Spain’s Festival of the Near Death Experience

You’ve heard about the Festival of the Dead, but what about the festival of the almost-but-not-quite dead? In the town of Las Nieves in Spain (where else?) every July, life is celebrated in bizarre fashion by those who have endured near-death experiences as part of Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme – or Festival of the Near-Death Experience as it is known in English.

Clamber into Coffins

Rather than trying to put it out of their minds and move on, the ‘survivors’ instead clamber into coffins to be carried into the church to give thanks to Santa Marta de Ribarteme – the sister of Mary Magdalene – the patron saint of resurrection, as part of an annual Catholic celebration with more than a liberal sprinkling of pagan ritual thrown in for good measure.

Survived a Brush with Death

The brave souls who take part are those who have survived a brush with death in the past year, climbing into the coffins, which reassuringly are left open, before being carried through the streets by family members along with a procession of thousands of worshippers. If that sounds like an easy ride, then spare a thought for those without a family as if you don’t have any relatives on hand then you have to lug your own coffin through the streets.

A Special Mass

Under the watchful gaze of the statue of Santa Marta takes place in the small church and is played over loudspeakers to the gathering hordes who cannot fit inside, before the chanting procession winds its way up to the cemetery and then back to the church where financial offerings are made to the saint to give thanks for those that survived.

Celebratory Atmosphere

And if all that sounds a little bit, well, religious, then you can still revel in the celebratory atmosphere by enjoying the fireworks, brass bands and endless tales of near death experiences by excitable Spaniards – if you speak Spanish of course. If not, then you can just soak up the atmosphere, music and the strange sight of thousands of people flowing through the streets and carrying fully alive people in coffins.

The streets do get somewhat cramped, with thousands of people flocking to the narrow thoroughfares of the small town of Las Nieves, in the Galicia region of Spain, near to the border of Portugal. And the hawkers appear to have well and truly caught on to the spirit of celebration as well, with the streets dotted with stalls and opportunist salesmen selling all sorts of related paraphernalia from plastic angels to statues of Santa Marta in a variety of colours.

You can also soak up the aromas and tastes of the festival as well, with street food stalls ensuring you won’t go hungry with seafood fans sure to enjoy the traditional festive favourite of octopus cooked up in copper cauldrons. Hopefully, the octopus hasn’t survived its own brush with death.

Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme takes place on July 29 in the small town of Las Nieves in Galicia, Spain, every year.