Vetla des Be – Vigil of the Lamb

It is tradition to pass by the house to see the ram on Saturday night the week before Sant Joan.

Es Be Sant Joan Ciutadella de Menorca

The Lamb under Vigil

The prologue for the feast of Sant John (Festa de Sant Joan) occurs the Sunday before the date of the 24th of June – which is the actual feast day and official fiesta. On the Sunday before, known as the Sunday of the Lamb (Diumenge des Be), a man selected as the living representation of Saint John the Baptist dressed in two sheepskins, a headdress with bare feet and hands, carrying a live lamb on his shoulders, walks the streets of Ciutadella visiting selected houses. He is accompanied by an assistant to load and unload the lamb from his shoulders in the homes he visits, and the official Committee of Horse riders. However before this Sunday, comes the night before, the Saturday previous to the 24th June known as the Vigil of the Lamb.  To explain the significance of this occasion, it is necessary to explain the significance of the lamb itself, how it is chosen for this special role in the town’s celebrations and why this tradition has been maintained for so many years.

The man and the lamb symbolize the religious origin of the fiesta, which, whilst has so many other facets to it, is still the heart of the fiesta itself. The man and the lamb are chosen from the family of one of the horsemen on the official committee, the Caixer Pages. It is a role that is very much respected not only for the honour, but for the strength required to last the long day barefoot, in real sheepskins in the sweltering summer heat and with a live animal on your shoulders.

The lamb is chosen from a preselected group of 4 – 5 rams specially cared for since the beginning of the year. The final selection is made during the month of May and must meet three conditions: be male with curved horns, be a twin (in case it needs to be replaced) and have the highest quality wool. Once selected the extensive process of washing the lamb takes place over several days before the Sunday at the farm of the Caixer Pages, until the lamb is very clean, beautiful and fluffy!

Of course, after so much work, on the night before the 24th, the lamb must be watched constantly so that it does not dirty itself and so this festive vigil takes place in the home of the Caixer Pages. This vigil serves a double purpose, as the ram is not only kept clean, but from so much activity and being awake all night it is exhausted the next day and much easier to handle.

Over the years the vigil has gained popularity with the locals, and now it is a town tradition to pass by the house to see the lamb which is usually kept in an elevated pen within the open garage or window of the house for all to see.

Neighbours in surrounding streets to the house with the lamb traditionally open up either their garages or homes, decorating them in Sant Joan adornments and invite friends and family to join in the street party. It’s a fantastic atmosphere. As the family with the lamb changes each year, every year new neighbours have the opportunity to host the street party and open their homes to their loved ones.

The result of this old tradition, is that the prologue to the fiesta is a street party that spans the whole surrounding block and gets everyone in the spirit for the week to come and prepared for the next day, Diumenge des Be


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