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How the feast of St. Fermin led to the annual “running of the bulls”

RUNNING OF THE BULLS
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St. Fermin of Amiens is one of the reasons why Spaniards annually rush through the streets of Pamplona.

For centuries residents of Pamplona, Spain, have hosted an annual “running of the bulls,” where daredevils race down the streets to avoid being trampled by a small herd of bulls. While the event has its practical origins, it also is closely associated with the week-long festival of St. Fermin.

St. Fermin is a legendary bishop and martyr who preached in the city of Amiens, France, during the 3rd century. This was during the Roman persecutions of Christians by the emperors Decius and Diocletian. Little is known about Fermin’s life, and many believe his existence is questionable. Regardless, various miracles were attributed to the finding of his relics, and some of these relics were transferred to Pamplona in 1196.

His feast is normally celebrated on September 25, but in Pamplona it was moved to July 7. A week-long festival was quickly established and activities were developed for each day.

The primary connection between St. Fermin and bulls is the story of his martyrdom. According to some traditions, St. Fermin was tied to a bull and dragged by his feet through the city until he died.

This connection was further cemented by the fact that farmers would transport their bulls to market in July and often needed a quicker way to do it. They eventually tried to coax the bulls into running and it soon became a contest, seeing who could reach their stalls first. A bullfight was added to the festivities and is now hosted after the race through the streets.

Contestants in the race sing a brief hymn to St. Fermin both before and during the race, asking for his intercession and protection. The words are roughly translated as, “We ask St. Fermin, as our Patron, to guide us through the bull-run and give us his blessing.”

Even the traditional garb for the festival, white with a red bandana, is meant to recall the martyrdom of St. Fermin.

While many of the festivities of St. Fermin have become more secular in nature, it all began with a celebration in honor of the 3rd-century bishop.

 

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