There are lots of festivities in Spain that honor a village or city’s patron saint, but few of them cause an outcry from animal rights activists.
However, the goat throwing festival, which took place in Manganeses de la Polvorosa for either decades or centuries, depending on who you ask, holds a special place in history because of its yearly festival that saw a goat thrown from a church window.
What is the Goat Throwing Festival in Spain?
The Goat Throwing Festival, or Lanzamiento de Cabra Desde Campanario (literally “Goat launch from bell tower” in Spanish), was a festival centered around goat throwing in Spain.
On the fourth Sunday in January every year, a group of young men clad in the region’s traditional dress would bring a live goat to the top of the church bell tower and throw it off towards the people waiting below. The crowd would then catch the animal using a canvas sheet or blanket.
If the animal lived, it became a local legend, and townspeople would carry it through the town in a parade. However, if it died, the people below set it aside and continued with their fiesta (party) in honor of Saint Vincent.
The celebrations only took place in one village, Manganeses de la Polvorosa, a municipality of only about 800 people.
Where Did the Tradition Originate?
No one knows where the curious custom originated, but there are quite a few legends surrounding the tradition.
One local legend claims that a priest donated goat’s milk to the town’s poor villagers (some sources say it was just one needy family), and, later on, the goat fell from the bell tower but landed safely on the ground. Others say that the villagers miraculously saved the goat from falling to its death.
A similar story says that the priest owned a very special goat who could feed all of the town’s poor with its milk. And, of course, it fell from the tower and lived.
Another version claims that a goat snuck inside the church to eat, but it then fell from the tall belfry when Saint Vincent tried to grab it. Somehow, though, the animal survived and walked away unhurt.
Yet another report says that the bells for Sunday mass scared the animal and caused it to jump.
To add to the confusion, people can’t even say when the supposed event took place, and certain stories date the legend to the 18th century, while one version says it happened as little as 30 years ago.
But, however, the story of the falling goat came to be, it is undoubtedly a famous event in the small village, whether it actually happened or not.
When Did The Goat Throwing Event End?
It is not clear when the strangest part of this annual festival came to an end, but officials did ban the practice in 2000.
Overall, the custom began to die out in the 1990s when animal rights groups caught wind of the event taking place in the tiny Spanish village.
Opponents of the fiesta argued that the act was inhumane and cited that several goats had died over the years from the practice. They also said that even if the animal lived, the act of being thrown out of a church tower had traumatized it.
Others, including many villagers, believed that outsiders should not meddle with tradition. In fact, some maintained this idea so sternly that they attacked police and journalists who came to Manganeses de la Polvorosa to question the event.
Townspeople also argue that the goat throw is a rite of passage since it is the boys who have recently turned 18 who throw the animal.
Yet, the animal activists have won the war, so residents have been attempting other ways to simulate the event, so they don’t have to use a live goat. For instance, they have tried to lower the animal to the crowd below, and they have tried to catch a toy animal in the canvas sheet or blanket, but these substitutes aren’t as popular.
Lanzamiento de Cabra Desde Campanario is a prime example of what happens when outdated traditions meet with modern society. Although the throwing of animals has more or less disappeared, the Lanzamiento de Cabra again showed the world that the old ways wouldn’t go easy.