Terrified by the trail of death that followed the Black Plague, an epidemic that devastated the European continent during the 14th Century causing the death of between a quarter and half of its population, the survivors created the Dance of Death, an allegory about the fragility of life and the inevitability of death that comes to all, regardless of age or social position. The fear of losing all earthly pleasures and the possibility of a sudden and painful end sharpened religious feelings of penitence whilst unleashing an irreverent spectacle, where the rich and powerful shared with the poor the terror of their inevitable destiny.
In Spain, the last remaining Dance of Death survives in Verges, a small village in the Catalan Empordà, linked since the 17th Century to the Easter Passion Play and Holy Week procession. With a great part of its little more than a thousand inhabitants participating, the streets of the village set the stage for the re-enactment of Jesus’s last journey to Calvary, escorted by Roman troops, impenitent Jews, Nazarenes and the dancers, mockers and harbingers of death.
Of uncertain origin, the correfocs or fire-runs have been part of Catalan folklore since the Middle Ages and are found in many of the village feasts of the Spanish Mediterranean arc. With considerable popular participation, youths of the village, dressed as devils, run through the streets in an astonishing display of fireworks, whilst from their balconies the neighbours pour water on the revelers, cooling their ardour and putting out any unwanted sparks. The noise and percussive shock from so much gunpowder, ignited with seemingly careless abandon, are matched by the electrified atmosphere of the streets where the celebrants’ excitement is palpable.