Masked Horsemen Charging Through the Raging Inferno of Spain’s Festival of Fire

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Caballito_del_diablo_San_bartolomé_de_PinaresPhoto:
Photo: Hans & Gret All pictures used with the permission of their photographers

Every year, visitors to the small Spanish town of San Bartolome de Pinares could be forgiven for thinking the Horsemen of the Apocalypse have ridden into town. On January 16, La fiesta de las Luminarias flares into life – a blazing spectacle in which men and women ride horses, mules and donkeys through piles of burning tree branches with apparent disregard for the safety of themselves and their steeds.

From the fires of… Sparks fly as a rider thunders through the flames
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Photo: declemente

Yet beyond the flames, and despite any diabolical overtones, these scorching celebrations are actually held in honour of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals, and festival organisers insist neither man nor beast come to harm. On the contrary, according to custom the fire and smoke is meant to purify and protect the animals of this remote Spanish village, which are first blessed by a priest with holy water.

Fiery steeds: The ceremony is said have purifying effects on the animals
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Photo: Pablo Álvarez

The fiery fiesta of San Bartolome de Pinares coincides with the eve of the Feast of Saint Anthony. As dusk settles on this sacred day, bonfires placed around the village burst into flame and the night air becomes thick with wood smoke. The anticipation rises, and soon the streets echo with the sound of hooves on stone, as revellers leap through and over the raging fires while embers spray in all directions.

Apocalyptic scene: Another mounted horse emerges from a blaze
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Photo: Pablo Álvarez

With every jump landed by the fearless riders and their even more courageous horses, the sound of drums and Spanish bagpipes grows louder, reaching a crescendo before midnight when the riding comes to a halt. Even then, however, the festivities persist until dawn, when the bonfires are turned into huge barbecues on which a delicious traditional feast of black pudding and chorizo sausages is cooked.

Streets on fire: A bonfire of branches is set ablaze
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Photo: Pablo Álvarez

This seemingly strange but totally unique tradition dates back some 500 years. During the days leading up to the event, villagers gather up branches as they have done for centuries in preparation for building the festival pyres.

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Photo: Pablo Álvarez

Celebrated by locals to this day, the ceremony is said to ensure the equine creatures are safeguarded during the coming year – though how exactly is unclear. Animal rights groups may take a dim view of it all, but in a country where bullfighting is part of the national culture, the fire festival of San Bartolome de Pinares seems comparatively tame.

Sources: 1, 2

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