By Deke Mills


Hemingway: “It’s a great tragedy and the most beautiful thing I have ever seen”


Navarros and Madrileños trooping into the Church of San Fermin compound

Navarros and Madrileños trooping into the compound of the Church of San Fermin

A large number of  Navarros  who are residents in the capital and its outskirts turned up for the pyrotechnic chupinazo at the entrance to the  Neo-Mudejar  Chuch of  San Fermines de los Navarros. The launching of the rocket kicked off the Fiesta de San Fermines  at midday 0f July 7th, coinciding with Spain’s most global festivity, namely the running of the bulls in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, made popular worldwide by Ernest Hemmingway.

Navarre Folks  garbed in immaculate white attire and red scarves  moved steadily  into the Church compound along with the visitors and journalists  to feast on chistorra, fast cured sausages, and wine from northern Spain. It was a day to revive the customs and traditions of their homeland. Soon typical music from the region invaded the hot summer air of Madrid. Seniors and youngsters joyfully danced whilst toddlers smiled and tried to take a step or two.




Fermin , the son of a Roman senator in Pamplona, embraced Christianity  in the third century. He is said to have converted 3,000 people and eventually died as a martyr on Sept 25 , AD 303. Nevertheless, St. Fermin, who is co-patron of Navarre with  St. Francis Xavier,  did not attain sainthood until the 12th century.

In the Middle Ages masses were celebrated in honour of St. Fermin on October 10th. Fairs were held which ranch owners attended to sell their cattle. The yearly event also gave rise to top entertainment where speeches were heard followed by stunning acrobatic performances. Plays too were staged and whole families gathered around to watch the fireworks.

Sanfermines away from home

Sanfermines away from home. Enjoy!

The origins of the  encierro —  the running of the bulls —  can be traced back to the 14th  century when men would throw themselves in front of the bulls that were being transported to be sold, not only to speed up the process but also to test their manly courage and make the trip to the market that much more exciting.

Since people from other regions turned up in large numbers competitions were subsequently held.  And later on,  the feast was moved from the cold autumn month of October to July the seventh.

Bullfighting according to some scholars originated in Rome. It is said that it came to Hispania when Roman Emperor Claudius decided to put an end to gladiatorial combats. Whereupon, bulls substituted gladiators  in the ring  in Hispania.

Soon bullfighting became very popular. Since there was quite a distance between the corral and the bullring some men in northern Spain racked their brains and came up with a bright idea: stand in front of the ferocious bull and then run for your life!San Fermines poster

Incidentally,  during the fiesta de los sanfermines  the six bulls in the morning’s run are featured in the bullfight on the same day.






“It’s a great tragedy and the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and takes more than guts and skill and guts again,” says Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises when referring to the running of the bulls. In the book which happens to be one of the most translated works in the world a group of bohemians from Paris head to Pamplona in the 1920´s. Apparently Hemingway drew largely on the characters he had met in postwar Paris.  The movie adaptation of The Sun Also Rises released in 1957 starring Tyron Power, Ava Gardner and Mel Ferrer was a box office hit.

Hemingway eventually went on to become not only a great writer but also an expert on toros. In 1925 his then wife Hadley asked for a divorce. Hemingway did not hesitate and was generous enough to write out a check using the money from his royalties. The book had become a bestseller!

Ernest Hemmingway at the Sanfermines in Pamplona in 1925. Photo from the the JFK Library

Ernest Hemmingway at the Sanfermines in Pamplona in 1925. Photo from the JFK Library

Hemingway never missed the fiesta in Pamplona attending all the runs from 1923 to 1959. His larger than life presence in the running of the bulls put Pamplona on the map.


Photos taken by Deke at the Sanfirmines in Madrid unless otherwise  stated.