Tag Archives: Brittany

A Spellbound Place in Spain: Where Ancient and Pagan Legends Meet Christian Stories

There’s a place in northern Spain, in the region of Galicia, very close to the remote northernmost corner of the Iberian Peninsula, that even the inhabitants consider one small borough, even though it has officially been granted the township. It was in the Galician borough of Viveiro, founded back in the Iron Age, where I first discovered that on this particular realm Celtic, Roman and Christian legends and myths get along to spell even the most modern of all travellers. It’s actually true what they say: calm waters run deep. Just as all Galician people, the locals don’t talk much, but when they do share some piece of story, a new and intriguing part of a legend or some genuine explanation for a pagan rite, well… you’d better take notes. They won’t say it again, they most certainly won’t admit they made the assumptions and they won’t even reduce anything to writing.

First of all, if you feel audacious enough to start this affair, pay attention: they won’t actually take you by the hand to show you stuff, but on a closer look, you’ll easily see there is no story, piece of tradition, pagan rite or Christian custom that the locals won’t respect with ever more passion in this small town. Viveiro is officially on the map of itineraries also known as Camino do Mar, created by the pilgrims travelling to great lengths of distance to honor Saint James. It’s therefore impossible for the modern traveller passing through this land hidden by the Bay of Biscay Bay and the creek formed by the Atlantic waters not to hear at least one story about the Celts who seemed to have left this particular place to start the conquest of the British Isles, or even some surreal explanation of the origins of the Tower of Hercules, the oldest Roman lighthouse still working and still standing for almost two millenia.

The old quarter of the city seems to be the most beautiful safekeeping window on the Galician coast of the Celtic Sea, because it counts no less than six old gates from the 13th century which are part of a collection of medieval walls from around the town. At least, that’s what the modern historian says, while imperceptibly leading the visitors deep inside the city, on narrow and arduous streets. Therefore, even more surprising are the vestiges of modernity in this fishermen’s town: Viveiro counts luxurious hotels, cinemas and a theater hall, museums and new buildings, a sports center and a music school. Besides, the locals take good care of the annual carnival, pay their respects during religious feasts, and also mount up parties and even a punk music festival.

The voyager must rest assured: Galicia has its place among the seven Celtic realms, alongside Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, The Isle of Man, Ireland and Brittany. People claim the ancient anonymous Lebor Gabála Érenn, the 11th century Book of the Taking of Ireland simply tells the story for everybody to know it: the son of the mythical leader Breogan is said to have looked far into the horizon, to the north, and there saw a realm he decided he had to conquer. As far as the story goes, after his father’s murder, Ith climbed up in Breogan’s Tower and must have seen the same realm again, because he eventually started the invasion, from right there, on Galician shore, to Ireland – Ith’s land. And it’s not just the beautiful legend of the Celts leaving Galicia to conquer the British Isles. More than one historical source seems to confirm it: the ancient inhabitants of these lands called themselves Celts and a medieval German historian apparently figured out the meaning of a funeral inscription that stated that the country was called “Gaeltia” – also spelled as “Caeltia”. Continue reading