It’s the 8th of September and the day of my favourite festival in the Sierra. Its full of horses, mules, donkeys and a wonderful mix of devotion and conviviality. Today is the day where each of the surrounding villages pay homage to the Patron Saint of the Sierra Aracena, La Reina de los Angeles whose hermitage is at the Pena de Arias Montano. This is a beauty spot on a rocky outcrop overlooking the village of Alajar. It is also full of history and the extraordinary story of Arias Montano, a highly learned man of the Renaissance times.
Looking out from the Pena
Let the bullocks have a rest now
Time foe breakfast en route to the Pena.
Although in 1970 this Romeria was given a very public and national status it is truly a very local event. At least nine of the surrounding villages go on a pilgrimage to the hermitage and this includes Seville. All travel on foot, horseback or the lucky ones in a carriage. The Virgin Mary of each local village church is taken by bullocks in beautifully adorned carts. These are paraded in front of the Queen of the Angels at the hermitage. She too is then taken out of her seclusion and shown the beauty of the views.
The hermitage and presentation
Bullock cart with the Virgin Mary
Donkey all dressed up
En route to the Pena from Fuenteheridos.
If you live in or close to one of the villages such as Fuenteheridos and Castano de Robledo this is also the time to meet up with neighbours and share good food and drink. After the religious devotions there is time for picnic and chats. It is a balancing act of cultural traditions, religious devotion and neighbourliness which also seems to honour the natural beauty of the area and rural lives, past and present.
For many it is time to get out the wonderful flamenco dresses, ride your horse, sing songs and enjoy a day out. For me I relish being here as it was the one festival I always had to miss as the school term had begun. I was always given a running commentary about the horses. Perhaps one day I’ll finally get back on a horse and ride up over those hills to the Pena. I might need a little assistance too!
It has been good to have a friend to stay and we have had a busy week. However, one of the main attractions was to see the processions for the Feast of the Kings in Higuera. This procession is said to be the second biggest in Spain. This fact came from a glossy book about all the cabalgata processions in the Sierra Aracena. Each village had their own procession and timing and the Higuera one was the last. Photographs are thanks to Madeleine with her Fuji camera. By chance in the morning we stumbled across the preparation of the floats for the main town Aracena’s procession. It was interesting to see how much work and time was involved and the workshop was near the emporium Mercedes ( a real Aladdin’s cave for the home) .
Here we were very specifically told that the rain which was just beginning would stop at 6 in the evening. God must have been very willing and indeed the downpours came to an end just after 6.
We were able to see our local one in Fuenteheridos, which was lovely and very community based with children on the floats. It started from the local school and ended at the church. We were showered with sweets and footballs. There seems to be a tradition for a float with a windmill. I wonder why?
Onto Higuera, with some good parking advice from a friend in the village, we were able to dive into one of the local museums about the distilling of liquor. There was still time for a free offering of the local chestnut liquor. This warmed us up because now the night was very cold and starry. Orion seemed to be doing a break dance position over the small town of Higuera.
We now realised why this was the second biggest procession in Spain. Gone were the small tractors pulling the beautifully decorated floats and young people of Fuenteheridos. Gone were the bigger tractors and more stylised floats of Aracena. Here in Higuera were the juggernauts of engines with their long trailers. All of the areas big lorries were probably here tonight. And their trailers all dressed up very realistically with scenes from the bible story surrounding the birth of Christ and the the three wise men or kings as the Spanish tells us. Los Reyes Magos. Here we were lucky to see the Guiding Star getting into position. There was a real baby for Jesus, Several brass bands. Fireworks at the start. There was such a stillness in the tableaux as many familiar scenes passed by and some unfamiliar. There was no hiding the horror of Herod and the slaughter of innocent new born babies.
And the cold! How did they all keep so still in the cold January night? My iphone photo of the Angel’s feet is my own symbolic gesture to the devotion and effort which goes into this night. And then the sweets! In the villages the local children are also given presents from the community later on towards the end of the procession.
All through the Sierra Aracena in each of each village or towns there is a distinct tradition for celebrating the arrival of the Three Wise Kings. Here no camel was in sight! The other floats showed scenes based on the Holy Land with goats, wells and sheep. Real ones and all quite still! I am so pleased I have finally been in Spain for Christmas and this time. Have usually had to go back to work by the 5th and 6th of January! I’d certainly recommend it and to wrap up warm. And if you want to be involved don’t offer to be an angel with bare feet!