Once you start walking through Galicia, you’ll start seeing several new architectural elements, some of them quite frequently. They’re not exclusive to Galicia. But they are more common here.
In this post I’m goign to tell you a little bit about 3 of them. Two of them are ubiquitous. The third one, not so much. But I think it’s quite interesting, and that’s why I included it.
A common question I see in Camino groups from pilgrims once they enter Galicia:
‘What are these structures?’, accompanied by a picture similar to the one here. Sometimes they add a guess or two as to what these might be.
Well, they are called hórreos. And they are granaries. Not chicken coops. Not mausoleums. Granaries.
Mostly, they store maíz (corn).
You’ll see them everywhere while walking through rural Galicia, where every house used to have one. They’re also common in Asturias and the north of Portugal.
Hórreos vary slightly depending on the location. In some areas, they’re built in a combination of wood and stone. In some other places, they’re fully made of stone. They usually have a rectangular shape, although in some places, square hórreos are the norm.
What they all have in common is that they’re raised from the ground by pillars. This helps keep crops dry. On top of each pillar there is a flat stone designed to keep rodents out. That’s also why access stairs are separated from the hórreo. Their walls have slits to allow ventilation. The roofs usually have some decorative element, such as a cruz (cross), a pinnacle, a weather vane, cones (you’ll see those on the Camino del Norte), etc.
The oldest reference to an hórreo in a document dates back to 1219 and it refers to a certain hórreo in Betanzos, on the Camino Inglés. However, different versions of hórreos have been in use in Galicia since pre-Roman times.
In the 17th-18th centuries, hórreos became common and they became also a symbol of status: the bigger the hórreo, the richer the family. In fact, some of the biggest hórreos in Galicia belong to the Church.
There are several of those in the Fisterra area, like the one pictured below, in the town of Carnota.
You can see another one on the Variante Espiritual of the Portuguese Way, next to the Poio monastery. Also on the Variante Espiritual, you should check Combarro, with the highest concentration of hórreos in Galicia.
Another common element of the Galician landscape is the cruceiro (in Galician) or crucero (in Spanish). A cruceiro is a high cross, made of stone. Cruceiros can usually be found in churchyards, crossroads or ancient pagan worship sites.
There are more than 12 000 cruceiros all over Galicia. The oldest one is in Melide, next to the capilla (chapel) de San Roque, and it dates back to the 14th century. There’s another one from the same period in Neda, on the Camino Inglés.
There are several superstitions linked to cruceiros.
Some of them were built in places where a violent death had occurred. The purpose of the cruceiro was to try to save the soul of the deceased and stop it from wandering around the area and from harming passers-by.
Cruceiros also offered protection against the Santa Compaña.
The Santa Compaña is a procession of the dead (or of tormented souls) who wander through the paths after midnight, wearing hooded cloaks and holding candles. The procession is led by a living person, who is under a curse. This person is carrying a cross (sometimes a cauldron too). He or she will not remember anything in the morning, although they will feel very tired.
The only way to be free from the curse is to get another living person to carry the cross. If they can’t do this, they will feel weaker and weaker and become sick for no apparent reason. There are several ways to avoid being cursed if you encounter the Santa Compaña. One of them is to step onto the base of a cruceiro.
Cruceiros were also the chosen location to perform magical practices, like curing certain deseases or fertility issues.
In some places, babies who had died before receiving baptism were usually buried at the base of a cruceiro.
Petos de ánimas
Peto de ánimas roughly translates as souls’ money box. This is actually the Galician name but, to be honest, I have no idea if there’s a name for them in Spanish.
They are little shrines devoted to the souls in purgatory, and they can be found at crossroads or near churches. Most of them were built in the 18th century.
Petos de ánimas can vary a lot, but tend to have 3 common elements:
- A base, usually made of stone.
- On top of the base goes the niche, with a stone carving depicting souls in the fire of purgatory.
- Under the niche, there’s the peto or money box where people used to leave their alms for the salvation of those souls.
Nowdays, it’s not common to leave money, but you will still see other kinds of offerings such as flores (flowers), maíz, or velas (candles).
This peto de ánimas is in Tui, on the Camino Portugués. It shows souls in the fire of purgatory, with the dove/Holy Spirit watching over them.
You can see remains of flowers and a candle that someone offered for the salvation of the souls in purgatory.
When a soul is saved and goes to Heaven thanks to your offering or prayers, they will later intercede on your behalf, so you can go into Heaven too. Keep it in mind when you’re next walking through Galicia and you see a peto de ánimas.
Today’s Spanish words
For the pronunciation of cruz, check Tarta de Santiago.
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