La Endiablada - Prologue

La Endiablada - Prologue

La Endiablada, which roughly translates as “The Brotherhood of the Devils” is one of those traditions that remains unforgettable once you have witnessed it. It is an impressive yet curious display of dancing, colours, crazy costumes and incredible noise involving the entire community.

 

This unique tradition has survived through the centuries and is held each year in the town of Almonacid del Marquesado. The legend behind it has been passed down orally  for generations yet like all all the greatest legends, there is more than one myth that claims to be the source of these peculiar rituals and events. The sources range from the Celts, the Christian Middle Ages and the Romans.  Ultimately,  it is believed that all of these cultures left their mark in some way and add up to create the so called “devil rituals” that continue to open up a window to the past.

 

The Legend

La Endiablada - The Legend

The origins of La Endiablada and the “diablos” that dance around the streets of the village have been passed down orally for as long as anyone can remember. The funny thing is that there are two completely different explanations as to why they are dancing so noisily and these relate to the two main festivals, Candelaria and San Blas. 

 

Candelaria, refers to the Jewish protocol, in which the Virgin Mary had to present her new baby, Jesus, to the temple, forty days after his birth. In the Catholic calendar this took place at some point between 25 December and 2 February. In the Catholic teachings, it is said that this action caused the Virgin Mary great anxiety and shame because of the public knowledge of the unusual circumstances of Jesus’s birth.

 

The connection with the “diablos” of La Endiablada with their crude, outlandish costumes and their noisy bells are that they are said to be trying to divert the public’s attention so that the Virgin Mary could fulfil her obligation and be protected from suffering such embarrassment and shame.

 

The connection of the dancing "diablos" to San Blas has another explanation. Here, we must go to a place near Almonacid that could be either Majanares, San Clemente or the abandoned Fuente Vieja which is located between Almonacid and the village of Puebla de Almenara. According to the legend, a shepherd found a buried image of San Blas near Almonacid. The people of Almonacid knew that their neighbours in Puebla de Almenara had already claimed the saint for themselves and so began a competition between the neighbouring villages over who had the true right to claim the saint as their own. The neighbouring village tried to steal back the image of the saint using powerful oxen but they were unable to move the image. The people of Almonacid had only taken a few emaciated mules and could not possibly compete with the Oxen but were amazed to see the oxen, instead of doing what they were meant to, calmly trotting towards them instead of helping their rivals. This was interpreted as a miraculous event and understood to be a sign that the saint was meant to stay in Almonacid. As a sign of their joy the shepherds rang the bells of their cattle so giving La Endiablada their famous cowbells.

 

As the legend goes, the shepherd who found the image in the soil attempted to clean it but had only brandy with him to wash it with, a fact that is also remembered and incorporated into the annual tradition of the washing of the saint, that takes place on the afternoon of the 2 February.  

 

It should be noted that the former story is merely an explanation to make sense of the strange dance of the "diablos" while the second story contains much more specific details in terms of events and dates and the beginning of the cult of San Blas. The story of the rivalry between the two villages over the rights to San Blas seems to make sense in relation to the facts known about the local villages and particularly the decline and abandonment of a nearby village. Perhaps the habitants of Fuente de Domingo Pérez were forced to leave their village and their homes yet maybe they chose to carry their devotion of San Blas with them, to Almonacid and Puebla de Almenara.

 

For sure, we know that the devotion to San Blas in the village of Puebla de Almenara has continued to exist to the present day and still, many people from this neighbouring village come to Almonacid on 3 February each year.

 

The History

La Endiablada - The History

It is impossible to identify with certainty the origins of La Endiablada. What is known for sure is that it is connected to two distinct and successive events in the Roman Catholic calendar. The first is the Christian festival of Candelaria, which takes place on 2 February. The second is the feast of San Blas, the town’s patron saint, which takes place the following day on 3 February.

  

The tradition incorporates and combines elements of early Christian celebration with rituals from the pagan world that existed before it. Indeed, references to the Celtic world in the area of Almonacid go back as far back as the first millenium. We know that ceramic remains from the early iron age were discovered around the town to support the claim of a Celtic influence and furthermore, Almonacid is known to have continued with other Celtic traditions such as the Tree of May and until recent times, the ritual sacrifice of roosters in honour of St Anthony. Another particular Celtic festival of relevance is the festival of Imbolc, held on the 1 February, in honour of the goddess Briganti. This involved the ritual of making a sacred fire in order to purify the earth following the emergence of the spring sun after winter. This was seen as a way of protecting the lives of animals born in spring.

 

The Celtic theme continued with the annual Roman festival, Lupercalia, the god of shepherds, which is celebrated on 15 February. On this day, certain citizens were chosen to sacrifice animals, the skins of which were then worn by women believing it would purify them and ensure fertility.  We know that the people of Almonacid, in Roman times, were under the control of Segobriga so the early Lupercal festival is certainly historically possible. We can also collect evidence from the early twentieth century describing the use of animal skins and also the use of bells (incorporated into the costumes) that are associated with the protection of the shepherds.

 

 The “Lupercalians” were later made to convert to Christianity by Pope Gelasius  in the year 494 following the banning of pagan celebrations. The latter were then transformed into religious processions praying for fertility and protection from death.   From this point it would seem logical that the more ancient pagan traditions disappeared to make way for Christian ones. However, it is a fact that many current traditions still contain pagan elements to a greater or lesser extent. It is very possible that such deeply rooted pagan celebrations were maintained but given new meaning within the Christian context.

 

San Blas is a central figure to our festival yet we know little about his link to Almonacid and oral history is confused and unreliable.  We know from the Middle Ages onwards, the figure of San Blas in general became more popular in the locality, particularly in the twelth and thirteenth centuries.  We know for instance,  there was once a deserted area west of the modern town, then named Almonacid de San Clemente, the latter being the patron saint of the local church. However, it is clear that this was not the village of Almonacid as we know it today but instead the ancient village of Fuente de Domingo Perez, that belonged to the Lord of Villena. Medieval documents confirm its existance between the thirteenth and fifteenth century.

 

It is thought therefore that the legend attributed to San Blas linking him to Almonacid, is possibly a transfer of stories and traditions from another nearby town that was later abandoned. In this context, we cannot rule out a dispute over the source and possession of the image, with the neighbouring village. Indeed, this neighbouring village, Puebla de Almenara, still observes a tradition based on the washing and restoration of the image of San Blas, on 2 February.

 

It is therefore, first in Puebla de Almenara, we can begin to find specific dates for the start of celebrations relating to San Blas. In 1332, the village was officially established and named in a London charter granted by Don Juan Manuel, Lord of Villena and Alarcon. Prior to this,  the legend of San Blas in Almonacid  makes no sense because it did not exist.  We can only assign the cult of San Blas in Almonacid to around the beginning of the fifteenth century.

 

It is thought that the unifying of the celebration of the Christian Candlemas with the pagan rituals and the legend of San Blas happened in the Middle Ages. However it is more complicated to understand how and why the "diablos" -devils- became incorporated into the festival.

 

There are several possible explanations for the costumes of the devil-like dancers and the introduction of their dancing as part of the festival but we are unable to say for sure which is accurate. For example, the inclusion of the club is thought to be a survival of the Celtic custom of skewering the heads of enemies on to their spears, yet it has also been claimed the club comes from the quiet figure of the shepherd who carried it when they watched over their animals. Similarly, the cowbells worn by the dancing devils may have originated in pre-Roman communities or it could be a reference to the Roman god of shepherds, Luperco or even in honour of the ancient guilds of mediaval shepherds. 

 

Ultimately we can apply many different interpretations to the reasons for the specific elements of La Endiablada both how they look, what they wer and what they do. A recently discovered document finally gives us some reliable, factual information on which we can rely  to trace the historical basis of La Endabliada.   The document was miraculously preserved in the municipal archives of Almonacid despite the rest of the archives being lost in a fire during the Spanish Civil War.

 

The document refers to “comedies, sermons and dancing” taking place in Almonacid during the feast of San Blas, in 1633. The archive also makes reference to the small parish church being full of local people wanting to hear the sermon. There are clear references to different types of dances and dancers, that appear to correspond to their depictions of devil-like creatures, in some way. In contrast, the comedies incorporate an old popular tradition of relaying the stories of the sacred “mystery” plays which were recited after mass, in honour of both San Blas and Candelaria.

 

For more information

 

CALVO, Luis: “La endiablada de Almonacid”. Olcades. Temas de Cuenca. Volumen I. Ediciones Olcades. Cuenca, 1981.

 

CARO BAROJA, Julio: “Los «diablos», de Almonacid del Marquesado”. Revista de Dialectología y Tradiciones Populares, Tomo XXI, 1965, Cuadernos 1º y 2º. Madrid 1965.

 

DÍEZ ASCASO, Olga: “Los Diablos de Almonacid del Marquesado: un estudio 40 años después”. Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha y Ayuntamiento de Almonacid del Marquesado. Cuenca, 2006.

 

GARCÍA MARTÍN, Pedro: “Cencerros y diablos en Almonacid del Marquesado”. Historia 16, nº117, enero 1986.

 

JUNQUERA RUBIO, Carlos: “La Endiablada de Almonacid del Marquesado (Cuenca): identidad e integración social en La Mancha Ata”. Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha y Ayuntamiento de Almonacid del Marquesado. Cuenca, 2006.

 

MALABIA, Vicente: “La danza de David ante el arca. Orígenes religiosos de la danza”. El patrimonio cultural como factor de desarrollo. Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha y Ayuntamiento de Almonacid del Marquesado. Cuenca, 2006.

 


SÁNCHEZ MARTÍNEZ, Julián: Almonacid del Marquesado: recorrido por su historia. Ediciones provinciales nº115. Diputación Provincial de Cuenca, 2011.

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