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
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)
village was saved from illness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 tends to have 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. Another
popular venue is La Verema wine bar is the opposite
corner where the younger or perhaps young at heart tend
to gather to enjoy the atmosphere.
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
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.