History of the Marbella San Bernabé Fair

La Feria de San Bernabé is an annual festival observed in the month of June in honour to Marbella’s patron saint San Bernabé. It’s a week-long affair of celebration and merrymaking in this southern most Costa del Sol resort town Marbella, Spain. This is the time, when the town comes to full festive mood with numerous activities, including fireworks and mass processions.

The fiesta in relation to Marbella’s town saint has a long history that goes with the life of Saint Bernabé. Born with the name Joseph, the apostles awarded him the name of San Bernabé after his generous act of giving money to the poor. The name stands for “Son of Exhortation” or “he who makes an effort” or “he who encourages others”.

According to Biblical legend, it was saint Bernabé who gave apostles money to distribute to the poor. As mentioned in the chapter 4 verses 34-37, Bernabé sold his farm and belongings to help the needy. The Bible in the book of the Facts of the Apostles, praises Bernabé as such: “Bernabé was a good, full man of faith and Spirito Santo”.

Originally a Jew, he received support from other apostles to gain acceptance from the rest of apostles in Jerusalem. Later he became an apostle for the first Church Fathers (Padres de la Iglesia) and travelled many places in a number of missionary journeys.

Today including Marbella of Malaga province, there are some other Spanish towns like Logroño, Pétrola, Bacor, El Escorial (in Madrid), Peñarrubia, and Arenas de San Juan whose patron saint is St. Barnabas. Talking about Marbella, the second week of the month of June is the most happening day with religious as well as modernistic festive fervour.

Marbella is the only city in Andalucía to observe and celebrate the holiness of Saint Barnabas with the weeklong San Bernabe Fair. The festival, ever since it came into existence, has been attracting numerous tourists from all over the world who witness the richness of the festival while participating in several fascinating activities like music, dance, concerts, and religious procession from noon to dawn.

Due to the greatness of the saint, Marbella has adopted him as their patron saint centuries ago and celebrates it as a pilgrimage week. Plaza de San Bernabe (named after Saint Bernard), located in the centre of the town, takes centre stage in the annual June festival with display of the best of Andalusia culture including the flamenco music, bullfighting, parades of horse carriages etc.

The festival is not only a sacred celebration dedicated to the name and work of Saint Barnabas, but also a testimony to the great culture of this region. As people of Marbella pays homage to the saint on the designated day of June 11th, another historic event also marks the day when Catholic Kings conquests the region from the moors in the year 1485.

In that sense, too, La Feria de San Bernabé holds a significant turning point in the history of Southern Spain with the Commemoration of the Christian Conquest over the Arabs. Hence, the Marbella Feria is a double celebration for the locals. The change of Muslim rule to the Christian control is celebrated with much importance.

Determined by San Bernabé Day, the Feria starts with religious procession as spectators awaits on both sides of the streets to take a glimpse of the image of the patron saint, carried by participants through the town. In honour of San Bernabé, there is also religious activities taken place in all churches of the town.

Besides, on this day, people also took a separate procession to commemorate the Reconquista. Grand procession with music and dance shows the character and pride of the Marbella. During the feria week, both men and women prefer their traditional flamenco dress or some colourful attire to get in to the mood of the festival by parading on the streets.

Other than the processions, many other events take place during the Marbella Feria like the feria queen election, flamenco shows, fireworks, modern dance and music that are major crowd pullers. Amid much fanfare, the festival also exhibits the hospitality of Marbella with good food, wine and dancing that sets it apart from any other place. The enthusiasm of locals can well be observed from their active participation in various activities.

As history reads, Saint Barnabe certainly holds much significance to the culture of the town of Marbella. While the mass procession represents a sign of brotherhood going with the character and good works of St. Barnabas, those colourful and energetic jubilation activities stand for the wealth of tradition and custom of the region. Both the San Bernabé Day and the Reconquesta has their own connotation to the history of Marbella and hence it is quite natural to witness such a grandiose event.

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