Diabolical liberty? Anger over Spanish city's 'friendly' devil

Petition launched over Segovia sculpture on grounds it is not ‘repulsive’ enough

The devil’s attempt to take up residence in the ancient Spanish city of Segovia has been temporarily thwarted by a group of concerned locals and an online petition.

Inspired by the legend that Segovia’s famous Roman aqueduct was built by the devil in a single night, the city council decided to commission a statue of the demonic architect in the hope of attracting tourists to one of its less visited neighbourhoods.

The plan, however, has fallen foul of some Catholic Segovians. Opponents claim the portly, smiling devil, frozen mid-selfie in bronze, is offensive as it “exalts evil” and should have no place in the city.

“In sacred art, diabolical iconography follows a doctrinal and ritual rule that guarantees its psychological, moral and spiritual efficacy,” the group says in an online petition to the council that has been signed by more than 5,400 people.

“The devilish features are repulsive and despicable – not friendly and seductive, like the ‘friendly, evil-free devil’ you have come up with.”

A judge has ordered the statue’s installation be suspended while he looks into whether the effigy constitutes an attack on people’s religious sentiments.

Segovia’s 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct.
Segovia’s 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct. Photograph: Victor Fraile/Reuters

The city’s heritage councillor, Claudia de Santos, has said the project will go ahead despite the “unfair, dispiriting” campaign against it.

“I can’t get my head around the fact that this can be happening in 21st century Spain,” she told El País.

The statue’s sculptor, José Antonio Abella, is similarly exasperated.

“I mean, for goodness’ sake, it’s obviously got nothing to do with satanism,” Abella, 63, told the Guardian.

“This is the 21st century! He’s a friendly, smiling caricature of the devil. This newly formed association says that the statue is offensive to people’s religious feelings, but there’s no religious aspect to this at all.”

Sculptor José Antonio Abella with his statue of the devil.
Sculptor José Antonio Abella with his statue of the devil. Photograph: courtesy of José Antonio Abella

Abella is staggered at claims that his work could somehow make Segovia a focus for satanic worship, but worried at the damage the row could inflict on Segovia’s reputation as a friendly, forward-looking city.

“It could find itself damaged because of this ridiculous image that some Segovians are giving it. It’s an open city, not somewhere that’s stranded in the 12th century.”

Abella, who was inspired by a statue of the devil in the German city of Lübeck, says the aim of the artwork could not be more straightforward nor less sinister.

“The council wants to diversify the tourist flow a bit,” he said.

“At the moment everyone goes to the aqueduct, the main square, the cathedral and the Alcázar. Tourists tend to overlook other parts of the city and the sculpture – which will be 200 metres from the aqueduct – is intended to get tourists into a different bit of the city.”

The idea is that people will take selfies with the selfie-taking devil.

“It’s all very innocent,” added Abella. “This is all giving a very sad image of Segovia and of Spain.”

Whatever happens, though, the sculptor is adamant that, after all the fuss, the jolly demon will be his last statue.

“I want a quiet life and to be able to devote myself to writing books.”

Contributor

Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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