MEDINACELI, Spain – Local authorities of the central Spanish city of Medinaceli had to deploy a sizable security operation to avoid animal rights groups from disrupting an annual festival in which flaming balls of wax are attached to a bull’s head, officials said on Sunday.
The Toro Jubilo fiesta took place in the early hours of Sunday before some 3,000 cheering fans, although a Civil Guard presence had been deployed to keep at least two protest groups at bay as the terrified ornery animal ran in a square with flames rising from its head.
Felipe Utrilla, the mayor of Medinaceli, told EFE that the tradition was deeply rooted in his city and that “by sticking to the rules, I think we can keep celebrating it. I think that we will be able to perpetuate it.”
The regional government of Castilla y Leon, which in medieval times had been two kingdoms, has banned “Toro de la Vega,” a particularly savage festival in which a bull is speared to death, but have ruled that Toro Jubilo can continue to be held annually.
“We have to comply with regulations, which we have been able to adapt to,” said Utrilla.
The regional government declared on Sept. 18, 2002, that the fiesta be deemed of cultural and historical importance seeing as how there was documentary evidence that the celebration could be traced back to the 16th century (1568 and 1598).
“Its uniqueness consists of releasing a steer whose horns have been blunted and on whose head a framework with wax balls is placed, after which the animal is muddied, the balls are lit and the beast is released into an enclosure provided for this purpose in the city’s main square or Plaza Mayor,” says the decree allowing the feast to take place.
This tradition has been celebrated without interruption since the 18th century, local historians say.
Before that date, there is evidence it was celebrated in honor of illustrious visitors or important events such as on Dec. 29, 1599 when King Felipe III and his wife visited.
At a quarter to midnight, one of the attendants cut the rope that tethered the bull’s head to a wooden post and allowed the animal to race around with fire rising above its head.
This year, the bull, named “Ladron,” weighed in at 550 kilograms (1,213 pounds) and more than 100 members of the security forces and police were used to cordon off access to the Plaza Mayor, with specially arranged positions set up to accredit the 3,000 people who had been allowed to attend the Jubilo bull.