La Ofrenda – Constructing a Flower Dress for Valencia’s Virgen de los Desamparados
Let’s get the most frequently asked question about La Ofrenda out of the way first: are they going to burn Valencia’s Virgen de los Desamparados on the day of the Cremà? The answer is NO! It’s a reasonable question, since hundreds of other figures are burned to embers on March 19th, but this doesn’t actually include the holy figure of the Virgin. Instead, the finished figure is allowed to stand for couple of days after Fallas, so everyone can admire her dress of flowers. After that, they deconstruct her respectfully, and store the frame until next year.
Fallas was not originally a religious event, but in the year 1941 someone left a bouquet of flowers for the Virgin de los Desamparados, inside the basilica. Others noticed and, not wanting to be “out-righteoused”, followed suit. The act of bringing flowers to the Virgin eventually became so popular that eventually, in the 1970s, this flower offering was officially converted into a full-blown two day event during Fallas.
During the Ofrenda, some streets in Valencia are practically turned into a catwalk. The Falleras march toward the Virgin in beautiful dresses, with their hair all done up, adorned with expensive jewelry. The flower offering is their time to shine and although it’s hard to stand out among 100,000 other participants, each woman does her best. The cost of the Fallera outfit starts from around €1500 and can go up to €25,000. Now do the math: the Ofrenda has a huge impact to the local economy, and it’s not surprising that so many shops which only specialize in Fallera attire can survive. Also, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of flower bouquets which are delivered annually to the Plaza del Virgen.
The logistics behind the the parade are overwhelming, with marching bands to the left and the right, along with the sheer distance the Falleras must walk. And overcome by both exhaustion and emotion, many of them can’t help themselves after finally arriving at the plaza and seeing the statue of the Virgin. It is a beautiful sight, this massive Virgin adorned in flowers, and the ladies can’t hold back the floodgates — some just have a couple brave tears streaming down their cheeks, but others are really sobbing. And it’s hard not to suspect that many of them are just acting for the cameras.
Whether you are religious or not, La Ofrenda is a special event, filling the street with a festive vibe: the music, the dresses, the flowers, the tears. And the Virgin, in her dress of flowers, is a sight you’ll never forget.