Here I go...

One Adventure After Another!

Monday, November 16, 2015

To Zubiri

El Puente de la Rabia
In Basque, the word “zubi” means “bridge.,” 

To me, the most interesting thing about Zubiri’s history 
is the Gothic bridge there, El Puente de la Rabia, 
which is famous for its folkloric ability to cure cattle of rabies.

To protect your cows from rabies,
you must walk them 3 times
around the bridge's central pillar.
That pillar is said to contain the relics of Saint Quiteria.
So who WAS St. Quiteria?

St. Quiteria. Feastday: May 22

St. Quiteria was a 2nd century virgin martyr and saint 
whose cult and devotions were popular in Portugal, Spain,
Italy and France, 
as well as in all Portuguese and Spanish settlements in America 
and in the Far East of Asia. 

After her Canonization by the Pope in 1716, 
her devotions were spread by the Jesuits on his request.

St. Quiteria still enjoys great popularity,
especially at Aire in Gascony, 
where her reputed relics were preserved 
until they were scattered about by the Huguenots.

In most legends, 
Quiteria is said to be one of nonuplets 
born to Galician royalty.
The nine babies were named 
Eumelia (Euphemia); 
Liberata (Virgeforte); 
Gema (Marinha, Margarida); 
and Vitoria (Victoria)  

 According to one Portuguese version, they were born in Minho. 
I have to admit that my Portuguese relatives
seemed to be fascinated by multiple births.
My great grandmother kept a box of old circus freak show photos
depicting every type of fantastic human genetic mutation
one could imagine.
Included were photos of multiple births.

Multiple births, including the Dionne quintuplets, 
supposedly distant cousins of mine, 
were her favorite.

"Just like puppies," she'd cackle and say!

Well... times were different in the 1950's.
The phrase "political correctness" wasn't in her dictionary,
and I have to admit,
morbid curiosity often got the better of my childish imagination.
Back to our legend:
The mother of the nonuplets 
was embarrassed and horrified by the birth of 9 children. 
She felt only peasants gave birth in litters like dogs. 
She was even more horrified by nine daughters 
(as opposed to sons).  
She gave the babies to a maid 
and instructed her to put them in a gunny sack,
take them to the river 
and drown them. 

The maid disobeyed, 
and found homes for the babies, 
where they were taught to oppose the worship of Roman gods. 
They all were reared to become devout Christians. 

Eventually, the sisters were brought before their father, 
who recognized them as his daughters. 
He wanted to marry them off to pagan Roman officers 
or other "proper" suitors. 
They refused and were promptly imprisoned in a tower,
a popular theme in Christian hagiography
as well as folk tales.
In the Tower
Through angelic intervention, the girls not only escaped, 
but they liberated all of the other Christian prisoners
and subsequently waged a guerrilla war 
in the mountains against the Roman Empire.

Quiteria was caught 
and after again refusing to come to her senses
and marry a good pagan man,
her frustrated and domineering father had her beheaded. 
Her sister Euphemia,
unable to escape from the soldiers who pursued her, 
threw herself from a cliff situated today in the Peneda-Gerês National Park 
(it is called today Penedo da Santa, Cliff of the Saint).
A rock opened up and swallowed her 
and on the spot there sprang up a hot spring.

Some Portuguese traditions say Quiteria 
was a native of Balcagia (Baiona, Pontevedra) 
who was decapitated and thrown into the sea. 
This legend states that she emerged from the water 
walking with her head in her hands.

Quiteria’s patronage against rabies stems from her legend 
which states she held two rabid dogs at bay
with the power of her saintly voice.

I couldn’t help but make another association with water here, 
as rabies is also known as hydro-phobia. 

Hydrophobia is an older term for the disease rabies.
The word means "fear of water." 
Because of this, many people believe 
rabies makes one afraid of water. 

Although rabies does cause mental confusion of other kinds,
it does not make people afraid of water. 
Animals and people with rabies get spasms in their throat muscles 
that are so painful that they cannot eat or drink,
and so will refuse water in spite of being very thirsty.

The Church of Sainte-Quitterie in Aire-sur-l'Adour
is dedicated to St. Quiteria. 
This church was on the French section of the pilgrimage route
called the Way of St. James.
Church of Sainte-Quitterie in Aire-sur-l'Adour
 Quiteria was especially venerated in the border region 
shared by France and Spain, which includes Navarre. 
However, there were many churches dedicated to her in France, 
Spain, Portugal, India , and Brazil. 
In Tamil Nadu, India she is known
as Archista (saint) Kitheriammal. 
Archista Kitheriammal
 It is believed by some that Quiteria's name may have originated 
from a title that the Phoenicians gave to the goddess Astarte,
Kythere, Kyteria, or Kuteria, which means "the red one." 
Some believe the saint, represented in icons dressed in red, 
may simply be a Christianized version of Astarte.

So there you have it...

A bit of lore about the famous bridge in Zubiri 
and how that bridge might relate to an ancient goddess 
preserved by a web of veneered associations 
including muses, war, dogs, livestock, rabies, 
water, treachery, decapitation, 
and a Christian Saint who walks about 
carrying her head in her hands.
Thalia, one of the 9 Muses
St. Quiteria
Thalia holding the mask in Raphael's painting, Parnassus
Procession of Santa Quiteria, Huerta, Spain
See my AnnieWalkersCamino website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

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