By Chris King •
Published: 07 Aug 2023 • 18:35
Image of a vet inspecting the cows in Navarra.Credit: @noticiasgob_na
A curious tradition originating from the Late Middle Ages involves France having to deliver three cows to Spain annually.
Known as the Tribute of the Three Cows, this ancient event takes place every year on July 13 at Piedra de San Martín, a location on the Spanish-French border. This custom has been celebrated since at least 1375, according to 20minutos.es.
According to a document from the Tax Agency – that recounted the history of taxes in Spain – the Tribute of the Three Cows originated in the Late Middle Ages. It has survived to the present day despite the conflicts between Spain and France throughout the centuries.
The border area between Spain and France in Navarra is made up of the Roncal and Baretous valleys. They are formed by the Navarrese towns of Uztarroz, Isaba, Urzainqui and Garde. On the French side, they include the French municipalities of Arette, Aramits, Feds, Lanne, Ance and Issue.
Tradition says that around 1373, the constant disputes over the use of springs and border pastures between Spain and France caused a violent escalation. As a result of this, a resident of the Navarrese town of Isaba ended up being killed.
To settle the dispute, in 1375, the French and the Navarrese resolved that the former should deliver three cattle to the latter every July 13.
The tribute has been continued from that year to the present, which makes it the oldest valid treaty in Europe. When the exchange takes place at Piedra de San Martín, the mayors of all ten municipalities are in attendance.
The mayor of Isaba asks the French a question: ‘Are you willing to pay the tribute of the three cows with the same teeth, coat and horns as in previous years?’.
After the affirmative response of the French officials, the ten mayors place their right hands on the Stone of San Martín and recite the phrase ‘pax avant, pax avant, pax avant’ as a symbol of fraternity and peace between the peoples from both sides of the border.
Next, a veterinarian chooses three cows from among those brought by the French side. They look for ones that meet the necessary requirements of being two years old, healthy, and without any defects.
These three chosen cows are subsequently distributed among the Navarrese towns, one always goes to Isaba and the other two are given to two municipalities, following an order of alternation year after year that has run for at least 648 years.
The ritual includes the appointment of four guards, two Spanish and two French. Their task is to ‘guard the ports of Erlanz and Leja’. Celebrations conclude with a great banquet and a party between the residents of the towns in the neighbouring valleys.
Every year, the residents of these towns on both sides of the frontier look forward to the celebrations. In 2022, María Chivite, the president of Navarra, attended the event.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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