WITCHES OR SUPERHUMAN WOMEN OF GALICIA: Celtic heritage

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Galicia has a history of many very strong, almost superhuman women, witches who still have an ability to inspire even today’s modern hard working mothers of the world. If you think your day is busy and stressful trying to juggle too many things, spare a thought for the women of the past. These women were as tough as they come. There were no washing machines, dishwashers or daycare centres so they could have the privilege of a career. In between hand washing clothes in the river, digging potatoes and preparing meals, some were required to fight battles with their husband…………all in a days work! Our recent trip to the large city of A Coruna on the North Coast of Galicia, revealed one outstandingly brave woman from the 16th century.

MARIA PITA

A Coruna has many historical sites, my favourite being in the Praza de Maria Pita where there stands a beautiful monument in her honour. The English fleet were trying to gain control of the waterways from England down to Portugal. Maria Pita was one of the few women who fought the battle of A Coruna alongside their husbands. Unfortunately, Maria’s husband was killed by the shot from a crossbow which inspired her to overpower and kill an English soldier, then succeeding to climb to the highest point of the wall. From here she called to all the soldiers with honour to follow her, with renewed strength and inspiration they successfully defended their city. For this, Maria Pita is recognised as one of the most honourable women of Spain.

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Monumento a Maria Pita, no witch

The other most popular location in the city is to visit the Tower of Hercules. I don’t want to bore you with another lighthouse, but this one was built by the Romans in the 1st century and is the world’s oldest functioning lighthouse. However, it has been renovated many times and I didn’t see much of the original still visible. It was still worth a short stop for a picnic lunch.

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Tower of Hercules

MARIA SOLINA

Galicia has been long known as the ‘land of witches and superstition’. The most famous of Galicia’s witches is Marina Solina, who lived in the 17th century and somehow managed to avoid the stake during the Spanish Inquisition. Being the mad artist that I am, thinking of witches conjures up visions of ugly, cackling women stirring cauldrons with body parts poking out of the brew. While these fantasies are intriguing to some degree, I am relieved to hear the Galicia is not spooky, just mysterious. These women identified as witches in the past, due to their apparent supernatural powers, appear to have been simply, enlightened beings who had developed much higher than normal levels of perception. Sure, the likes of Marina Solina admitted she practised certain rituals, but only used her skills to help and heal people. Her heightened sense of awareness enabled her to see and know things that others couldn’t. Born in the wealthy fishing village of Cangas (Vigo area), Marina owned many farms and properties, upon which the Catholic church located some of their churches and colleges. She was well loved for all her help and care.

Because the Ria de Vigo was thriving economically, it was also a victim to many attacks and robberies. At the time of the attack by the Turkish fleet, Maria motivated a large group of women; their forces combined with her wisdom, enabled them success in defeating the Turkish. This event then attracted the attention of the Inquisition. Sadly, Marina was then captured and tortured in the prison of Santiago de Compostela and there is no evidence as to what happened thereafter.

FRAGAS DO EUME:

In Galicia, they give the name Fragas to areas of dense forest which allow a dappled light through the trees. Fragas do Eume located around the Eume river south of A Coruna, is supposed to be the best representation of an Atlantic forest, covering an area of over 9,000 hectares.

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River Eume

Both John and I were enthusiastic for a bush walk after spending the last few months in coastal regions of Galicia. The man in the tourist information hut gestured where the walk started and that it was 6 km to the Monastery of Caaveiro, which I really wanted to visit. I told John that it was only 12 km round trip; we could do it easily. So off we walked across the swinging foot bridge, into the luscious green forest with our picnic lunch. The moss covered tree trunks, strongly reminded us of the South Island, New Zealand. Again, we walked for about an hour without seeing anybody and had come to the conclusion, everyone else must have driven to the Monastery. The track was quite wet and narrow, following the course of the crystal waters of the rio Eume…..but no hills! We guessed we were within half an hour of the Monastery, perfect timing for lunch.

Suddenly, our lovely path came to an abrupt end and as we looked up the mountain beside; there we found a little hobbit track which involved slippery rocks and we were so lucky………….they had so kindly provided ropes to hold onto for the climb. Now we knew why all the other tourists had driven, something may have been lost in translation, I think?? John took a deep breath and said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding!’ Up we went. Half way up, we saw the huge rock which was the reason for our climb.

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A rock obstruction, possibly by a witch

What a stunning view though. With legs of jelly we continued all the way up and then all the way down again and an hour later arrived at the bridge near the Monastery………or so we thought. Ha ha

After consulting the map on the bridge which was quite useless, we made the decision that we had to climb straight up a very beautiful slate constructed road to the Monastery. Another mountain………….John didn’t like me very much!

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He despises me, I am a witch

We admired the beautiful slate work, mostly to take our mind off the hill climb. Finally, the 9th century Monastery of Caaveiro was in sight. Of course there were more stairs to climb inside the Monastery, which leads you to some very special vistas through the surrounding mountains and forest below. Definitely worth the walk, we are on talking terms again. Needless to say, we walked back along the road to our car……….we know our limitations!