Friday, 7 February 2014

Manfred of Camelle: The calm between the storms

So very sad...

On Christmas morning 2013, lightning struck the Sanctuario in Muxia, and within hours the roof and interior had been gutted. Had it been any other day fishermen would have alerted the firefighters in Cee, and maybe, just maybe they would have got to the fire faster. Too late now. Add to that the devastating seas which almost made a true boat of this most enigmatic of churches, and the damage is complete.  The walls remain, the towers, and irony of irony, the futile and heartless lightning rods remain,
along with the crosses that shadow them.
I was away at the time, down south with my family. I saw the news, open-mouthed and crying. It took me over a month to visit the Sanctuario de la Virgin de la Barca in Muxia. I did it today. It reminded me of a hole where something used to be. I was sad. I watched the shuttered window swing to and fro; in my mind’s eye, I saw the Sanctuary drift out to sea…like a ship, unmoored, unanchored, adrift for lack of real hindsight and maybe too many lies. The tiller held in a dead hand with little treasure left to salvage...
It all seemed to be pre-destined: a sanctuary built on pagan rocks. Time takes on a different meaning from the point of view of Stones
I left and drove to Camelle

What I was even less prepared for, was the despair I experienced when I saw what the most recent “Temporal” (Cyclone Petra) had done to what was left of Manfred Gnädinger’s “museum” near The Little Fox House, my pilgrim retreat: his garden in stone is all but destroyed. His iconic round tower is a heap of perfect stones, reducing in circumference. His testimony to the broadcasting age: gone. The tarpaulin was already in shreds, torn in the storms of New Year. I have here in my house a jar for donations to replace it: photos, pleas…* But what is there left to reconstruct now?
"Man" died in 2002. They said he was the only human victim of an environmental crisis caused by 70,000 metric tons of highly toxic oil. The fate of the Prestige is not so much about money but honesty, even – given the conundrum of Margoules the captain – loyalty, and fear: fear of growing old and useless.
Manfred didn´t have that chance. But in his will (which I have seen) he makes it clear that his Museo – built with literal sweat and tears – should be left entrusted to the Estado de España. Oh, along with what is said to be 120,000 euros too, which no one, subsequently, wants to explain the disappearance (of).
Man, I cried for you today. I stood on that unsafe wharf you protested so vehemently and wept. Your work may be lost forever. I am an optimist by nature, but even I would not know where to start. Perhaps (and I hope so) you legacy rests on the natural force which eventually destroyed the loving art that the oil from the Prestige could only tarnish. Maybe you knew all along that the unleashed power of the sea was greater than the exploits of man, and even you, “Man”.
Will those two little black redstarts be there the next time I visit? I have noticed then often and haven´t seen them anywhere else. Will your spirit inhabit this place, not in what was there, but in what lies on harmony with nature. Until she closes the book.
Your body was exhumed; you were cremated, supposedly according to your wishes. Ask most people now: where is Manfred and they will look confused, or somehow have to leave. Wherever you are – and I have a feeling I have glimpsed you once or twice - RIP: Manfred.

You will always be in my heart.

(*SeeThe Story of Man: blog post 08/01/2012 for background on Man's story)
Extraordinary photo by Marcos Rodríguez

Friday, 9 August 2013

Festival de Carballeira, Zas....

The poster was brilliantly designed, the location perfect. The musical line up promised a magical night of Celtic music. I missed it in 2012. I missed the folk festival of Ortiguera too. But the Carballeira was on my doorstep and I had looked forward to it all year. I was even more excited when I found that one of my favourite folk groups, Berrogüetto was to play along with three others including what I can only call the folk punk band Lurte from Aragon.
I had two pilgrims staying at The Little Fox House and having saturated them with Galician music for two days I knew they were ready for the excursion into the amazing world of music that is Festival Galicia in the summertime.
All started very well. We were lucky enough to find a bar called O Gaitero (the piper) in Zas and treated to an impromptu concert by a group of friends from Santiago. It was wonderful: "I´ve never heard anything like this!" said Patricia from New Zealand. Ten o´clock rolled around and we lined up at the entrance to the Festival. Bags were being searched for glass bottles and I saw a few (a very few) which had been confiscated. There was a small admission charge (which entitled us to a CD with two of the songs of each of the bands playing). We were duly hand-stamped and sent on our way.
The concerts began late, but this is Spain. Carballeira, true to its name (carballo is the Galego word for oak tree) is set in a sylvan paradise. We found a tree suitable for our backs and backsides and prepared for a great evening of folk music.
The first band were from the Basque country: some brilliant accordian playing. But by now, the "muy poquiño" number of people was growing by the minute.  Five men took a sizeable spot behind us and set up "camp". This included one very large plastic cooler and no less than five 5 litre plastic jugs of wine plus God knows what they had doctored into it. Within half an hour they were hollering into our ears.
Berrogüetto played. Beautifully.  But shouts from those behind of "maricon!" at the band made me want to strangle someone. By this time they were literally falling down the hill and into us. One woman who could barely stand stamped most forcefully on my sandalled foot and clearly didn´t even notice it. Patricia had had enough and excused herself to go and sleep in the car (by now it was one o´clock but by Spanish standards nothing had even really started yet!).
The remaining two of us moved, several times, away from young men who needed two of their buddies in order to be able to stand, young men who were throwing up around us, young women whose glassy eyes told the story of what they had done to poison themselves. Those five litre bottles were everywhere. Two partygoers had to be carried out on stretchers and the ambulances lit up the night.
The band Lurte was to play last. They are brilliant musicians one and all and I was really looking forward to hearing them, but their appearance is - well, let´s say more Sex Pistols meets Ozzy Osborne than Peter, Paul and Mary, and after they installed their drum and draped the skeleton around the amplifier the atmosphere took on  more and more of the sense of personal threat. Three men, clinging together in some bizarre form of dance came crashing into me and I had stationed myself close to the stage and the member of the Protección Civil guard in the hopes that some order might be found. The policeman didn´t bat an eyelid. I think he was as terrified as I was.
I never heard Lurte. I left before they came on, simply disgusted.
With whom?
I said to one pilgrim early on: "A lot of young people having fun, right?" She agreed. "Now try imagining that at last 40% of them have no work, never have had and have little hope of getting a job  in the near future".
But does that excuse the mass drunkenness I saw last Saturday?
There were concessions there. The drinks were a little more than could be purchased in the local bar, but not a lot. It was the sheer volume of alcohol per person which had been allowed into the Festival area which astounded me. The First Aid truck seemed not to lack customers.
"Buy our T-shirts", the president of the Carballeira organisation pleaded with the festival goers. "Help us to keep this great festival going another 30 years!" But the concessions didn´t seem to be doing a lot of business. Why bother when you have five litres of booze of your own, brought in with the total approval of the Guardia Civil of Galicia?
As I said, I didn´t stay. I had been very careful myself not to drink as I was the designated driver and had been stopped on the way home following a recent local festival. I knew that "Traffico" would be out in force.
I was wrong. I didn´t see a single spot check or police car.
No doubt Lurte stirred their totally wasted audience into a folk frenzy. No doubt the drinking continued until 7 in the morning.
And then they all drove home. Those that could still stand that is....
I have written to the organisers. I have written to the mayor of Zas (population - well not much). I doubt it will do any good and by doing it I feel a bit like "Outraged of Tunbridge Wells". I don´t think I objected because I am getting old. I know how to have fun and I can dance ´til dawn still if I have a mind to it (and did at the recent Asalto a O Castelo in Vimianzo where I saw none of this even without an admission check).  I think I did it because I am sad. Sad that the enjoyment of many who would have liked to enjoy the music was so ruined by the behaviour of so many drunks, some probably not yet 15 and who were poisoning themselves with the permission, even approval of the organisers of the Carballeira Festival.
We won´t even discuss the cost to an already overburdened medical system...
I doubt very much that I will ever go again. And two pilgrims will be taking a story back to their countries of a Spain that I would have preferred them (and I) not to see.
Signed: Disgusted of Carantoña.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Peasants are Revolting: Asalto a O Castelo 2013

The year is 1467. The economic pressures on the peasants exceeds their ability to provide. The abuses of such feudal lords as the Moscosos, the Counts of Altamira become unbearable. The king, Henry IV is blind to the pleas of his subjects. There isn´t even cake to eat! It is no surprise that finally, the Irmandiños form a band and plot to overthrow their masters. Supported by some of the clergy and even some minor squires (the hidalgos, which means literally sons of some substance), it is estimated that perhaps 80,000 rose in Galicia against the establishment between 1467 and 1469. They succesfully attacked 130 forts, amongst them the castle in Vimianzo.

However, despite the rapid success of the Irmandiños, their victory was short lived. As is so often the case, competing interests and lack of control within the brotherhoods led to their downfall. When the situation came to the notice of the king, he sent his support to the nobles. The strength of the rebels at that time simply wasn´t enough. Vimianzo was now not in the hands of the Moscosos, but Alonso II, the archbishop of Santiago. The leaders of the rebellion were hanged; others were forced to rebuild what they had destroyed. The end result is the castle we see today, which, by the way, is on The Little Fox House History and Mystery Tour if you are a pilgrim at the end of your Camino and lucky enough to be able to pay Foxy a visit for a couple of nights or three. (see )

Fast forward to 2013.  Irmandiños and nobles eat and drink side by side, that is until Luar na Lubre stops playing and the cry goes up: “Lume!”

Three slaves walk onto the stage, their plight quite clear. The queen shows no mercy (the countess actually but the facts here ruin the story!). The peasants begin to hurl abuse as the baddies demonstrate their power. “The queen is a dipshit!” catcalls the normally restrained (so he says) Reverand Stewart of Saskatoon, one of the three pilgrims who stormed the castle with me this year. These words will stay with me, Tracy Saunders, for the rest of my life!

“LUME!” The torches are lit, the drums begin as we follow the Irmandiños toward the object of their discontent. Someone takes up the cry:  “Asalto a O Castelo! Asalto a O Castelo!!". The castle hoves into site.

The story continues on the battlements and we Irmandiños are repulsed by water balloons, but only for a while.  The slaves reappear, a hand-to-hand battle is fought and the Viscount gets the worse of it. “LIBERTAD!!!”

Down go the gates under the merciless thrust of those manning (and womaning) the battering ram.


And so the castle is ours once again, for a whole year.

I am not usually one for festivals, but I have my little school in Vimianzo, and The Little Fox house is within its “Concello”. I hung a banner out of the school window (OK so it's St Mark from Venice. I am a foreigner!) and we all dressed up very Medievally and danced til 3 in the morning.
And I can´t wait for next year.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago

Walking the Camino (in Spanish, Buen Camino) follows six pilgrims on their way to Santiago. Each one of them carries more than just their backpack. They carry their sorrows, their doubts, their hopes and dreams for the future. Brazillian, Sam, for example says: “They said I would find the answer and then I realised: I didn’t know the question”. Tatiana pushes a baby stroller with her son, Cyrian. She struggles with not only the rocky terrain, but also her ambivalence towards her brother. They have always fought, she says at the beginning of the film: “Now, no fighting.” All that is to change, however, as she gradually realises that while she is on the Camino to talk to God, Alexis is out for a good time, and she finds that her inner struggles become focussed on trying to come to terms with their differences. Wayne, the Canadian, is still suffering from the sadness of losing his wife some time before. Annie wrestles with tendinitis and walks through her pain determined not to stop. Others pass her with their poles: tuk, tuk, tuk. “A bad day for the ego is a good day for the soul,” she reflects. Misa and William find themselves drawn to each other in ways that neither of them ever anticipated, the age difference fading into meaninglessness when they find they are only ever separated when one or the other goes to the bathroom.

In short, your pilgrimage. Perhaps everybody’s pilgrimage.

And therein is the true strength of this film.

Not only are the characters superbly drawn, but the film is cinematographically beautiful. Long shots, short shots, wide shots. Not that this writer knows anything about the technical terms, but when the raindrops on the blades of grass glisten, and when the clouds are scudding across the Meseta, then you begin to understand the magic of the Camino. A snail moves along the pathway; a jet speeds above the cathedral: the metaphors are not lost. This is the Camino de Santiago. Time takes on a different meaning.

I predict that everyone who sees this film will come away feeling as I did: humbled and connected to the lives of these people. Perhaps you, like me will “adopt” a pilgrim and feel something of their joy as they finally make it to the Plaza de Obradoiro. And maybe, like me, you will cry.

Truly a wonderful film.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Galicia is Not For Sale!

Last Sunday I decided to go for a walk. This is not an unusual thing for a Sunday, but this walk was around an area which, if the provincial government of Galicia and a Canadian gold mining company get their way, will soon no longer exist. At least not as a place in which you would want to take a walk.

The area in question is in Corcoesto in the Costa da Morte, no more than 8 kilometers from a pristine wetland area which hosts many species of wildlife. The river Anillons then flows in the Ria de Ponteceso and on into the sea.  It is a place of silence and very rare beauty.

I drove through Corcoesto twice without ever realizing it was there.  It is a typical Galician “aldea”: a tiny gathering of granite cottages, corn cribs and barns with cows chewing the cud.  Donkeys are still widely used in place of tractors and some carts still have wooden wheels. The population is aged. The women wear black or the ubiquitous blue apron seen all over Galicia.

It is well known that Spain is undergoing a serious recession. The unemployment rate is in excess of 25% and considerably higher amongst people under 25. Few stay in the countryside or continue the family tradition of farming.
So you would imagine perhaps, that a mining initiative might be just the ticket to revitalize the economy in this community. You would think that the majority of the people here would welcome the mine and certainly certain interested parties would tell you that this is indeed the case.

It is not.
The sign in the photo above reads, in Galician: "A Pyramid of Greed".
I went to Corcoesto to join a walk of 12 kilometers around the proposed site .We walked along crystal rivers and tracks fringed with foxgloves, through oak and pine and eucalyptus. There was no sound except our hushed voices and the sounds of our boots on the gravel. I tried to envisage the site as it would be with its plant, its open pit, its mine workings, its waste dump, its heavy construction vehicles. I tried to imagine the noise of dynamite and the rumble of trucks as the gold was taken away. I tried to imagine the smell of dust not  gorse and wild roses. I couldn’t do it for too long. It made me want to cry.

The old man on the horse told me that his blood pressure has shot up since December just wondering if the axe was going to fall.  The woman told me she would have joined the walk but her arthritis was too bad. She was afraid. The young girls told me that the environmental cost to this area would be devastating and that the mine would be in operation for eight years only. The man in the T-shirt wondered just how much of the wealth their ancestral land would yield would trickle down to the community; how many high end jobs would be given to outsiders. We agreed it was not an optimistic thought.
The Romans came to Galicia for gold. The city of Ourense receives its name from the precious metal. Oro is the Spanish word for gold.  Even today in Corcoesto above the river there are the remains of a mine shaft dating from 1895 through to 1910 and various exploitations have been carried out during the earlier part of the 20th century. As gold prices fell, the mine workings became unprofitable and were abandoned, However, with today’s premium price for gold, eyes have returned to Galicia’s potential, and believe me there is still a fair bit of it!

How much? Well, it depends on who you talk to. The Corcoesto load runs right through the Costa da Morte from Malpica in the north, and stretches to the Portuguese border at Tui almost 200 kilometers away.  The problem is, that despite the firms marketing strategies, it is not easily available: what there is left is only in tiny microparticles. In order to release it, the rocks have to be pulverised and cyanide used. Arsenic is also then released into the air as a result of the explosions. In such a rainy climate this means leaching of highly toxic waste into the groundwater.
The precedent for this mine should not be lost on anyone who fears for the total environmental destruction of this very beautiful and green province.
How serious is the environmental impact?

I hope I won’t be infringing on anyone’s intellectual property if I quote the contents of a letter sent to the European Parliament. I have yet to find whether the questions which follow it have been answered:
“The Galician government has adopted a law regulating industrial policy in Galicia with the aim of boosting investment in Galicia's industrial fabric. Its objectives include the development of strategic industrial projects involving proposed investments in industrial plants that are expected to result in a significant expansion of Galicia's industrial fabric. A series of conditions are laid down. Projects must lead to the creation of at least 250 jobs, and proposals must be backed by an undertaking (including partnerships) which will make the required investment.
Under this legislation, a Canadian company has proposed to open an open-cast gold mine in the district of Corcoesto (A Coruña). The environmental impact of this project is beyond doubt, since the extraction of 30 000 kg of gold will produce 6 million tonnes of waste. A residents' association set up to oppose the project estimates that the mine will be operational for 10 years. The company itself envisages a 20-year lifespan.
Moreover, the mining methods used may have a serious impact on the natural environment, in particular water, since they involve a cyanide-based extraction process. The European Parliament resolution of 5 May 2010 on a general ban on the use of cyanide mining technologies in the European Union called for these methods to be banned by the end of 2011. The citizens' action group against the mine has also complained that the correct procedures for informing the public were not complied with and that no economic guarantee or commitment has been given to offset the inevitable impact that the mine will have”
1. Is the Commission aware of this situation?
2. Given that it involves a cyanide-based extraction process, does the Commission believe that this project complies with Community regulations?
3. What steps will the Commission take to ensure that this goldmine project complies with the procedures guaranteeing public information and transparency that are required under Community regulations?
The man in the expensive white car near the church didn’t want to comment that much was clear. I asked if he thought it would impact on the life of the people in Corcoesto: “It’ll be a bit noisier”, he said. Did he think that most people were for or against it?  “About equally based.”
The video from the Canadian Edgewater Exploration company on the environmental impact of the site goes further: in a poll of 2012 “80% of neighbouring municipalities welcome the project”. Neighbouring Municipalities, note; not people. The politicians want it, but the people don’t.

The video also states quite specifically that the life expectancy of the mine is 9 years. This is at odds with the 20 years also claimed by the mining company elsewhere.
In nearby Carballo, a town virtually created from wolfram mining through the 1950’s, a recent demonstration drew well over a thousand demonstrators from this tiny community.  This Sunday a much bigger "manifestación" is planned for Santiago de Compostela.

I’ll be with them. Some things simply must be beyond money even in a country desperate for it. The price of gold can never equal the cost of what would be lost in Galicia forever.
“Soy contraminante!”


Sunday, 10 March 2013

All Good Things Must Come to an End...

The title of this blog may be actually misleading. What comes to an end is always translated into a new beginning.

I have left this blog for far too long, writing instead mostly on Forums and Facebook. But it is a "thing of beauty" in its own way and I have decided that with a bit of reworking The Happy Heretic (that´s me) can continue to entertain and enlighten you every couple of weeks or so.
A LOT of water under bridges: the launch of the Spanish translation of St James Rooster (El Baculo de Santiago, Boveda, Nov. 2012)(Click for You Tube Book Trailer); the wonderful year we have had with The Little Fox House...86 pilgrims from 23 countries; a year for me now in Galicia following my dream of 13 years to open a Post-Camino Retreat near Muxia. 2012 was a year of promises, fear and sheer joy!
So where from here? Well, I am working right now on several projects: Foxy House for sure, plus ongoing research into The Dove and the Yellow Cross the third volume in The Camino Chronicles Series. I am also continuing my research into what I hope will be a non-fiction book about a man you might only meet in fiction: Manfred Gnädinger, the hermit of Camelle. I have a language school to mother and occasionally kiss better.
One thing you can be sure of is that what I write will not make everybody happy: the teacher of Plato was the "Gadfly" of Athens. He made people think and question their own presuppositions. He didn't do it by making everybody happy. Ultimately he died for it.
Hope you will be kinder to me that the citizens of Athens were to poor old Socrates.
More soon...
PS I can´t say I like this "new " Blogger. Can anyone tell me how I can "wrap" my text around the photo as I have always done???

Monday, 26 November 2012

St. James´Rooster Chapter 2 continues...

Felix, unfortunately, wasn’t in any mood to commiserate.
Laura had stopped in at the market to pick up some tulips to brighten up
her mood. They stood, relentlessly proud in their jam jar on the oak table
in the late afternoon sunshine. No-one, however, was in any mood to
comment on them. In fact, given the animosity in the room it as a wonder
they didn’t droop.
“They promised me Proficiency! Ha! All afternoon I’ve been teaching
kindergarten English. I hate this, Laura. The little brats are dropped off at
four o’clock and their mothers don’t pick them up till five thirty. During
that time I have to keep them from tearing the posters off the wall. As
if that wasn’t enough, they don’t want to learn English. They don’t want
to learn anything. One of them even peed on the floor! Señora Whatsit
didn’t even seem to care. ‘Just keep them happy, all the time’. That’s what
she told me. Can you even believe it? It’s all about making money and
that’s it. If I could I’d quit right now.”
“Then quit,” said Laura who was fighting the tears from her own eyes.
“Yeah? Then how are we going to pay this exorbitant rent?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Leave me alone,” she said and fled to the
bathroom locking the door.
What the hell is going on? thought Felix as he threw his raincoat around
his shoulders.
* * *
The Parque Santa Susana was almost deserted. Felix ignored the children
and the old men as he walked along the pathways. He ignored the views
of the cathedral. He ignored the sunset.
Something is not right, he thought.
But what? And why?
* * *
Laura’s tutorial was cancelled. There was no explanation. Just the yellow
post-it note which said: “Sorry. Something has come up”. She spent the
afternoon distractedly doing research in the library, but couldn’t help but
feeling that there was something else calling her attention. But she couldn’t
think what that might be.
As the light was fading she stopped into the Hostal Suso for some
chiperrones and pimientos de Padron. She made them last, watching the
tourists and the pilgrims pass by, some of them with maps in their hands
from the nearby tourist office. One or two came in the door of the hostal.
Life used to be simple, she thought. Was it really less than a year since she
and Felix had made love here for the first time at the end of their Camino,
knowing that next door Kieran and Miranda were doing the same?
Rather than go straight home, which was only a few metres away, she
stopped into Encontros Bookshop. But the vast majority of the books
were in Castellano and once more she felt totally overwhelmed at the
task before her. Everything she needed for her research was in a language
which seemed so alien to her that she wondered how on earth she was
going to learn to read it, let alone come up with an original thesis. Modern
Santiago loved its unapologetic bishop even if his contemporaries had not,
and she was an interloper, and a foreign one at that.
“Who am I to take on one of Spain’s great Churchmen?” she thought, or
did she say it out loud to the weighty copy of the Spanish biography in her
hands. Question unanswered, she left just as the doors were being closed.
Buenas noches,” she said.
Laura was still reluctant to go home. Instead she propped herself up on
a pillar beside the tourist office and closed her eyes. What’s happening to
me? She thought. This had been her dream and the scholarship had made
it a reality: go to Santiago, study at the university there, produce some
brilliant mind opening work. Finding Dr. Callaghan here was just the
icing on the cake. Now all she could do was to try to keep the tears from
her eyes.
It was just after 9:15 according to the cathedral bells. There was no-one
about. There was a certain peace to the city after all had locked up and
gone home, and Laura despite her internal confusion allowed herself to
feel those ancient streets wash over her. The spring night was still cooler
and as she walked towards her apartment door besides the closed gift shop
it became colder still. Then, as though a switch had been somewhere
thrown, the peace vanished, vacuumed into the drains below. Laura had
to stop herself from giving in to an impulse to ward off the chill, brush off
the clammy feeling which was growing like mould on her skin. She fought
off a sudden loss of breath as though having exhaled she was unable to
inhale again, putting her hand, fingers stretched wide open, in front of her
to ward off unseen danger. The other she clasped to her chest.
And then she heard a voice. An insistent voice. A strident voice. One she
could not ignore.
It said: “Run! Run before it’s too late!”
* * *
Felix was unable to open the door. There was a weight against it on the
inside, propping it closed. A heavy shove and the weight gave way falling
against the handrail of the stairs.
“Laura, sweetheart! Whatever is the matter? Laura talk to me, for God’s
sake: you OK?
“They’re trying to kill him! I saw him run.”
“What? Who? Laura. Talk sense.”
 “The bishop.”
“What? Which bishop? Do you mean the Archbishop of the Diocese . . .
of Santiago?”
“No! Diego Gelmirez!”

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.