Medina del Campo, in the province of Valladolid, is a stone's throw away from Madrid - 100 miles by the N-VI - and it is less than half an hour away from Valladolid, the capital of the Autonomous Community. It is situated in a plain, at a height of 2,400 ft. The Rio Zapardiel - affluent of the Duero River - crosses the town which is rich in farm and cereal products. However, what Medina del Campo - also known as the Town of Fairs - is best known for are its trade activities of the 15th and 16th century. The town has an exceptional historic and artistic heritage and it also offers sport and cultural facilities. It has made it a point of honour to be the guardian of two ancient traditions that are the Semana Santa (Holy Week) - that was declared of International Tourist Interest in 2011- and the encierros (bull festival) of September - that were declared of National Tourist Interest in 2011.
History and Origin of our encierros
(running of bulls in the streets)
One of the most ancient customs of our lands is to include bull games to any celebrations such as royal births, royal weddings, coronations, canonizations, receptions of sacred orders or any other commemoration. Even though there has not been any serious study concerning the celebrations of bull festivities before the 15th century, we can assume that they started to take place in the 12th or 13th century, when the town played an important part in the official life of Castile. The oldest document that we have concerning bull festivities in Medina del Campo dates back from October 20th of 1418, coinciding with the royal wedding of Juan II and María de Aragón. We know that after the nuptial ceremony, "there were many bull and joust games", according to the book that tells the life of the monarch and the recasting of the book by the falconer of Fr. Lope de Barrientos. We also know that at that time, some shopkeepers - butcher, oil grocers, etc. - of Medina del Campo had to supply "eleven bulls per annum, according to the will of the governors" for the public celebrations.
There has been at least five ways to run the bulls since that time: alanceados bulls (hit with lances) - according to López Ossorio´s testimony in his book about the history of Medina, "during bull runs, one must be very nimble to stick the lance through the bull's body"; embolados bulls (whose horns are tipped with balls) - it is said that it was in Medina del Campo where the Queen Elisabeth the Catholic ordered that leather balls had to be put on the bulls´ horns after having seen two men killed by a bull on the Plaza Mayor; enmaromados or ensogados bulls (with a rope tied around their horns) - that is how they were run when Felipe II visited the town in 1559; albardados or encohetados bulls (with halberds and rockets) - such a "suerte" (or act) was run to commemorate a royal birth in 1601; and, of course, another way of running the bulls is the encierro, with the capea (sort of bullfight but with a young cow), that we are going to explain.
It is this last way of running bulls that is the most established in the life of Medina. There are also different ways of running the encierros. At first, it was not common to run in front of bulls. It was even forbidden unless it was to thank a patron saint or if there had been a vote or a religious promise to get a divine intervention. Thus, the encierros in Medina del Campo were run in homage of San Juan (June 24), Santiago Apóstol (July 25), the Assumption of Our Lady (August 15) and San Antolín (September 2), at least between the 15th and the 18th centuries. These celebrations were officially considered as the "Wishes of the town". The book of the Council Agreements, kept in the Municipal Archives - since 1490 and continuously since 1552 - shows several reports of payment and rules concerning the running bulls of the time, the places of the fights and the destination of the meat, once the beasts died. The information is often found in the proceedings of the days before the official celebrations. For example, in the Agreements of 1943 - the oldest ones that we got to study - we find some data under the title of "Summons and distribution of bulls". The novillos (young bulls) were also part of the celebrations. Indeed, there were young bull fights and runs during the most important celebrations of the town, the ones of the two biggest brotherhoods of Medina which are the one of the Angustias de Nuestra Señora and of the Santa Vera Cruz. The book of the Council Agreement in the Municipal Archives and the historical documents of the brotherhoods give plenty of information concerning these events.
On the night before the holidays, the animals were taken from the pastures to the bullpens that were provisionally placed downtown. The authorities had ordered that horsemen accompany the bulls with bells and lanterns in order to warn the population of the dangerous presence of the animals. On the D-day, professionals and aficionados would run in a bullring, closed or open, doing suertes - or acts- that do not exist anymore such as the "salto con garrocha" - jumping over the bull after plunging a stick into his neck -, "the wine barrel", "the wicker basket" and the famous cape of the torero that has continued to exist until today.
Although we can find some older documents about encierros in Medina del Campo, the most well-known took place on the night before the celebration of the Assumption of Our Lady (August 15th) in 1567. We know about it thanks to the testimony that Santa Teresa has made in her Gook of Foundations in which she says: "We arrived in Medina del Campo on the night before the Assumption of Holy Mary, at midnight. We went to the monastery Santa Ana, not to make any noise and then, we walked home. It was Mercy of the Lord that at that time the bulls were being shut for the running of then day after and that we did not encounter any of them."
After the encierro, there was the bullfight in which the dispatch followed the fight. The bullfight was made of suertes such as the one where the torero hit the tendons of the bull with a sword in order to kill him later and there were also horsemen that would hit the animal with their jousts; these horsemen came especially for the bullfight.
Some changes have occurred in the organization and the conception of the encierros. In 1873 the town Council raised the number of holidays dedicated to the patron saint of the town - San Antolín - up to six - five years later, the first eight days of September will become holidays. The point was to gather the holidays which used to be spread all over the year. At that time, the bull running lasted three or four days and there were different functions. Early in the morning, there was the fight of the "toro del alba" - the bull of dawn - a young fighting bull that ran at the crack of dawn. Although we don't know the exact date of origin of this tradition, we can say that it is very ancient. Later in the morning, the "eleven o'clock bull" would run and in the afternoon, at 4 p.m., other seven bulls would run. These runs used to take place on the Plaza Mayor (Main Square). However, we know that other places were converted into temporary arenas until the building of the permanent Plaza de Toros in 1949. Among these places, there were the waste land where used to stand the palace of the Castroserna, the marketplace, the squares of San Augustín and Segovia (where were a close building in which horsemen used to train for the lance in Medieval times), the ruins of the district - before its reconstruction, the area around the old train station and a lot more.
The traditional encierros as they are run in Medina del Campo consist in a group of at least six fighting bulls, led by six steers that get out of the pen at a given time. They are accompanied by professionals that lead them to the outskirt of the town, by foot or horseback, according to some rules.
The traditional encierros are celebrated on the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th of September and there is another one on an unspecified day. The animals get out of the pen at 9:00 a.m. After the third call, the animals are released. The calls are made thanks to discharges of three rockets. Once the herd has been released and under control, it is led to the streets of Medina.
Getting to the doors of the town, the cattle are getting excited and that is when the urban run to the bullring begins.
The number of inhabitants of Medina del Campo starts increasing a couple of days before the beginning of the celebrations of San Antolín. But as the time of the encierro approaches, everything changes: as people have stayed up all night or wake up at the crack of dawn, the party can start.
The reveille is sounded to wake up the crowd. Then, right after the chocolate and the churros, the eau-de-vie or the garlic soup, the people go to take part in the encierro. Elderly people and kids look for the right place to be to watch it; some are getting prepared for the run in the streets or behind the fence and others, by foot or by horse, are waiting for the bulls in the fields, creating a patchwork of colours and smells, mixing the colours of the shirts of the participants to the lances of the horsemen and the clods to the stubbles.
Meanwhile, in a bullpen, six bulls and as many steers are waiting, tinkling the bells they wear around their necks, until the detonation of the rockets announces their release. At exactly 9 o'clock, once the three rockets have been shot, the doors of the pen open and the cattle are released.
The encierro has begun; from now on, who knows what will happen? The herd may get out quickly and one by one as well as it may go slowly and rounded up. But one thing is for sure: it will always go surrounded by all these people who attempt to run in front or alongside of it. The fear disappears; the risk increases. In the fields or in the streets, by foot or horse, they are likely to be hit by the bulls, anytime. But what they feel in this moment is stronger. Time is going by; the uncertainty and the emotion of the people waiting in the streets is increasing. They are waiting for the bell ring that will tell them if the bulls have escaped or if they are coming with the horsemen. The Collegiate Church and the Castle of the Mota stand as exceptional witnesses. Indeed, you can see all the run from the top of these buildings. And yet the herd becomes divided. A huge cloud of dust indicates what is happening: almost there! The encierro is about to get in the streets of Medina. There we are: ten, twenty, thirty thousand people have come to see one of the most fascinating shows that are the encierros of Medina del Campo. The horsemen have excited the bulls with their lances. The animals are running at top speed to the streets of the town where the crowd is expecting them. When they get there, the people run with them, shouting Ay! Ay! Often, the fear causes the stiffening of the legs but some courageous kids run alongside of the bulls in the streets of Medina to reach the bullring.
Fortunately, No victim has been reported yet except for the traditional jostling, fall or minor trampling.
After having been kicked or hit in any way, the best thing to do is to go for a drink! Then, after breakfast and a glass of wine or lemonade, the celebration goes on. And tomorrow or the day after, there will be other runs; uncertainties will come back, people will come again, a crowd larger than ever as those who have not seen the traditional and typical bull runs of Medina del Campo yet would have had time to get ready and to come. And they will be warmly welcomed to take part in an incredible show: THE TRADITIONAL AND TYPICAL ENCIERROS OF MEDINA DEL CAMPO.
From the description and data of Domingo Nieto Sainz
"Tradicionales y Típicos Encierros".