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Sunday, January 25, 1998 Published at 03:35 GMT


Spanish ceremony gets Lorelay's goat
image: [ Lorelay is hurled out of the church steeple ]
Lorelay is hurled out of the church steeple

Villagers in northern Spain have ignored pleas from animal rights groups and hurled a goat from the top of their church tower.

Hundreds of people, many in fancy dress, descended on the sleepy village of Manganeses de la Polvorosa to witness the annual ritual in honour of the local patron saint.

Lorelay emerged unscathed from the 15-metre (50-foot) plunge after tipsy revellers caught her in a canvas sheet and paraded her through the tiny village on their shoulders. Some of her predecessors have not been so lucky.

[ image: Lorelay on her way down]
Lorelay on her way down
Animal rights groups have demanded the end of the San Vicente de Martir festival, one of many animal-based ceremonies that take place across Spain.

"They used to throw a dummy but the village decided it wasn't funny enough and switched to live goats," said Eva Vallejo, spokeswoman for the National Association for the Defence of Animal Rights.

"They should throw an inanimate object, or better still one of themselves."

Villagers have clashed with both police and animal rights activists at the festival in former years.

Local authorities officially banned the festival in 1992 and have tried unsuccessfully to fine the villagers.

One year a German woman even paid local residents 300,000 pesetas (1,200 or $2,000) to free the two goats after their descent.

[ image: Shaken but unhurt]
Shaken but unhurt
But villagers showed little sign of relenting. "I completely agree with (the activists), but I don't think they should meddle with our fiesta because the goat doesn't suffer at all," said one villager dressed in a friar's habit and a face mask.

"This is our tradition. Why should we give it up? The goat is only a bit shaken afterwards," added one elderly resident, who said the fiesta was now a celebration of the coming of adulthood in the village.

Villagers who have recently turned 18 organise the festival and are responsible for launching the goat from the top of the bell tower.

The origin of the festival remains a mystery. Some say it dates back hundreds of years, others just 20.

Local legend says the festival was born "long ago" when an intrepid goat scaled the steps of the 18th century church to eat food the village priest had left for doves.

When the priest discovered the goat it leapt from the belfry and ran off into the hills, the legend goes.

Lorelay will have to wait before she can dash for the hills. She is the guest of honour at a dance the villagers have organised to crown the fiesta.

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