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San Marcos Bonfire: Jumping over fire

San Marcos Bonfire: Jumping over fire

If you get the chance to visit La Gomera on 24 April, the village of Agulo offers one of the most authentic and ancestral festivals in the Canary Islands. The sounds of the chácaras (percussion instruments similar to castanets) and drums create an awe-inspiring atmosphere. The smell of burning wood fills the village square, while the light and shadows produced by the bonfires help to immerse visitors in the traditions of this locality.

San Marcos is the patron saint of the village, and the eve of his feast day sees the square adorned with festive decorations as part of a ritual that has been repeated every 24 April since time immemorial.

There is no written record of when this custom began or of its origins. Some say it is a way of expressing gratitude to the saint for promises fulfilled. Another legend recounts that crops and houses were buried by a large landslide in 1779 and that large bonfires were subsequently needed to let people on the opposite island of Tenerife know everyone was safe.

It’s also said the saint was petitioned for protection after an extensive plague outbreak had devastated the island.

Whatever the origins of this tradition, the magic generated every 24 April transports us back to ancient times and to a place where the fervour and devotion dedicated to the village’s patron saint can be felt in every moment.

At nightfall, the sounds of chácaras and drums accompany the procession of the patron saint, while the bonfires are set alight to the ring of church bells. It’s then that the smell of burning savin (a type of juniper) fills the church square. The wood of this shrub is burned even when green, giving off a very pleasant smell that’s in keeping with the surroundings.

The bonfires are placed around the whole square and separated by enough space to allow people to jump between them. Dozens of people then leap over the fires in the presence of San Marcos, who bears witness to this age-old custom in which both men and women participate. Having completed a round of jumps, the fire-jumpers start all over again, to the rhythm of one of the most ancient expressions of folk tradition in the islands.

Discover the roots of our culture and experience for yourself this ancestral custom, celebrated in Agulo every 24 April.