Las Cabezadas 2022
Exchange of bows, mandatory offerings, threats, expletives and invocations to the saint.
Las Cabezadas is a civil and religious ceremony held in León on the last Sunday in April. The name of this festivity comes from the three exaggerated bows that the town representatives of the Town Hall, located in the Plaza de San Isidoro, and the Council of the Real Colegiata y Basilica of San Isidoro, located in the atrium of the Real Basilica, make when they say goodbye once the dialectic and religious acts of this popular celebration have concluded.
This celebration dates back to 1158, in the time of the Queen-Infanta Doña Sancha Raimúndez, when San Isidoro got angry in the lands of Trobajo and refused to return to the Real Colegiata Church. From then on, the town of León goes annually to the temple with a large votive candle and two axes made from fine wax. The town representatives say that they come to bring a voluntary offering to San Isidoro, “Patron of this Most Noble Kingdom”. The Council receives it as a mandatory forum. And so it continues year after year and century after century.
Las Cabezadas is a celebration that aims to celebrate the birth of San Isidoro, which was commemorated on 4 April 636, and that year fell on Holy Thursday. Since neither in Lent nor in Holy Week could the liturgical office and mass of the Saint be used, the celebration was moved to different dates and finally the last Sunday in April was chosen to celebrate Las Cabezadas.
According to the Ceremonial Policies of the City in the 18th century, in one of the City Councils in March, two gentlemen commissioners were designated and they were in charge of illuminating the City Council palaces on the eve of the feast and ensuring that the Mayordomo de Propios received a votive candle and that the effigy of San Isidoro was painted on it and the arms of the City were depicted on the back together with four axes and candles. Days before the celebration, a Legacía from the Town Council arrived at the Colegiata Church and, at that moment, the abbot placed two canons at the foot of the stairs to receive them, while he and other members of the Council waited for them standing in the Chapter Hall. Once the bows had been exchanged, the spokesman of the Legacía explained the municipal agreement to celebrate the ceremony of the Patron Saint. On the agreed day and time, the abbot, accompanied by two or more canons, presented himself at the Palacio de la Poridad with the answer, which was always an affirmative one.
On the day of the celebration, at twelve o’clock in the morning, town representatives left the Town Hall. In front were the bugles and drums and behind them three labourers carrying the votive candle and the two axes, as the other two were sent privately to the Church of San Marcelo. The abbot was waiting in the atrium of the Basilica and once they reached the square, the municipal procession stopped and the music ceased.
The two youngest representatives, accompanied by the Council’s notary, went forward in search of the abbot, who greeted the town and gave his right arm to the mayor to lead him towards the church. When they reached the atrium, the canons and the members of the municipal committee paired up and all advanced towards the main altar. In the old ceremony, the candles were distributed and the procession went out to the cloisters, the candle was given as an offering and received as a forum. Nowadays, the handing over takes place in the middle of the procession and in the centre of the courtyard.
The mayor took the lead with his show of devotion to San Isidoro and handed over the candle as a voluntary offering. The canonical spokesman replied to him about this voluntary offering, since everyone knows that the candle is received as an “obligatory forum” and threats, expletives and invocations to the Saint were uttered.
In the old ceremony, the candles were handed out and the procession went out to the cloisters, the candle was given as an offer and received as a forum
After this tense moment, the mass continued with the music of the choir and at the end the Cabezadas were performed. Everything is reduced to the farewell bows, with the bodies bent at 90 degrees angles. Bows of both councils, the ecclesiastical and the civil, placed facing each other and side by side. This ceremony was repeated three times as the municipal committee from the Town Hall crossed the square and the Abbot and the Council advanced towards the chains in the atrium. Prior to the execution of each bow, the town representative struck the ground with his baton; the Councillorship stopped, turned and bowed and showed “the visible head” to the canonical community, who made the gesture by exaggerating it and always with greater visibility.
As a climax to the ceremony, the Abbot advanced alone and stood upright balancing on his left foot, while stretching out his right foot in the air, a gesture that is interpreted as an unrealistic desire to follow the town representatives. At this moment the people of León cheered and commented.
Every last Sunday in April, León revives the tradition in gratitude for this and other miracles that happened later. The town representatives voluntarily go to the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro Church every year to offer a votive candle and two wax axes; once in the cloisters, the Town Council accepts the gift, but makes it clear that it is a mandatory forum. Because of this disagreement over the nature of the offering, the representatives of the two institutions engage in a dialectical battle and publicly displaye their oratorical skills. In the end, there is a draw, and the discussion is postponed until the following year..
The celebration of this traditional commemoration is known by the name of Las Cabezadas, after the three bows that the town representatives make with an exaggerated bow when they say goodbye to the Town Council, or also by the lesser known name “Foro u Oferta”.