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javeamigos.com | SAN SEBASTIAN

 javeamigos.com | JAVEA FIESTAS - SAN SEBASTIAN

For many years the fiesta of San Sebastián has passed by barely noticeable by much of the population of Jávea and it is only the re-introduction of the controversial running of the bulls around the very heart of the historic centre in 2012 that has hauled it back into the conciousness of many people. Yet the fiesta should be one of the most important in the town's calendar for it is San Sebastián who is the patron saint of Jávea, the protector of its people, rather than the likes of San Juan in June, San Jaime in July or even the image of Jesús Nazareno in the spring. It has been through the efforts of a handful of determined adherents that the celebrations on January 20th have been kept alive through a special mass and a couple of modest parades to honour the two niches in which the arrow-pieced image of the saint gazes over the town. The bull-running may be staged in his honour but how many of those who take part or watch from the safety of the metal cages know that?

It is unclear when San Sebastián became the patron saint of Jávea but it is almost certainly since medieval times when the village was facing the horror of the ‘Black Death’ that was devastating the population of Europe. It is said that the terrified population likened the random nature of infection to being shot by an army of nature’s archers and thus they sought salvation from a saint associated with archers. They prayed to San Sebastián for special protection and it was through their devotion (or maybe it was just coincidence) that the village was saved from illness.

San Sebastián was almost forgotten when the image of Jesús Nazareno arrived in the mid-16th Century and supposedly protected the village from an outbreak of cholera. (The festivities honouring the Nazarene began in 1856 and continue to this day, starting in late April.) However the memory of San Sebastián was maintained by the devoted few and until very recently, his day was celebrated on January 20th with a simple parade to honour his image and a special mass. In 2012, on the occasion of Jávea 400th anniversary of being awarded the title of 'Villa Real' by Felipe III, Jávea revived the celebrations of its patron saint with, amongst other events, the running of the bulls in the centre of town. The event proved so popular that it has remained.

Since he was shot with arrows, his image is often depicted with arrows piercing his chest. There are two shrines remaining in town located close to where the old gatehouses used to be, protecting the village from disease, one in Calle San Sebastian behind the Correos and a second close to the bottom of Calle Major.

San Sebastián was a Christian saint and martyr who was executed by Roman emperor Diocletian during the persecution of Christians in the 3rd Century CE. According to legend, he was born in Narbonne, Gaul in c.256 CE to a wealthy Roman family and was brought up and educated in Mediolanum, ancient Milan. In c.283 CE, despite his growing devotion to the Christian faith, he took a commission in the army of Imperial Rome, a position from which he believed he might be able to covertly encourage conversion to Christianity.

According to tradition, Sebastián convinced imprisoned deacons Marcus and Marcellian not to abandon their faith and went about converting a number of others, including the son of the local prefect. It is said that his enthusiasm for conversion resulted in the wife of Nicrostratus, another local official, regaining her speech after six years as a deaf mute as soon as she made known her desire to convert and 78 people were instantly convinced to adopt the Christian faith.

Sebastián was appointed as a captain of the Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximim, who were both initially unaware that he was a Christian. Diocletian, who embarked on one of the most severe persecutions of Christians in the Roman era, soon accused Sebastián of betrayal and he commanded that he be led to a field and tied to a stake before being shot in the chest by arrows from Mauritanian archers and left to die. However, when Irene of Rome, the widow of Saint Castulus, went to retrieve the body, she discovered that the arrows hadn’t killed him so she took him back to her house in Rome and nursed him back to health. Once recovered, Sebastián stood on a step and castigated Diocletian as he passed by on his litter; the emperor responded by having him beaten to death with clubs and his battered body thrown into the sewer. San Sebastián was martyred in c.288 CE. He became the patron saint for archers, athletes (because of his physical endurance) and soldiers (because of his determination to defend Christian confessors) whilst he is also appealed to for protection against plagues. And it is here that the link is made with Jávea.

javeamigos.com | JAVEA FIESTAS - SAN SEBASTIAN

The fiesta of San Sebastian has made a resurgence in recent years. Prior to 2012, it was marked only by a couple of modest parades of a dozen or so adherents and the decoration of the niches in Carrer Mayor and Calle San Sebastián. Since 2012, it has become a popular feature of the fiesta programme in Xŕbia, although its main offering does split opinion more than any other event.

Not long after San Antonio Abad, large metal cages begin to appear right in the heart of the historic centre. These cages mark the arrival of the first 'taurino' event of the year, the bull-running around the church in honour of San Sebastian. The cages provide protection; not so long ago, protection amounted to little more than a bamboo cane shield, a modification of the 'cańizos' that were traditionally used to dry grapes for the raisin industry that once flourished in this part of Spain. The cages have strict guidelines - the space between the bars cannot be more than a maximum size (although bulls and cows have been known to work out how to get into the cage with subtle twists of their heads) and children are not allowed inside them, not so much for the minute possibility that an animal could get in but more because of the rapid entry of those showing off their bravado in the square; many injuries come from those inside the cage who are not paying attention to what's happening in the square and ending up on the wrong side of a shoulder barge as a runner pushes their way to safety.

Bar Imperial is a popular place to meet, not only because it's right on the Plaça del Baix, the lower half of the arena. It also has a CCTV system so that one can watch the action from the comfort of a bar stool and the atmosphere can wonderful during the running. The other bars around the centre of town have plenty of atmosphere and fun but Bar Imperial seems to have that certain charm that is hard to avoid.

There are several runs during the weekend, including one for the younger members of the community although the horns are attached to a wheeled chariot rather than a large and heavy animal. Loud pounding music accompanies the running, the bars in the vicinity are full and quite often people don't even see the horns, taking advantage of the event to catch up with their mates or socialise with their neighbours. Some Sant Joan peńas open their doors, another excuse for friends to come together and enjoy a few drinks and dinner. The nearby La Llum nightclub, just a few metres from the action, often runs special themed nights with music and dancing into the early hours.

Of course, the fiesta honours San Sebastian and there is a special parade on the day itself - January 20th - visits the two decorated niches to make an offering of flowers whilst a special mass takes place inside the old church of San Bartolomé. A full programme is normally available a couple of weeks before the fiesta and for 2016 the commission promises a bit more and the fiesta of San Sebastian begins to make its mark once again.


javeamigos.com | BESIDES THE SEA