Santiago de Compostela Administrative Map

A popular and abiding myth is the Estadea or assembly of departed souls that wander about at night visiting those who are likely to join them shortly. George Borrow refers to them as, ‘The spirits of the dead which ride upon the haze, bearing candles in their hands’. In A Stranger in Spain. H.V. Morton speaks of the Holy Company or Santa Compana. writing ‘when you are travelling at night in Galicia, you may in certain marshy places see flickering lights which dart here and there over the mournful landscape. You must now be very careful. It may be that you will find an invisible presence trying to place a lighted candle in your hand, and should you open your hand and accept it, you are lost. You have joined the Holy Company of Souls condemned to wander about purgatory with lighted candles until they can thrust their candle into the hand of some unsuspecting stranger. So it can happen that you may simply disappear from life and spend an eternity trying to get rid of your candle, haunting the moorlands and the waste places where the ghostly lights flicker, until at last you can lure some human being into the Holy Company and escape yourself!’

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All indigenous cultures put great emphasis on the orientation of their sacred buildings. Every Christian Church is placed in an east/west axis with the altar lying at the Eastern end facing towards the Star in the East or the rising sun. It is therefore not surprising that the ermita San Guillermo (Saint William’s hermitage) should face due east. Legend has it that St. James himself spent time at this elevated place where the first rays of the morning sun would strike into this humble place of worship. What is intriguing is that the sun rises directly over Pindo. This mountain was sacred to the Celts and Monte Pindo was revered as the Celtic Mount Olympus. This was the mountain of the Celtic Gods and it lies due East of Monte Facho. It is likely that this was also a place of pre-Christian worship. The sun. ever the symbol of light, life and fertility, was to give rise to one of the more enduring myths of Finisterre. Since early Celtic times this place was associated with fertility rites. The Saint’s stone bed or sarcophagus cama de San Guillermo became the place where infertile couples would come to copulate (to he on San Guillermo’s bed), in order to bring about the miracle of conception. We can only speculate on how the early Church dealt with such rites!

A common way of dealing with such practises was the creation of another myth to frighten off the superstitious. So along with the chronicles of fertility we have stories of old hags and witches that lay in wait for young men to lure them to their own beds and certain death! The myths surrounding the giant hag or witch Orcavella was one of the most frightening. Her snake ridden tomb (Tumba de Orcavella) was variously sited at the Pedras Santas (holy stones) Pedras de Abalar (trembling stones) and at the ermita San Guillermo. She reputedly ate children alive and was said to lure shepherds into her bed where she would smother them to death with her naked body. These stories were hardly conducive to frolicking about in the area!

The north/ south axis was also a point of importance to the early Celtic peoples. It so happens that the spine of Monte Facho lies in such a direction. It is not difficult to imagine the broad sweep leading up to the Pedras Santas being a ceremonial access route from the very earliest settlements ending, perhaps, with the demise of Dugium and the pagan past. But it is again to the west that Finisterre draws its most potent force. In many sacred cultures the west represents the spiritual dimension and Finisterre was considered the most westerly point on earth. Despite the discovery of the Americas in the 15th c. the power of Finisterre was and remains in its symbolism. Indeed it is interesting to note that the most westerly point in Spain in actually Cape Tourinan 25 km up the coast and the most westerly point in Europe is in Portugal at Cabo de Roca just west of Lisbon (see map on back cover). But none of these facts detracts from the significance of Finis terrae as representing the end of the earthly path.

Reminiscent perhaps of later stories of the search for the Holy Grail, the horizon of the sea was sometimes envisaged as the lip of an enormous chalice into which the host or sun sank each evening – the greater mystery that lay beyond consuming it. Grail mythology itself is closely connected with sun worship. It is interesting that the present day emblem of Galicia is a chalice with host above it surrounded by seven crosses representing the seven historical cities of Galicia. Traditionally there are also seven Celtic tribes.

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