How a selfie-snapping statue of the devil has raised the ire of Segovia locals

The actions of a group of residents in the city have prompted a judge to halt the installation of the image of Mephistopheles, which was designed to appeal to tourists

Sculptor José Antonio Abella Mardones poses with a plaster model of his sculpture.
Sculptor José Antonio Abella Mardones poses with a plaster model of his sculpture.VÍCTOR SAINZ

Millennia after having been built, the stunning aqueduct in the Spanish city of Segovia continues to be a source of news. This time, the story is related to one of its myths. According to an old story, the bridge was not built by the Romans, but by Mephistopheles himself, having been swindled by a young Segovian to raise the aqueduct in a single night.

I just can’t believe that this could happen in 21st-century Spain Claudia de Santos, responsible for Segovia heritage 

In order to convey this story to the more than 800,000 tourists who visit the city – located north of Madrid – every year, the local council has decided to erect a statue of a devil there. But the move has brought controversy with it: the complaints from local residents have seen the installation work halted by a judge.

The 1.7-meter sculpture depicts a smiling devil, who has a cellphone in one hand and is taking a selfie. The idea is to attract tourists, given their habit of posting pictures of their trips on social networks. But the final installation will have to wait until a Segovia court rules whether the statue constitutes an attack on religious sentiments, as a group of local residents have denounced.

The objective of the statue is, above all else, to create new flows of tourists in the city, given that Segovia receives a huge number of visitors, all of whom tend to congregate in a few streets in the old quarter. “If the sculpture works, there will be more people in the area of the north wall, which is also very important for Segovia, but less visited than the areas around the aqueduct,” explains Claudia de Santos, who is in charge of the city’s heritage.

The Segovia Aqueduct.
The Segovia Aqueduct.A. M.

“It all began with a visit to Lübeck,” explains José Antonio Abella, the creator and donator of the statue. “They also have a local legend about the devil being duped into building a church. When I saw the little figure they had there as a tribute, I thought, ‘What a great idea to export to Segovia!’”

A sculptor and a writer, the retired country doctor was born in Burgos 63 years ago, but says that he is Segovian by adoption. The row that has broken out over his creation has taken him by surprise. “I don’t understand anything,” he says, with sadness. “I just wanted to pay homage to my city and to create something to give back all I have been given.”

The devil is offensive for Catholics, because it constitutes the glorification of evil

Petition against sculpture

Two natives of the city, Marta Jerez and Esther Lázaro, have founded the San Miguel and San Frutos Association, with the aim of stopping the statue from being installed. According to their petition on campaigning website change.org, which already has more than 5,000 signatures, the devil “is offensive for Catholics, because it constitutes the glorification of evil.” What’s more, his smiling expression makes things worse, according to the association, because it “represents the devil alone, making him the protagonist, without being next to a church, nor in any other environment that reflects the rejection of this figure.”

For De Santos, the association merely represents just “a few people,” and she says that the project will go ahead in the face of a situation she considers to be “unfair and disheartening.” “I just can’t believe that this could happen in 21st-century Spain,” she complains, adding that the association has gone so far as to say that “Segovia is going to become a focal point for satanic worship.”

“It’s insane,” adds sculptor José Antonio Abella, who points out with a hint of irony that this Mephistopheles is going to be installed next to the former headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in the city. “It would appear that the inquisitors never left the country for good,” he concludes.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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