CATALAN’S SEVEN-LEGGED REPRESENTATION OF LENT
If you’ve seen an old woman with seven legs, holding a cod in one hand and basket of vegetables in the other, hanging in balconies and windows around Barcelona, you might wonder what in the world she’s doing there… and why she has so many legs.
Her story, that of La Vella Quaresma (“The Old Lent”), is a visual personification of the passage of Lent, the 40-day fasting period which began on Ash Wednesday, three days ago.
Old Lent’s seven legs symbolize the seven weeks of Lent. The cod and basket of vegetables in her hands are her way of reminding those struggling to stick to their diet of the food they are permitted to eat.
The tradition of the Vella Quaresma is to break off one of her legs at the end of each week until, on the final week, she is left without any legs. At this point, to commemorate the end of Lent — which is on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter Sunday — she is burned; this is like the traditional “Burial of the Sardine” that ends Carnival.
As you might have guessed, the Vella Quaresma is a tradition directed at children who are more than happy to take charge of the leg-breaking task. In fact, many primary schools have the children color their own cutouts of “Old Lent” in class.
There’s even a song the kids are supposed to sing each time they break off one of her legs. It goes like this:
Vella Quaresma, Vella Quaresma, Old Lent, Old Lent,Ai! Que no pot caminar. Oh! She cannot walk.Té moltes cames i s’entrebanca; She has many legs and they tangle up;entre tots, l’hem d’ajudar. amongst us all, we have to help her.És que n’hi hem de treure una, We have to take one,Una, una, una, una… One, one, one, one…És que n’hi hem de treure una, We have to take one,
perquè pugui caminar. So that she can walk.
Whether you decide to put up your own Vella Quaresma at home or not, at least you can now appreciate why she hangs around for so long.
By EMILY BENSON
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