Las Luminarias festival kicks off in Spain as people ride horses through fire

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A man rides a horse through a bonfire during the traditional ritual in honor of San Antonio Abad (Saint Anthony the Abbot), patron saint of domestic animals. Photo/Getty

Spain is known for its wild festivals, but Las Luminarias, a flame-fueled celebration, might just take the cake.

Every year, in the village of San Bartolomé de Pinares, in the central Spanish province of Avila, locals honor San Antonio Abad (Saint Anthony).

Saint Anthony is the patron saint of animals and locals celebrate him during the traditional festival of Las Luminarias.

On the eve of the festival, dozens of locals ride horses through bonfires to honor the saint.

The tradition, believed to be over 500 years old, is believed to purify and protect the animal for the coming year.

The horse’s tail is taped with the colors of the Spanish flag and his mane is braided to protect his hair from the fire.

This is not the only festival involving animals in Spain.

In 2021, shocking images of horses being manhandled during a traditional Spanish event known as the shearing of the beasts were published.

'Aloitadores' (fighters) wrestle and cut the mane of a wild horse during the 'Rapa Das Bestas' (shearing of the beasts).  Photo/Getty
‘Aloitadores’ (fighters) wrestle and cut the mane of a wild horse during the ‘Rapa Das Bestas’ (shearing of the beasts). Photo/Getty

The photographs, taken on August 29 last year in the northwest village of Sabucedo, 40 km from Santiago de Compostela, showed dozens of animals beaten to the ground and with their manes trimmed .

The more than 400-year-old tradition sees men, young and old, herding hundreds of wild horses from the nearby countryside into an arena known as a ‘curro’.

According to various travel blogs, the young foals are then separated from the adult horses, which are jumped on by the “aloitadores” and forced into submission so that their hair can be cut.

They are then reunited with the foals and released into the mountains. Knocking down a foal would be considered a rite of passage for young Spaniards.

And of course there is the iconic San Fermin, the Running of the Bulls festival, in Pamplona every year.

The nine-day San Fermin Festival, which dates back to medieval times, features concerts, religious processions, folk dancing and 24-hour drinking.

But the climax is a daily test of courage against a thunderous pack of half-ton bulls with sharp horns.

Spain has a long history of bull and horse fighting for sport.  Photo / 123rf
Spain has a long history of bull and horse fighting for sport. Photo / 123rf

Each morning, hundreds of runners (many dressed in white with scarves and red sashes) test their mettle by sprinting with six half-ton bulls along an 850-meter course through the narrow streets of the city in northern Spain.

The most daring try to run as long as possible just in front of the horns of the animals before turning aside or diving under the wooden barriers which separate the bulls and the runners from the thousands of spectators who line the course.

In 2019, two Australians aged 27 and 30 were gored during the latest bull run.