If you ask a Spaniard what Logroño is best known for, they will probably say it’s the wine festival in September. But if you ask a resident of Logroño, they will unhesitatingly say it’s the festival of St. Barnabas (San Bernabé in Spanish) on June 11.
The festival of San Bernabé commemorates the lifting of a siege of the city by French troops under Francis I whose rivalry with Carlos V, king of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire was legendary. The French troops arrived outside the city walls on May 24, 1521, confident that they would quickly force the city to capitulate, but the local militia, although outnumbered, heroically resisted, causing panic among the invaders by flooding their campsite and warning them that a large Spanish force was approaching.
To stave off hunger, residents fished in the Ebro river at night.
After the French troops had fled on June 11, the city celebrated its victory and swore an oath to St. Barnabas, mandating a celebration every year.
One of the most endearing traditions of this celebration is the distribution of fish, bread and wine to the citizens of Logroño outside the city walls on the morning of June 11. Since 1940, this has been the responsibility of the ‘Cofradía del Pez’ or Brotherhood of the Fish, an organization of 26 members (the sum of 6+11+1+5+2+1, the date of the lifting of the siege), who must have been born in Logroño, profess a love for the city and be elected by the other members of the brotherhood.
This year, the brotherhood distributed 24,000 small trout, pieces of bread and wine, served in a small ceramic pitcher.
To ramp up the atmosphere, for the first time in 2009 the city fathers created a medieval festival in the old town, with parades, a recreation of the French camp, mock battles and a bazaar, which added a lot to the festive spirit of the week.