Look Inside Spain’s Bizarre Baby Jumping Festival

This unorthodox baptism dates back to the 17th century and has roots in paganism.

Once a year in mid-June, devils run wild in the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia.

A blend of Catholic and pagan rituals meant to represent the triumph of good over evil, the festival of El Colacho dates back to the 1620s and takes place on the Sunday after the Feast of Corpus Christi. Its origins are unclear, but some historians believe it may have started as a fertility ritual.

During the festival, red and yellow-masked “devils” run through the streets hurling insults at villagers and whipping them with a horsetail attached to a stick. When drums announce the arrival of the black-clad atabalero, pious men who have come to drive out evil, el salto del Colacho—the flight of the devil—begins.

El atabalero, or the pious, prompt the devil to flea the village.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK GAMMON, ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

In a heart-stopping display, babies born during the previous year are laid on mattresses in the street while the costumed men leap over them. A baptism of sorts, it is believed that the devil absorbs the sins of the babies, and affords them protection from disease and misfortune. Spectators lining the streets will also berate Colacho in order to ward off their own bad luck for the upcoming year. Afterwards, the babies are sprinkled with rose petals and promptly reclaimed by their parents.

Traditionally the festival only included babies from the local village, but in recent years people from around the world have travelled to northern Spain to participate. To date there have been no reports of injuries, however, the practice remains a subject of debate within the Catholic Church.

A costumed devil chases an onlooker with his whip in hand.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DENIS DOYLE, GETTY IMAGES

It is believed that when the devil jumps over the babies, it absolves them of sin.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DENIS DOYLE, GETTY IMAGES

After the devil absolves the babies of their sins, they are sprinkled with rose petals.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DENIS DOYLE, GETTY IMAGES

Header Image: A man representing the devil leaps over babies during the festival of El Colacho in Castrillo de Murcia, Spain. PHOTOGRAPH BY DENIS DOYLE, GETTY IMAGES

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