Betanzos, knights and dragons
The festivals of Galicia, plus to a huge tradition and antiquity, have in many cases a curious mixture of religious and profane elements. We find one example on the festivities of San Roque in Betanzos, in mid-August, during which the residents of the village can witness how their streets are taken by … a terrible dragon!
This dragon wheeled, walked around the center of Betanzos for the enjoyment of residents and visitors, is included within the peninsular tradition of cocas or Tarascas, horrible leather and paperboard monsters generally made by the guilds of shoemakers. They usually were paraded on the day of Corpus Christi, in parallel with the religious procession. Such processions are found both in Galicia and in the rest of Spain and Portugal, but only in some localities as Monção, Redondela or Betanzos this tradition continues.
The procession of the coca was aimed to symbolize the defeat of idolatry and evil, compared to the benign nature of the Church, because at the end of it the dragon was killed by youths armed with swords. However, the festive and scandalous nature of this event awoke the fears of civil and religious authorities, who sought unlink the coca of the religious feast, or even ban it. In Betanzos, a first attempt to ban it in 1604 was followed by his definitive closure by the prohibition in 1770 of Carlos III.
However, in recent decades the coca of Betanzos returns to terrorize their neighbors, but now not on Corpus Day, but on August 16. Although detached from its religious ties, the dragon of Betanzos is still attracting the attention of neighbors and strangers.
Photo courtesy of the Official Chronicler of Betanzos, Jose Raimundo Nuñez-Varela y Lendoiro.