Zamarramala viewed from the gardens of the Alcazar of Segovia in 2010
13 February 1987
By Conchita Burman
If you think that Women’s Lib is something new to Spain and that the nation has always been dominated by males, remember Zamarramala, a tiny village lying to the west of the Alcázar of Segovia, with a winding road climbing up to the village square.
On February 5, 6, and 7 the pueblo celebrates the Fiestas de Santa Agueda, patron saint of the village. Because of the originality of the fiestas, the Spanish Ministry of tourism has declared them of “Touristic Interest”. The Fiestas de Santa Agueda, or “de las Alcaldesas” are amongst the first celebrated during the year in a calendar full of fiestas.
Each year two women (to show that women can agree) are elected as Alcaldesas in charge of the pueblo for the following year’s celebration. The afternoon before the Day of Santa Agueda on February 5, the Alcaldesas dress in their colorful and traditional costumes dating from the 12th century, with manila shawls, velvet mantillas and carrying the baton of authority. They then invite the village married women, also dressed in their ancient peasant costumes, to attend the religious ceremonies, called vísperas, in the church.
The following day, the 6th, is the big day of the fiestas. The Alcaldesas make their way to the rectory preceded by a drummer and flute player and the village priest accompanies them to the church which officially commences the Santa Agueda procession.
The village procession winds through the streets of Zamarramala and finally returns to the church where a Mass takes place attended by all the villagers. On terminating the religious ceremony, two new Alcaldesas are elected for the following year, and the two outgoing officials go to the homes of incoming Alcaldesas giving official notice of the election returns.
A banquet then takes place in which the priest is the only male participant. After wining and dining, everyone dances the traditional jota castillana, finishing the day with the baile de la rueda in the streets to the enjoyment of visitors and villagers alike.
Zamarramala, though a small village, conserves in its 17th Century church built by Pedro de Brizuela, a fragment of the True Cross mounted in a beautiful Gothic (13th Century) cross which was presented by Pope Honorious III in the yeat 1224.
Santa Agueda, born in 230 A.D. in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, was the beautiful daughter of a noble, Christian family and educated in a local convent where she took the vow of chastity. Quinciano, the governor of Sicily, fell in love with her, but she did not respond and so the official, using his powers, had her taken to a house of prostitution where she continued to resist all advances. The girl was then given the choice of abandoning her religion, or submitting to the desires of the governor. She did not want either and was put to torture. Miraculously, St. Peter appeared and cured her wounds. The governor then ordered her martyred over red hot coals. Just at the crucial moment an earthquake struck Palermo and killed her two tormentors. Apparently the official was unmoved by what the villagers termed a miracle and he ordered the girl put to death on February 4. The Church later declared her a saint.
Santa Agueda is venerated in Sicily and Malta. On the former island when Mt. Etna might erupt, the Sicilians traditionally flock to the church and pray to Santa Agueda for safety. With Californians’ growing fear of earthquake, they might learn something from the old country.
Santa Agueda in her fight for liberty might be considered an early exponent of women’s rights. The small village of Zamarramala for a couple of days in February follows her example. It is a unique Spanish celebration in a nation full of tradition.
According to local historian José Antonio Flores Valero, the origin of the Fiesta de las Alcaldesas dates from the time when the Alcázar of Segovia was conquered by the Moors and all the men of the city including of Zamarramala were taken prisoners. The women of that tiny village, dressed as male soldiers, fought to recover the Alcázar and rescue their husbands.
Zamarramala at present
Featured image/Wamba Wambez, CC BY-SA3.0
Poster of the Fiesta of Santa Agueda, Fair use
Road to Zamarramala/ Barcex, CC BY-SA3.0