L’ou com balla (the egg as it dances) is a tradition of the Corpus Christi holiday that consists of putting an empty egg in a spring of water, so the egg dances with the force of the water. To empty the egg, a small hole is made, which is then covered with wax.
The flowers that garnish the fountain prevent it from breaking when the egg falls against the fountain, returning it to its original position under the stream of water and dancing. In the past, if the egg was broken during the day, it was considered a sign of bad omen, and in fact, fights and other conflicts are documented on the day this happened.
The egg is a reminiscent of the shape of the Eucharist, but also alludes to fertility and fullness. The simplicity of this custom has made it very popular, so it spread to other towns in Catalonia: Lleida, Vic, Manresa and Igualada, where it was recovered in the 70s.
A tradition that comes from afar
It is not known exactly when this tradition began, but according to the annotation books of the Cathedral of Barcelona in 1440, it was commissioned to arrange a chapel in the cloister for Corpus Christi. There is also a set of eggs for the fountain.
Thus, the best known place to see l’ou com balla is the cloister of the Cathedral of Barcelona, but in the Gothic Quarter you can also see this custom in the Casa de l’Ardiaca, in the courtyard of the Frederic Marès Museum, in the Academy of Bones Lletres, at the Palau del Lloctinent or at the Barcelona Ateneu. And it may not be as well known, but they also lay eggs and dance in the cloister of the parish of La Concepció, which although today is in the Eixample, this church was originally in the Old Town.
The festival of Corpus Christi
The festival of Corpus Christi is one of the most important in the Catholic world. It has its origins in the Dominicans of the thirteenth century, when they wanted to give impetus to a festival dedicated to the Eucharist. Thus, in 1264 Pope Urban IV established it as a holiday and in 1316 Pope John XXII published a bull to universalize the celebration.
Of all the processions of the year, the best known was Corpus Christi, where all citizens participated. The one in Barcelona was one of the first to be celebrated in Europe and has been documented since 1320.
More than 700 years of the Corpus Christi Festival
A few days earlier there was a parade to announce it. Neighbors cleaned houses, watered the streets, and made flower carpets. Awnings were placed to provide shade and chairs and benches so that the profession could be seen.
Everything was stipulated and hierarchized in the parade: first came the giants, the dragon, and the beasts. Then came long lines of candlesticks. The brotherhoods built figures with representations: Saint George slaying the dragon, Adam and Eve, the daughters of Lot, Hell with Lucifer and the dragon, etc.
Behind them came the pole dances of the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit, followed by minstrels with stringed instruments, dressed in white robes, diadems, and angel wings. At the end, the Chief Minister of Barcelona carrying the banner of Santa Eulàlia.
And one thing leads to another
Because everything was decorated with flowers, the tradition of making flower carpets soon arose, which is still preserved in places like Sitges, Girona, Arbúcies… There was a time when it seemed that this beautiful tradition should be lost, but lately there are many places where they are recovering.
This year, the Corpus Christi festival is on Thursday, June 3, although the religious celebrations will take place on Sunday 6. And as every year, l’ou com balla dance again in the cloister of the cathedral.
Do you want to discover the “ou com balla” in the Gothic Quarter?
Strolling through the streets of the Gothic Quarter is always a pleasure, but doing it during the Corpus Christi celebration is a wonderful way to discover its narrow streets and squares.