Updated: May 18
We have just concluded a five day holiday stretch. The type of holiday here that alters everything from regular business hours and the day to day activities that leads to complete village shutdown. The said holiday falls near a weekend and somehow the previous Friday and the following Monday is considered part of the weekend. This year it also included a Tuesday.
It was May Day, also known as Labor Day, Beltane and the many Holy Catholic Saint days celebrated on or around the first of May in little towns across Spain.
Saint Isidore the Laborer to be celebrated on the 15th of May for us who work the land is not celebrated on Labor Day. In Madrid, Saint Isidore is celebrated with dandies trying to woo the ladies dancing their Chotis, nothing to do with work. It muddles the mind.
There are several Marias. Saint Madeline, Sophie, Barat. Saint Philip, Neri. Saint Joan of Arc. I am sure to have missed several.
Many people in the area have their personal devotion to their patron saint either chosen or appointed to them and here I am living in Galicia for almost ten years trying to make sense of it all.
Sunday, 07 May, Mothers day in Spain. Since I have lived in Spain the day marked for a tribute to us mothers goes unnoticed in many homes. A saint always takes precedence and she steals our thunder.
My usual solitary escape to the top of the world where I go to see my world in a different perspective would be invaded...
A friend here having a deep rooted history to the chapel through her great grandfather, I needed and wanted to be a spectator of this ceremony. The pilgrimage many of the octogenarian residents in the area have spoken to me about with fond memories always starting their narrative with "cando era picaro", when I was young. The detailed recollection of how things were igniting and brightening the spirit in their eyes that sadly appear dimmer with each passing day lately. Most no longer have the ability to walk up the steep hill to be part of the alter placing of the statue and floral tribute to Santa Cruz. They now sit in the shade at the entrance to their home for second hand accounts of how it went if no one offered to drive them up.
An 1805 structure that has its history for sea faring fishermen asking for blessings in bounty when casting their nets and protection before setting sail against the raging sea. They would have ritualistic offerings for a safe return to dry land at an alter where the original entrance once stood. It was also a place of solace for the widows of those lost at sea to lament their loss and accept it. Sitting atop a mountain, simple, the white stuccoed walls stand out gloriously against the green of the wooded backdrop.
The original portico removed long ago. The alteration of the entry that once faced the meadow now faces west to the river and sea. The dismantling and disappearance of the original mantel piece and missing relics- robberies by clergy and occasional vandalism.
But there it stands as the guardian of all below.
Its simplicity always drew me to her to be met with locked doors.
Today I would be able to go inside.
This celebration for the praise and the transport of a statue from a small ancient hamlet embraced by the river banks and is currently being eaten up by the villa´s urbanisation plans is falling into the forgotten.
Being A Spectator
Mothers day with my girl and three of my dearest friends here in Ribadeo and we head to the meadow atop the mountain leading to Santa Cruz with a picnic prepared to take part of the celebration.
A canopy of old chestnut trees cover us from the sun that battled and defeated the dark rain clouds that hovered during the morning.
We arrive and the crowd is thin. The tent for live music is assembled but empty. The pop up bar fully stocked, there is no one to quench their thirst nor liven their spirit. An inflatable bouncy structure is set up. There are no children around to beg for tokens to bounce. No sounds of screeching and screaming children with a mix of excitement and fear usually accompanied with these installations was heard.
The lone rustic restaurant with its family staff of three for today. The clatter of set up is happening. In between setting the tables the husband and son surprise the matriarchal with a bouquet of fragrant lilies, she pauses for a minute, does not know how to react. A quick wiff of the blooms, she smiles, hugs them both and hurries back into the kitchen. It was the last time I saw her when up at Santa Cruz.
The other two resume to setting tables for the one- o- clock rush of my unknown neighbours that will shortly arrive in waves to consume the paprika sprinkled boiled octopus and seasonal crustaceans they are accustomed to having when eating out during events like today.
Crossing The Threshold
Before entering the chapel we head to the vantage point of Santa Cruz, below- Ove, to the left The Villa and the Cantabric Sea. Straight ahead, the River Eo and Asturias. Rockets are being launched and exploding in the air with echoing booms.The procession has started.
The few who accompanied us for the arrival of the saint looking down expectantly to get a glimpse of something.
The chapel was empty, my time to go in...
There was silence, a coolness greeting me with a warm glow that reflected from the stone slates I stepped upon, two small window openings placed high on the walls. In its simplicity the few things that filled in the space set it apart from abandon.
Above me weathered chestnut timber and beams form the gabled roof with two imposing hand hammered chandeliers too old for people to remember when they were first hung. Contemporary oak pews were lined against the mouldy walls and one very old dusty Prie-dieu stood out amongst them. There were no painted frescos on the walls, crosses were hammered onto them instead, each with a roman numeral. Immediately I thought perhaps twelve apostles, but no, there were fifteen and not in sequence.
The alter, a relic, the hollowed openings of where reredos once framed by the retable now a fixture for flower vases and a minute statues that look out of place. One painting on an easel for temporary display. The chapel keeper will lock it away again till next year once the ceremony has concluded.
Rockets go off again and clacking is heard from the distance. Stepping out, silence and a rhythmic sound approaches. There was no priest, no one burning frankincense and myrrh, no alter boys. No bagpipes! No hymns sung or whispered prayers, just the clacking of the iron rods.
The image of the saint bobbing up and down with every synchronised step by the four float bearers up the hill.
The older folks who waited patiently in the shade near the church entrance join the continued procession thrice around the chapel.
One: The Father
Two: The Son
Three: The Holy Spirit
All is quiet with the exception of one woman who made an attempt to break into song but struggled with remembering the words and as quickly as her burst to break the silence she hushed and lamented her endeavour. There is no penitence as those I saw in Andalusia years ago. No one wore a tunic.
All hurried into the chapel, the statue is placed near the alter, a floral arrangement of purple celosia bloom and babies breathe. Boldness and courage with everlasting love. Perfection for such humility.
The floral offering is made, two of the four iron rods are placed in the foreground form crossed into an X... protection? All who made the pilgrimage are lined up to ask for blessings. A prayer is murmured and as quickly as they entered they exited.
The chapel once again empty.
Santa Cruz returned home.
Somehow the small crowd livens up. Older folks hugging the children with hope of continuity with a "Nena, hai tempo que non te vexo", sweetheart, I have not seen you in so long with a "gústache" , did you like it? They then head to their respective homes or designated spots to feast.
There is an artistry to this ceremony. It is simple and unassuming like that of the chapel. It is very symbolic, from the floral arrangements to the gold embroidered cloak placed on the image of the saint. It brings people together for one day, unworried about their private and public goings on. Some go to say hello to many they can not stop to talk to during most the year and see the almost forgotten ones whom have aged.
It is a day to give praise and devotion that now few hold on to.
They want to believe in something and now they want to believe it will continue to mean something.
What Just Happened?
We headed to the meadow, the picnic area with small crowds having lunch. Music and singing can be heard from beyond.
We sit there, trying to make sense of it all. None of us having a particular dogma to live by.
What does it all mean?
We came to the conclusion that if it weren't for the curiosity for today, we would not have had a picnic. If it weren't for the pilgrimage of today we would only see each other in passing like most who live here with our busy season creeping up on us. They too do the same.
So we started own ritual: Ribeiro Wine representing the mystery of God and apple slices celebrating the beauty and sweetness of our friendships with hope of prosperity for the future.
Once heading down to centre village to end the day with a stroll. I stopped at a home where a woman was sitting in the shade by her door- alone. She asked, if we were up in Santa Cruz "Yes"... she started cando era picara, we asked to sit next to her and listened to her narrate her memories.
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