San Pedro and San Marcial

In 1522 the French troops invaded Spain and, after a call from the Marshal of Guipuzcoa, the Irun militia prepared themselves to defend the town’s interests and fight the enemy. Thus, on the 30th June, (San Marcial day) women, the elderly and children had the courage and guts to use torches to distract the enemy troops, who thought they were being attacked from the side, when in reality the militia sprung a surprise attack from the rearguard and won a resounding victory.

To commemorate this feat and give thanks to the Almighty, lay and church leaders voted to go in procession every 30th June to mount San Marcial (which used to be called Mount Aldabe) and several years later erected a chapel to honour this Saint’s day.

This event has been celebrated now for centuries, with the San Pedro weapons display on the 29th June and San Marcial procession on the 30th.

In 1881, with the aim of making the occasion more relevant, a new stage – known as the San Marcial weapons display was added and procession and weapons display were thus held on the same day.

What happens on this day ? – here are a few brief outlines: the weapons parade, led by a general, contains a series of perfectly uniformed different military units. The most numerous, wearing a red beret, cummerbund, tie and scarf, white shirt and trousers black jacket and white espadrilles with black ribbons through them, are the infantry. The majority of the soldiers in the parade march with a shotgun on their shoulders, whilst some march along playing the fife and drum.

There are also some special “regiments” wearing more colourful, varied dress, depending upon the unit they belong to: drummers, cavalry, torchbearers and musicians, all in uniform.

The central attraction of all of this and the person who everybody is looking out for and who spectators spontaneously applaud as she passes by, to the sound of different pieces of music, is the serving-girl (cantinera), who parades with each unit. The pieces of marching music that are played during the parade include: la Alborada, Diana de Villarrobledo, Fajina, Diana de la Tamborrada, Descarga, Arrancada, Theiro, Joló, Subida de la Iglesia, Rataplán and San Marcial’s hymn.

Although all the different stages of the weapons parade have a specific meaning and are closely linked to each other, the most emotional moment comes when at 6 a.m. on the dot, the musicians start playing Diana de Villarrobledo in San Juan Harria plaza and everyone in the square shouts for joy and jumps up and down in time to the music. Another highlight is the start of the actual parade itself in Urdanibia plaza.

At the end of the parade all the participants break ranks and this is a time of mixed feelings, because whilst people are happy that everything has gone according to plan and for one more year the ancient vow has been respected, many of the people of Irun are noticeably sad, but they don’t take long to recover and immediately start to think of the parade of the coming year. Until just a few years ago San Marcial was just one day but now people talk about San Marcials and the festivities have extended to the preceding and subsequent days. It is a time when the smell of gunpowder floods Irun.

In Hondarribia this event is celebrated on the 8th of September.


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