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  • Natalie Taylor

STORIES OF SAN MIGUEL: A memorable bullfight, and one that will not be

Bullfighting was one of the favorite entertainments in San Miguel for many centuries, a tradition brought over from Spain. To this day, we have two bullrings in the city. The main one is on Recreo 52, and another, smaller one on the grounds of the Real de Minas Hotel.

With over 400 years of bullfighting here, it is no surprise that there would be unusual stories and legends related to it. Some of the oldest were recounted by Clericio Diaz—an official of the Public Ministry who came to San Miguel in 1904. In his book, “Memories of my life in San Miguel,” he told about a local legend that originated way back in the 17th century.

Three of the most famous bullfighters—Miguel Yanez, Francisco Rodriguez, and Juan Alvarado, came to San Miguel one year, on the eve of a major bullfight.

During those days, a young lady of great beauty was living in San Miguel, and all the men were enchanted by her.

One day—perhaps after they’d had a few too many tequilas—the devil appeared to these men, and said he would grant each of them three wishes. Of course, in exchange, the devil asked for their signatures in blood, to seal the contract, (details of the contract have been lost.)

Each of the men asked to be forever remembered as a magnificent bullfighter, and a great horseman. And each also asked the devil to grant him the love of the town beauty.

The devil acceded to their first two wishes without hesitation, but as far as the young lady, he proclaimed: “I wish to have her for myself.” And since that time in San Miguel, whenever a beautiful girl walks by, her admirers whisper: “As the devil said…”

Clericio Diaz also wrote about a bullfight in which he participated as one of the monosabios—amateurs who help out in the ring. They might help a picador mount his horse, or pick him up if he falls. The history book from which I have taken this story did not give a specific date, but since Diaz remained in the city for 14 years, so the time frame for this bullfight would be between 1904 and 1918.

The bullfighting event began with a parade of all the participating matadors, in open wagons. Musicians, and a brilliant contingent of banderilleros were at the head, and Diaz, along with the other monosabios, all in costume, rode on the mounting stirrups of the horse-drawn carriages. The beauty queens, the loveliest girls in town, also rode in the procession and the raucous crowd threw flowers, streamers, and confetti in their wake.

When the bullfight began, Diaz said that he was “drunk with joy and enthusiasm…because all the ladies were very well dressed…they bring out the best thing of their wardrobes. I was surely feeling humiliated by the position that had been given to me. Without saying anything to anyone, not even my wife, I had prepared myself in advance. I used the cummerbund to make the waist band squeeze me very well…as bullfighters do.”

He then said that he wanted to impress everyone, and was hoping to "open my cape" for one of the bulls. He had even taken two or three shots of Cognac to gain courage. Thus prepared, he showed up in the ring with an air of arrogance, ready to make his mark, even daydreaming of being carried off on the shoulders of an appreciative crowd. From the start of the corrida, he stayed close to the toreadors, hoping at some point to get hold of a cape.

“The first bull finally came out…at a given moment, I snatched a cloak and stood in front of the fierce beast to fight it,” Diaz relates.


1 La Villa de San Miguel el Grande y Ciudad de San Miguel de Allende: Cornelio López Espinosa

But the hoped-for effect did not take place. Someone else diverted the bull’s attention.

Diaz continued: “The second bull came out and seemed even bigger to me, the third a cathedral. Finally, the fourth and last of the bulls came out…with great resolution, I snatched the cape. It was from none other than the first matador, José Gil Lámbarri, son of José Gil de la Rivera. In the midst of the cries of astonishment and enthusiasm, I went towards the bull and at a respectable distance planted myself and summoned him with the cloak. The bull snorted and shook himself without doing anything. It seemed that he was charging me…and in a panic I started running…”

Diaz said he was so terrified, that in his rush he tripped on his own feet, dislocated an ankle, and fell to the ground. The crowd, very much aware of his humiliating retreat, broke into laughter. The result of this “brave” adventure was that he ended up being carried off the ring—“almost on their shoulders, as I had dreamed,” and realized that he was not cut out for bullfighting.

These anecdotes are entertaining and are certainly part of the lore of San Miguel de Allende. But as much as I enjoy the history, I have never liked bullfights. Yes, I understand it is an ancient tradition; yes, I understand the pomp, and the skill of the bullfighters. I also see the other side—the cruelty to animals, and the glorification of bloodshed. So it was comforting for me to see that the major bullfight which was to take place on March 30, 2024 has been cancelled.

The poster below announced the upcoming event, but apparently there were problems in securing a proper permit, and the bullfight will not take place. This news was reported by the San Miguel Times on March 11, with no further details.

Bullfighting was suspended for a time in Mexico because of protests from animal right activists, but has now been approved once again. Not allowing the bullfight in San Miguel de Allende, is a local decision.

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