Las Mayas: A spectacularly revived 16th-century festival in Lavapiés

Author & photography: Leah Pattem

Each year, the barrio of Lavapiés selects a few young girls between ages six and 15 to sit on the makeshift but highly decorated altars surround the popular church of San Lorenzo.

It’s an honour for these girls to be chosen, but their role is to stay completed calm and solemn, no matter how much the dancers impress them, the musicians sign to them or the passersby tells them how beautiful they are.

Images from the fiesta are designed to appear almost like paintings, including stunning still-life displays of traditional Spanish foods, wines and sweets. The entire affair is self-funded, and local people pay a euro or two for a biscuit and some wine, or for a flower, or to have their photos taken with Las Mayas.

This tiny festival in front of San Lorenzo has grown and grown over the years thanks to the “Orgullo de Madrid” collective who, since the 90s, have been reviving Madrid’s most ancient and Castiza traditions. Las Mayas dates back to the 16th century and this year was the first year that the traditional festival has been given cultural asset status.

What an absolute delight to photograph this beautiful spring festival put on by the kids and abueles of the barrio…


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