• 2022.04.28
  • Monday of the Waters
This feast day called “El Lunes de Aguas” in Spanish is celebrated in Salamanca, home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, on the Monday one week after Easter, which is April 25 this year. I guess put simply, it’s a big party after a period of abstinence. Easter is a Christian observance as important as Christmas, when the faithful live in prayer and temperance, abstaining from meat (greed), for the 7 days of Holy Week preceding that day and the 40 days of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday before that, for a total of 47 days. But from the beginning, it would have been out of the question for the high-spirited students in Spain from various parts of Europe to live a life of discipline for such a long time, and it’s only natural that with the freedom of living apart from their parents they would want to enjoy their youth to their heart’s content.

The young Prince who would later become King Philip II held his wedding in Salamanca on November 13, 1543. His Majesty the King, moral guardian and devout Catholic, was especially attached to Salamanca and could not ignore the fact that the students in Salamanca, who represented Europe’s intelligence, did nothing but let their hair down and party during this period of abstinence, of all things, and he extended the period by a week. He also enforced a government measure to forcibly quarantine for 54 days the women engaged in the oldest profession in Salamanca’s entertainment district on the other side of the Tormes River, which flowed along one side of the city, and sealed off the disturbing debauchery the students engaged in.
In response, on the Monday when the prohibition was lifted, one week after Easter, the students who had been waiting for this day, as well as hangers on, youngsters in the throes of rabblerousing, and men not quite that young, joined in. They prepared small boats decorated in flowers, crossed the river, and on the way back to town, celebrated their much-awaited reunion with the women, having a great party in a field by the river. While this traditional event no longer includes women crossing the river, as you would expect, the picnic by the river is a grand occasion and a big springtime event in Salamanca.

Photo 1: The “Monday of the Waters” picnic today, by the Tormes River with the Roman bridge and the old and new cathedrals in the background

The traditional thing for the picnic lunch on this day is “hornazo.” It’s a heavy bread stuffed with loads of hitherto prohibited meats, like chorizo sausage, pork loin, and cured ham, and if that weren’t enough, it’s baked with eggs, which were also hitherto not allowed. Now it is a Salamanca specialty, there are hornazo shops and it is even available at national-chain supermarket stores only in the Salamanca region, as well as bread shops and patisseries. At a glance, it looks like a meat pie, but unlike pie crust, they use dough raised with yeast and kneaded with lard, an animal fat.

Photo 2: Orthodox hornazo, a quality product of patisserie La Industrial, Salamanca

Photo 3: Confitería La Industrial’s retro-modern shop style

Photo 4: The selection on offer takes a classic approach, mostly old-style breads and pastries.

You can easily imagine how much of a name Salamanca earned for itself across Europe as a university city by the large numbers of students. The population of Madrid was 12,700 in 1561 but in comparison, Salamanca’s student population in 1584 was 6,778, many of them the children of good families outside Salamanca, and perhaps some with a retinue, meaning the number of people connected with the university and living in the city would have easily exceeded 10,000. Salamanca the university city attracted mischievous students and had an entertainment district that competed for top spot with the ports across Europe that attracted unscrupulous sailors. In other words, it seems to have been as bad as Sodom and Gomora. Yet, that might have made Salamanca a university city renowned for its profundity in being broad-minded enough to accept both good and evil.
Speaking of good and evil, the Spanish novel “The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes” was one of the first picaresque novels championing a bad guy, it is said to have been born out of a reaction against the good vs. evil romance stories that were popular at the time, and you might come to the conclusion “it stands to reason” that if you know the origin of this traditional event, you would understand the setting for the birth of the novel’s main character, not only Salamanca, but the sandbar in the Tormes River, also the stage for the “Monday of the Waters.”
By the way, why is it Monday of the “Waters”? One theory explaining this name is that when the ladies who had been isolated on the other side of the river between Lent and Holy Week returned to town, they were brought back using ferries to cross the river as they were prohibited from using the bridges, they got soaking wet, perhaps from playing in the water at the party, and the name in Spanish for the petticoats the ladies often wore was “enaguas,” thus, “El Lunes de Aguas.
Of the currently known written mentions of this event, the earliest that the word “aguas” (water) appears is in the diary of a student from Italy staying in Salamanca. Girolamo da Sommaia was the son of the Guicciardini family, which had strong connections with Spain, and came from Florence to Salamanca in 1599 to study civil law and canon law at the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (Pontifical University of Salamanca). He wrote in his diary, “Diario de un estudiante de Salamanca” (“Diary of a Student in Salamanca”), “día de pasar las aguas” (“a day spent by the water [or petticoats?]”).
By the way, 1599 is also the year of the birth of Velazquez, the painter representative of Spain’s golden age of painting, coinciding with the time that Cervantes began writing Don Quixote. Written from 1603 to 1607, this diary is considered a valuable record for the detail in which it describes the universities and churches, everyday life for the citizens and the students during Spain’s most brilliant golden age. He also makes mention of the many written works he read, including Part One of Don Quixote, which had been published in 1605, but at the time had only just been printed in separate volumes, with not a single copy being bound.

Photo 5: A bound first edition of Part One of Don Quixote published in 1605


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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