A cross and also a legend
On 1 May each year, individuals, friends and entire families walk along the paths which join Marbella with the Pico del Juanar, to the place upon which a cross has stood for more than two centuries. It is a cross with an interesting history behind it. In fact, the pilgrimage through the rugged hills of the Sierra Blanca to Juanar is one of the most deep-rooted traditions of the western Costa del Sol. But when did it start? And why?
The older folk quote the legend of ‘El Juaná’ (as Juanar used to be known) as the reason. This says that during the mid-18th century, a ship was sailing off Marbella when it was caught up in a major storm. The sailors on board, looking towards the shore and terrified that they would drown, spotted the Pico del Juanar. This was indeed lucky if, as the legend says, the Sierra Blanca was covered in cloud.
Believing this was an omen, the crew commended their souls to heaven and promised to place a cross on the highest point of that mountain and to make an annual pilgrimage there to give thanks if they were saved. Not only did the ship reach the coast intact, but all the crew survived. Sadly, the legend gives no details about the name, size or type of ship, but it does say that the sailors were true to their promise, and that when they went up the mountain they were accompanied en masse by the people of Marbella.
Dolores Navarro, president of the Mujeres en las Veredas womens’ association, which has succeeded in recovering many of the mountain paths, is an authority on the subject. She explains that the original cross was made of wood. When this rotted it was replaced by a metal version in 1900, but that was seriously damaged during the Civil War, in 1936. Nine years later, the symbol was returned to its original location, carried on the backs of mules, in a ceremony which was once again attended by the people of Marbella.
The pilgrimage to Juanar has changed over the years, not only because these days people carry smaller amounts of food than the huge quantities of meat which used to be taken to cook on barbecues (these no longer exist), but also because it is shorter.
“When the pilgrimage first began, they used to leave on 1 May and stay in the countryside for three days and three nights. According to the documentation I have seen, before setting off, people used to rub their shoes and the lower parts of their legs with garlic, to ward off dangerous animals,” says Dolores. Nowadays, the pilgrims go up and come back on the same day, May 1st.
The classic route from Marbella goes up by the Don Miguel hotel, Puerto Rico Bajo, Puente Palo and Puerto Rico Alto to the area where the cross stands. In fact, there are two routes and Andrés Merchán, who regularly takes part, says anyone who is not used to walking in the mountains is better off taking the longest one, because it is practically flat. A third option is to drive up to the Cerro del Juanar on this, the only day of the year that vehicles are permitted, and go up to the peak from there.
Los Romeros de la Cruz
“In recent years the tradition of going up to the Pico del Juanar from Marbella on 1 May has become more popular, so those who who take the path which crosses the Cañada de Puerto Rico from south to north won’t be alone, as they would have been, years ago. Now there is a constant stream of people, from early in the morning,” says the president of the Mujeres en las Veredas association. The short route normally takes about two and a half hours.
The recovery of this tradition is mainly due to the ‘Romeros de la Cruz’, a group of friends from Marbella, including Andrés Merchán, who in the 1980s decided to use their own money to pay for radio and TV advertising and posters to try to encourage people to start making the annual pilgrimage to the cross again. They were assisted by Padre Tejera, a priest who agreed to go with them on 1 May and hold a Mass at the cross. This has now become a classic part of the event.
Dolores Navarro says that all through the year people of faith still go up to the cross to keep a promise they have made, in exactly the same way as those grateful sailors back in the mid-18th century.source surinenglish