A Long Standing Tradition in the Town of Bernalillo Continues

Matachines Fiesta Dance 1

BERNALILLO – It’s just past six thirty on a stormy Friday evening as the participants in an over 300 year-old-tradition prepare to practice seven dances in honor of Saint Lawrence (San Lorenzo). The street to the hosts, called the Mayordomos, for this year’s event where the practice is take place is flooded on both sides. It looks bleak for a moment as the participants in the dance begin driving in. Everyone stops to assess possible solutions on how to clear the large puddles on the street so the practice can continue. Just then, a pump truck arrives from the Town of Bernalillo’s Public Works Department to help clear the large puddles that threaten to stop the practice. Almost thirty minutes later, after many of the dancers and participants begin to file out of Epifanio and Sylvia Gallegos’ home, the street has been transformed into a usable space to practice the dances.

“This is the type of community we have,” said Mike Kloeppel, Economic & Community Development Director for the Town of Bernalillo. “I have been involved with these dances since I was a teenager; and I can tell you it takes a lot of hard work but it’s something we feel as a community is very important.”

Matachines Fiesta Dance 2

This notion was put to the test last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatened to break one of Sandoval County’s longest standing traditions. But just like the community came together to clear the puddles on that Friday evening, the Fiestas de San Lorenzo still took place via a live stream on social media in 2020.

“It’s a good feeling to know that through all of the turmoil and sicknesses and despair that we’ve had, it’s good to see that we can get together and celebrate things that we’ve been doing for so many years,” Kloeppel said. “It’s good to know that hopefully we are turning a corner to get back to some kind of normalcy.”

The normalcy Kloeppel is referring to points to 328 years of tradition this August in the town of Bernalillo.
History indicates that the roots to the Fiestas de San Lorenzo can be traced back to Spain where San Lorenza was one of seven deacons for the Catholic Church in the 3rd Century.

Kloeppel said San Lorenzo was burned to death on a gridiron by a prefect of Rome for distributing alms to the poor instead of Rome.

Matachines Fiesta Dance 3

Legend has it that after San Lorenzo had been burning on the gridiron for a while, when he told his tormentors “I’m well done on this side, turn me over.

“Because he was martyred and the patron saint of the poor and the sick, the townspeople here took a liking to that,” Kloeppel said. “It is for this reason that many of the participants in the Fiestas pray to San Lorenzo for his help as an intermediary to God to help get their prayers heard.”

According to Kloeppel, many of the participants in the dance, dance in part to fulfill a promise they have made to San Lorenzo.
“If you have made a promesa to San Lorenzo it is between you and him,” Kloeppel said. “It’s not something you talk about with others.”

Preparation for the dances begin in July a month before the fiesta, but Kloeppel explained that it is yearlong event.

“Every tenth of the month we go to the Mayordomos and say a novena in preparation for the August tenth festivities,” he said. “There are a lot of behind the scenes preparation that most people outside of this don’t ever see or know.”

Kloeppel said this is an ongoing tradition for many families in the area as a way to continue their promise to St. Lawrence.