The roots of this fiesta date back to Carlos III (1716-1788) who decreed a
final celebration on the day preceding Lent. Sardines were to be served to
offset the hunger of the revellers but, unfortunately, these putrefied before
they could be eaten and the King gave orders for them to be buried just
outside the town. Far from quenching the high spirits of the crowd,
the sardines were escorted to their final resting place by an enthusiastic
crowd with much good humour and wit, in a parody of a funeral procession.
The riotous capering of the burial of the sardine, painted by Goya around
1816 shows how entrenched and popular the custom had become by then.
As the colour and joy of carnival ends and Lent and its fasts approach,
the pallbearers carry the sardine to its fiery end. Behind it is the mock
chaplain with the altar boys who are female, followed by the widows who may
or may not be, dressed in darkest mourning.
The band plays
dirges and laments as the procession wends slowly around the town. On reaching
the Square where the bonfire burns, the chaplain “blesses” the sardine before it is consigned
to the flames to the loudly expressed wailing and lamentations of the spectators.
Carnival and Lenten Customs