Hicks’s new project, ‘Las Luminarias’ came from a recent trip to Spain earlier this year. Las Luminarias is a 400 year old festival held in San Bartolome de Pinares, about 100 KM west of Madrid. Its traditions combine the pre-Christian magical rituals of local peasants with Catholic beliefs, where they purify their horses for the year ahead by riding them through fires.
The tradition is a nod to the patron saint of animals, Saint Anthony, and takes place every year on the eve of his feast day – January 16. The fire and smoke is believed to help purify the horses and protect them from disease in the coming year.
Hicks’ photographs show the masked riders making their way through a series of blazing bonfires in the town’s narrow streets. The riders steer their horses into the flames as part of a jumping tradition that lasts until midnight, but the drinking and celebrating continues until dawn.
The horses are doused with water just before they enter the flames to prevent their coats from singeing, and villagers maintain that the animals are used to it and do not suffer.
Animal rights groups have long been critical of the event, which they say is ‘clear animal abuse’. Last year the town’s mayor hit back, saying that two vets are onsite and each year an independent report on the festival is produced, which has always been favourable.
The exact origin of the Las Luminarias, which dates back to the middle ages, is unknown, though it is thought to have began at a time when animals were contracting unexplained illnesses and dying in huge numbers.