According to tradition, in the year 724 when the people of the village of Sobrarbe went to battle against a Moorish army, a glowing cross appeared above an oak tree. The spectacular vision filled the combatants, commanded by García Ximénez, with the strength and encouragement that they needed to defeat their Saracen opponents. A shrine on the outskirts of Aínsa shelters the Cross of Sobrarbe, which commemorates the first victory in the Reconquista of the future kingdom of Aragon of which García Ximénez was allegedly the first king.
The origins of the performance of La Morisma in Aínsa can be traced back to the 17th century. In 1676, the Courts of Aragon contributed funding to put on the event. In 1716, during the War of the Spanish Succession in which much of Aragon supported the Archduke of Austria, King Philip V of Spain issued a decree extending the financial contribution in perpetuity. Over the centuries, the story was passed down from generation to generation, and it was reenacted every year in Aínsa’s Plaza Mayor.
The La Morisma Festival was not held between 1921 and 1970. In 1970, it was rebooted as a biannual event with several modifications. Two schoolteachers had compiled a written version of the old oral tradition of La Morisma, adding a few innovative touches. The text and set design used today are based on this version of the story and subsequent rewritings. The biggest difference lies in the modernization of the language, which did away with the original Old Spanish text. La Morisma has been declared a Festival of Regional Touristic Interest by the Spanish government. Some 250 locals participate in the performance, whether as actors or extras.
The show begins with the Moors’ call to battle and ends after their defeat with their conversion and baptism. In between, several scenes take place: the dialogue between ambassadors, the execution of a Moorish king, the worship of the Cross, and the shepherd’s farewell. The historical figures (García Ximénez, the Moorish king, the ambassadors, the shepherd, and the shepherd’s aid) play alongside human personifications of allegorical figures (Sin and Death) and mythological figures (the Devil and the angels). The diverse cast of characters makes for a richly woven narrative, staged with a detailed set design and captivating special effects. The battles and the dialogues come one after the other in Plaza Mayor; Sin converses with the Devil, the Moors mock the Christian rites, and finally the action culminates in the baptism of the defeated Muslim troops.
According to tradition, La Morisma was performed in odd years until 2003, when a severe rainstorm caused it to be postponed until the following year. Since then, the performance has taken place on even years.
La Morisma in Aínsa is one of the most representative festivals of northern Aragon due to its anthropological value and depiction of an important episode in the region’s folklore. Every year more and more spectators from all around Spain attend the performance. Tickets can be obtained from the La Morisma Association, which organizes the festival.