You've never been to an event like this before. No one has. Except for the locals who are here each and every year. La Encamisá has got to be one of the most unique festivals in Spain or perhaps anywhere for that matter. There's a bit of everything here from tears to laughter, from spirituality to debauchery, from praying to shooting, and all of it seems to revolve around worshipping a banner. It all sounds a bit confusing, right? Well, let me tell you exactly what happens in the Encamisá and what its origins are believed to be.
The Encamisá takes place in the village of Torrejoncillo in Extremadura, every year on the night of December 7th just before the day of the biblical immaculate conception. At 10 pm, a parade of local people on horseback begins with each of them draped in a white sheet, many of which have an image of the Virgin Mary embroidered on the back. As they pass through the many narrow streets of Torrejoncillo, one of them carries the white banner which bears an image of the Virgin Mary and is hoisted up on the end of a stick. Local people who gather and fill the streets to see the event yell religious phrases at the sight of this banner with many of them even in tears, overcome by the emotions that surround this moment. Simultaneously and throughout the night, shotguns are fired into the air.
In the hours that follow, a lot of drinking goes on. Many of the villagers who live on the ground floor will leave their doors open and invite in passers-by to drink their home-made wine which is made in a specific style and from a young grape. The colour of it is something like dark orange. The villagers also hand out their home-made 'coquillos', which is like a sweet and sugary biscuit with a moist texture.
At roughly half past one in the morning, the place to be is the Iglesia de San Andrés Apóstol. The inside of this quite stunning Catholic church fills with people who await the arrival of the banner, which is then waved from side to side above the people who hail it dramatically. It is another moment where a lot of tears are shed. The rest of the night is then concluded by people congregating around the village's many bonfires on the street, where pork is cooked on the fire and the drinks continue.
There are numerous theories as to the origins of all this that no one seems to agree on. One is that it predates Roman times and pays homage to the goddess Ataecina with Catholic elements being added later. Another is that it comes from 1465 when the nearby city of Coria suffered a siege. Another theory points to the involvement of locals in the Flanders War of 1585 but the most widely accepted seems to be the Battle of Pavia, where the Spanish helped the Italians defeat the French. It is believed that in this battle, Torrejoncillo local Alfonso de Ávalos, camouflaged his men in white sheets so that they remained hidden in the snow.
The white banner of the Virgin Mary is perhaps also a representation of the white sheets worn by Spanish troops in the Battle of Pavia. But who really knows?
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