was unhurt, other than being stuck down a well?)

On the bright side, she also had gifts of prophecy and healing, as well as ecstatic trances that lasted for days. Saints visited her and gave her advice, as well as healing any wounds the demons gave her. But yeah, obviously a lot more fun to be an ecstatic levitating kind of saint than to be the kind who gets bugged by demons all the time.

It took a while for her case to be fully researched, to the point that even the Vatican was embarrassed by how long it took. (It was mentioned in her canonization decree.) It took so long that she’s still known on the island as “La Beata” or “La Beateta.” But the Mallorcans always knew she was a saint. Her uncorrupted body is on display in one of the island’s churches.

Anyway, it used to be the thing for the entire island (or at least the younger people) to dress up in devil costumes on notable days associated with her life and run around outside in the spring weather, having fun and playing pranks on each other. Nowadays, they have a parade with floats depicting events in the saint’s life. A few notable girls are chosen to dress up as the saint (which is an honor), and the rest of the kids dress up as devils and try to scare the spectators. The adults just watch. At other festivals, the traditional devil costumes have sadly disappeared, and things are a lot more passive.

For Mallorca being such a tourist island, it’s really hard to find any pictures of the parades and costumes online. One supposes that such things are discouraged. (In this day and age, maybe it’s just discouraging photography of kids. But sometimes people also don’t feel like dealing with ignorant comments about their local festivals.) On the other hand, it seems that the devil costumes may be going away, just as the traditional boy singer of the “Cant de la Sibil-la” at Midnight Mass on Christmas has been replaced by adult female opera singers. (Which is dumb. You lose the “unearthly” vocal quality of a trained boy soprano, and you also lose innocence. I could maybe see a little old lady doing it, but sheesh.) However, the “Battle of the Moors and the Christians” at Soller and Pollensa on August 2nd is still a thing — grown men dress up as Muslims and Christians and mock-fight in the streets, commemmorating a local Christian victory over Muslim corsairs in 1550, and giving the credit to “Holy Mary of God’s Angels,” the island’s greatest patron saint.

Anyway, St. Catalina Tomas’ feastday used to be April 5th, but it’s now on April 1st. (Handily enough.) But on the island, she gets celebrated on days in late July (July 27-28 in her hometown of Valldemossa), September, and October, depending on the village.

Pictures of island tilework and statuary of her.

Little kids dressed in traditional Mallorcan costume for one of the tamer festivals.

Kids forced to sit still in a carriage wearing angel costumes for one of the tamer festivals. These are “triumphal cars,” representing the saint’s triumphal entrance into Heaven upon her death, with lots of attendant angels. Apparently the gig for the kids is carrying baskets full of goodies for the crowd, and getting goodies too. The girl sitting up top is the one dressed like St. Catalina Tomas.

Info about the annual fiesta in the village of San Margalida.

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