Saturday, 27 August 2011

Naughty Stones in Santiago...(and nuns)

First off: a Challenge!

Somewhere in the city of Santiago de Compostela is this stone. Were it in any Indian village we would have to call it a "lingam". Call it what you may, it's pretty obvious what it is supposed to represent. I don't know the history of this stone but hope one day to find out. Presumably it dates back to the days of the dolmens and the castros. If you can tell me either one of the streets it is on the corner (of!), I will happily send you a copy of Pilgrimage to Heresy either in English or Spanish, or, a very limited copy of my new book Being and Paradox which looks at the question of the "rights" of nature and the problems in trying to define them. Send your entries to: by September 30th, 2011 and don't forget to say which book you would prefer.

As usual, I walked the equivalent of a day's hike on the Camino while in Santiago. It is such a walker's city and I always use any excuse I can to pass through the Obradoiro Square and also the cathedral itself. This frequently sends me well out of my way. I never feel at all guilty using this "short cut" as to me it binds the "hub" of the basilica into my meanderings both purposeful and not.

This time there were certain little things I intended to buy. I wanted to add to the growing collection of what I consider "amulets" on my silver necklace. I began with my first Holy Year medallion of 1999, then added a Cruz de Caravaca when I visited the shrine there (one day I want to learn a lot more about that story too). The year 2009 saw me add a shell for my Camino Portuguese, and last year yet another Holy Year medallion. This year, I was not sure what I wanted so set out to find out. Had to be silver; had to be less than 10 euros. I found a little Tau.

Now of course, anyone else would think that I simply added a T for Tracy, and that is also true. But I have always been attracted to the Tau and decided it would make a nice addition to my collection. I don't wear the necklace all the time but it always goes on - almost automatically - when I head for the Camino. I don't want to overdo the additions either (my daughter says: "Mom, you are looking very Spanish and very Catholic").

Not at all. It is very suitable for a Happy Heretic. The Tau, according to Wikipedia is: a symbol of the Roman God Mithras and the Greek Attis, and their forerunner Tammuz, the Sumerian solar God, the consort of the Goddess Ishtar.

Tammuz, like Christ, was associated with fishing and shepherding. The Tau cross takes the shape of the letter of his name, and is one of the oldest letters known. A solar god, the death and resurrection of Tammuz were celebrated every summer

I like to think that the Camino also celebrates "death and resurrection" and so I am happy with my little present to me.

The next thing I wanted to hunt down was a suitable present for Mariana, the daughter of my friend Fernanda who opens her home - and her heart - to hundreds of pilgrims on the Camino Portuguese every year. Mariana always puts on Abba and Celine Dion and dances like a professional. She is 11. I feel that I have been watching her grow up every year I have gone back there.

I stopped into a gift shop with the intention of buying a "hada": a Galician fairy. Mariana always reminds me of a sprite with her mother's pixy face. I found the perfect one, but then, remembering her age, and that what is symbolic to a grown-up may seem childish to a pre-teen, I had misgivings.

As luck would have it, behind the counter and helping her mum was a girl about Mariana's age.

"What do you think?" I asked as she was wrapping the fairy. "Would a girl your age like this?"

"No," came the definitive answer. "Maybe a pulsera (a bracelet), or a CD?"

I left the shop having learned, yet again, that no matter how in touch you might think you are with today's kids, you are far from the mark.

I found the pulsera ... and the CD ...

Guess which she liked the best out of the three presents?

Yep. The hada!

Next stop for shopping meant going to Encontros Bookshop on the Rua do Castro to see how their stocks were for Pilgrimage to Heresy in English. They have sort of an "exclusive" mostly because I hate going into bookshops to sell my books (and everywhere has the Spanish version Peregrinos de la Herejía including El Corte Inglés and FNAC). I also find it hard to collect my "profits" so stick with Encontros (and Bookworld España in the Costa del Sol and Madrid).

Anyway, they had only one copy left and so I took another bunch.

As I was leaving, I noticed a book in the window. It was called: Compostela: Una Historia Entrentenida. It was a history of the city, beautifully illustrated with maps and fanciful pictures of all the things I have been writing about in St. James' Rooster.

All the money I had just received was then duly handed back ...

It IS a lovely book though.

I have been trying to track down the original altar from the cathedral for some time. I had read (very obscurely - can you read obscurely?) that it was in the Museo de Arte Sacro, a little visited museum attached to the Convent of San Paio which is that massive building with the frighteningly small (and high) windows, all with their own iron grill, on the side of the cathedral where the Puerta Sacra is. (That sentence is too long!)

I paid my couple of euros and asked. "Yes, we have it," the young girl said. She was reading a daily prayer book so I assumed she must be a novice perhaps... She was very young? "It's over there." An older nun with a sweet face appeared. She was delighted that I wanted to see the altar. "It was carried on the boat that brought Santiago to Galicia," she kindly informed me.

Over there turned out to be just around the corner. "But you can't take photographs. It is forbidden!" The novice pointed to a sign with an old fashioned camera and a big X through it.

"But I wouldn't use a flash," I offered. I should really know by now that Rules are Rules.

"No. No cameras. No fotos."

I put my little Canon back in my purse.

The original altar was rejected by Diego Gelmirez as not grand enough. The monks, who actually had had the custody of the shrine for 200 years, were not pleased. They took it back and here it still is, almost 1200 years after it was first installed in the first basilica. There was writing on it which seemed to say that the original inscription had been erased in the 16th century (I think). I wrote down everything and I haven't seen my notes (or my sketch) since!!!

What intrigued me was that the altar stone appeared like a tray. It had raised edges all around. Now I may be wrong about this (if I am I hope you will let me know), but it is my understanding that altar stones were standardised very early on in Christian history and stones such as these were banned because they were like those used for pagan sacrifice. I was also desperate to look around the back to see how the flat stone was supported by the (separate and later dated) base.

Yes, being led into temptation, I did it again, I put one leg over the rope in order to sketch what I could see.

The young nun was on me like a ton of bricks.

"¡Usted no se puede hacer esto!"I explained I was a writer (I didn't elaborate. People in convents are a bit funny about happy heretics)and researcher and this stone was muy importante en la historia de la catedral y ...and I just wanted to ...

Nope. She wouldn't budge. Further more, I had shrunk to approximately 30 inches tall; smaller than the altar.

So, I can assure you that the original altar does exist, that it has had the original inscription removed, that it is said to be of the first century, and that it has a support dated later. I can't prove it though 'cos I've lost my notes.

And "¡No fotos!"*

Tomorrow, on foot to Muxia...NOT. The best laid plans, even of pilgrims, have a habit of not quite happening the way they are supposed to.
P.S. PLEASE don't forget: I need your help! It will take you three minutes to fill my little 7 question questionnaire on the viability and the need for a pilgrims "refuge" for after the Camino: a place to get ready for "re-entry". I really do need YOU to add your voice. It is all anonymous.

Here's the LINK:

*P.P.S. There is a picture of the altar on Google images...(Not me!)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tracy,

    I was already digging into the tau for another occasion in old posts on the Forum, like

    Follow the Tau –with a dozen references- on – “… I discovered the greater and longer story lines by following the Tau-cross staff that made it full circle. From the Holy Land via Axum in Ethiopia (where the Tau-cross staff is still carried around in procession by christian priests – I’ve got such an original Tau at home – it’s now my avatar on the Forum) along the southern [quite remarkable – there must be a lot of untold stories!] shores of the Mediterranean via Nazaré [Nazareth?] on the Portuguese coast to Padron and Santiago cum annexis to Ireland from where Brandan, Willibrord and Bonifacius took the story back to the continent. To Dokkum in Friesland (where the latter was murdered) and Echternach (with its dancing procession) in Luxemburg & so on & so further. Who said again: It is all one great story?"

    Georgiana's Gems #4 Santiago's tau staff - – King, The Way of Saint James, Volume III: BOOK THREE: THE BOURNE: chapter VII. THE ASIAN GOD: The Constant Worship: ”With Celtic cults we must take into account the possibility of some figure in Galicia like the Gallo-Roman Dis Pater, the ancestor of the Gauls, who holds a bowl in one hand and rests the other on a long-handled mallet, wearing in many cases [Wolf] a wolf-skin hood.37 The coins of the Verones,38 in Old Castile, show a hammer in the hand of the rider. This identification would explain the shrine at Compostella sub Lobio, the bourdon on which S. James leans, and his death or that of his [298] double, S. James the Less, by a fuller's mallet. It would also explain the Tau-staff carried by his effigy [Iconography and legend] in the Gloria, on the church door at Noya, and in a miniature of 1328, in the manuscript known as Tumbo B, where the Apostle is vested and seated on his altar, among nine stars, holding the same hammer-headed staff.39 The wolf-skin belongs also to the Etruscan Hades, whose aspect in the tomb-paintings discovered at Orvieto and Corneto, is very like S. James; it is an attribute of the underworld, of Aidoneus, a Zeus over-shadowed and graver.”

    By ‘coïncidence’ a good pilgrim just sent me a very nice booklet on THE PORTICO OF GLORY, by Serafín Moralejo Álvarez. Page 16: “St James the Great appears twice: once as an apostle, between his brother John and Paul, and again as the patron saint of the cathedral, seated on his throne on the mullion. In both instances he is carrying a tau-shaped crozier or traveller’s staff, which would be used as a distinctive staff by the Archbishops of Santiago de Compostela from then onwards, until the 15th century. Notice that Moses, Isaiah and a third unidentified prophet (possibly Balaam) are also portrayed in the Portico with similar staffs. Prophets and patriarchs of the Ancient Law are thus portrayed as the quintessential image of the pilgrim Church on earth. This continuity between the times of the Law and the times of Grace is in fact one of the aspects that the sculptural programme of the Portico most sought to emphasise, and López Ferreiro3 was quite right when he summarised its content as representing the convergence of the faithful Jewish nation with that of the Gentiles in order that together they may build the people of God.” … Page 30: “… The tau was also a symbol in Biblical tradition – that of salvation – as well as in Greek tradition – that of a crossroads – and the use of this kind of crosier cannot be separated from these mystical meanings.“

    And a little extra in YouTube on that beautiful book you mentioned: Santiago de Compostela, una historia entretenida libro - - the Pórtico for the occasion in full colour! Will we see that ever again?

    Courage & success!