Did you manage to survive a near death experience during the past year? Well then, congratulation, you’ve earned the privilege of being placed in a coffin and paraded through the streets of Las Nieves, as part of a festival called La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme.
The small town of Las Nieves is located in the isolated northwest part of Spain called Galicia, where pagan rites have been a part of local culture since anyone can remember. Although it has tried very hard over the centuries, the Catholic Church has never been able to fully integrate their teachings here, and witches or evil spirits still exist in people’s spiritual beliefs. La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme is one of the Church’s attempts to adapt its dogma to the region’s more primitive beliefs, a sort of “Catholicism meets Paganism” type of event which has often been labeled as one of the most outrageous religious pilgrimages in the world. The unique event that takes place every year on July 29 celebrates those who have managed to cheat death in the previous 12 months by placing them in coffins and parading them through the town, and honors Saint Marta de Ribarteme, the patron of resurrection.
Photo: Teresa la Loba
As you can imagine, this unique event draws quite a crowd, so on the day of the festival the streets of Las Nieves are packed with thousands of believers and gawkers. At around 10 am, the coffins carrying the lucky almost-dead start to arrive at the local church, carried by solemnly-dressed relatives of the lucky ones. People who don’t have any family can also attend the macabre ceremony, but they have to carry their own coffins. A special mass starts around noon and is broadcast outside the church via loudspeakers, so the crowd can listen as well. When the mass is over, the church bells start to ring and the coffins carrying the dead-looking lucky survivors are carried uphill to the town cemetery and then brought back to circle a few times around the church. As a larges statue of Santa Marta de Ribarteme is taken out of the church and paraded around with the coffins, the crowd starts chanting “Virgin Santa Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death”.
Photo: Alberto Varela
Once the bizarre coffin-carrying part of the festivities comes to an end, the almost-dead rise and start telling people about their extraordinary near-death experiences. Than everyone dances the night away and celebrates life.
video in Spanish