Saturday, 3 November 2012

Chapter 2 St James´Rooster

“Feudal Galicia, hmm . . . What do you know about

Diego Gelmirez?”

Peter Callaghan was sitting upon the desk, not behind it, and that at least gave Laura some measure of confidence. But the question invited a huge discursion. So many things. Where to start?

They were in the old university beside the Market. The building alone intimidated Laura but she knew she had to get over it. Here for a year or more was to be her home, despite her paucity of Spanish, and even though she was taking classes in Gallego, she knew that she was very much the
outsider here. Peter, despite his Irish background, spoke both fluently, and
Portuguese too. Laura had not even passed the point where she could tell
where Portuguese ended and Gallego began, excepting that the latter had
a softer sound. Not that that matters when you can’t really understand
either very well.

This discussion luckily was in English, thank God.
“Well, I know that he was not born into the aristocracy, that his father
was Gelmirio, which is where he gets his patronymic, and that Gelmirio
was the administrator of the castle of Torres del Rio, just south of Padron
where the legends state that St. James was brought ashore.”
Laura looked at her advisor for encouragement but found none. Callaghan’s
work was one of the main reasons she had made this decision: to come
back to Santiago and add a Ph.D. to a list of already impressive credentials.
Some of her advisors were impressed with her knowledge. But clearly Dr.
Callaghan was not amongst them. She had read some of his books: Feudal
Galicia was his best known. She realised that what she had said, in hope
of some sort of encouragement, was not enough. Obviously more was
expected. The silence was too long.
“Um . . . I know that he was educated at the school near the cathedral,
or . . . was it a just a church then?”
A non-committal nod prompted her to go on.
“I believe he then went on to finish his education at the court of the king
in Leon . . . Alfonso VI?”
“And then he returned to Santiago. The king’s son-in-law, Raymond chose
him to be his secretary in, I think, about 1093 or so.”
Laura looked around the office. There was a window overlooking the
valley of the River Sar in the distance
she could see the Seminario Mayor on the other side of the valley: now a
pilgrims’ hospice. The group had stayed there last year for a while. Felix
had proposed to Laura on the front steps late one chilly autumn evening,
and she had accepted without giving it a second thought. It had seemed as
though their meeting on the Camino was meant to be.
“Who was Raymond?” He brought her back to the discussion at hand.
“He was related to Constance of Burgundy who became Alfonso’s queen.
Alfonso rewarded him with a sort of “dukeship” of Galicia. Anyway he
was very powerful in the north west of Alfonso’s kingdom and somehow
Diego Gelmirez seemed the right man for the job, first as secretary then
as bishop of Compostela.
“Diego Gelmirez,” mused her tutor. “Now this is the man we have to talk
about, I think.” The Irish brogue came out. But not the Irish smile she
had hoped for.
Laura was losing her nerve. Diego Gelmirez. What she was saying sounded
so basic. Her tutor had seemed very approachable around her dinner table
last night and now she just felt a bit of a fool. She wished he would give
her some sort of feedback. Instead he said:
“Go on.”
“Well, Alfonso knew of Bishop Diego Peláez, of course, because the bishop
was consecrated by his brother, Sancho. But Alfonso overthrew Sancho
because he wanted to become lord of Galicia as well as Castilla and Leon.
He, Diego, that is . . .”
“Which Diego?”
You know bloody well which Diego, she thought, but added:
“Diego Peláez was the bishop of Compostela from about 1075 through to
1088. He began the cathedral. Lots of people think it was Diego Gelmirez
who built it . . .” She caught Callaghan’s eye for interruption, but it didn’t
come, “but it wasn’t. He only picked up where Diego Peláez left off, and
many years after. The first Diego was accused of treason and thrown into
prison. The Historia Compostelana doesn’t say much about him, but they
do hint that there may have been some sort of plot along with Count
Diego Ovéquiez to hand Galicia over to the Normans.”
“Anyone in particular?”
Laura was feeling faint. It was said that Diego Peláez wanted to treat with
the Normans. She knew that the evidence of Diego Peláez so-called treason
was slim, but she also knew that she only had the Historia Compostelana
to draw upon and she said as much.
“Why would a Spanish bishop want to treat with the Normans?”
She knew she was on shaky ground. There was even a story that a daughter
of William the Conqueror may have once been betrothed to the Spanish
king Alfonso the Sixth; even that she may have had some sort of prior
understanding with his brother Sancho, or even Garcia the youngest
who was once King of Galicia, but later Garcia had fled his country and
taken refuge in Sevilla which was under Moorish occupation. When he
tried to make peace with his brother Alfonso, the latter had him arrested
and he spent the rest of his days locked up in one of Alfonso’s castles.
Sancho was murdered probably on the king’s orders. It all made no sense,
especially as the daughter had died en route to her marriage with Alfonso
the brother . . . what was her name? How could this have affected the fate
of Galicia? She didn’t know and the only thing to do was admit as much.
“I don’t know,” she said meekly.
“No-one knows,” said Peter Callaghan, “but it’s a grand story don’t you
Somehow Laura didn’t know if she had triumphed or failed.

Laura looked around at the office and its cedar panelling. It was clearly
of the 18th century and lined with books. But how many belonged to
her tutor? She thought probably not many but that didn’t decrease the
intimidation factor.

“The problem is Lara . . .”
“The problem, Laura, is that we have a lot of information about Diego
Gelmirez but it’s all from the Historia Compostelana which was his “spin”
if you like. He commissioned it. There are three possible authors. But
when it comes right down to it, they wrote it to glorify Diego Gelmirez
and the things he did, which were not insubstantial by any means. Laura,
the man was a monster, but he was a genial monster with a shrine to
protect and a city to build, and in that he was bloody good at his job.
Once you start to research him further, you may have the same grudging
respect for him as I do.
“We have an appointment tomorrow afternoon, am I right?”
“Yes,” said Laura wondering what time was the first flight back to Bristol
from Lavacolla, Santiago’s airport.


  1. My apologies for the paragraphing and spacing. Please Mr Blogger...can I have my old BLOGGER back? This new one is S&"?!

  2. I've just posted on your rabbit thread, not knowing it was an older one.

    And I forgot to say my name is not Tom Goodman (I use that initially because of horrendous spam on my real name post!). My name is Denis, to avoid being secretive.

    Best wishes.