The procession Romaría da Virxe da Franqueira, in a Cañiza, is the most long-lasting Christian feast in Pontevedra and the third oldest in Galicia
Galicia is a land of myths and legends, and in the town of A Cañiza, in As Rías Baixas, we find the origin of some of them. According to the legend, an elderly woman saw the Virgin while her animals were grazing on a nearby hill. It was such a great shock that the neighbouring towns decided to build a chapel in honour of this image of the Virgin. However, the orography of the mountain made it impossible to build the temple there and the locals were not able to reach an agreement about the new location. This led the them to decide that the holy image would be transported by some oxen and that the temple would be built in the place where the animals stopped to drink. In this way, blindfolded and without a person to guide them, the beasts stopped at a spring in the parish of A Franqueira, hence the Virgin is sometimes referred to as Virxe da Fonte (Virgin of the Spring), and the place where she appeared, as Coto da Vella (the Hilltop of the Elderly Woman). On this hill, there is an image of the Virgin carved in stone which dates from 1968.
Today, the Romaría da Franqueira, declared Festival of Tourist Interest in Galicia in 1999, is one of the most important religious events in Galicia. It is only intended for honouring the Virgin, and so there are no music groups or any other funfair attractions. Moreover, it is 1,500 years old, only comparable to the festival Nosa Señora da Barca, in Muxía (A Coruña) and the Festival of As Ermidas do Bolo, in Ourense.
The origins of the feast date back to the 7th century, when the Marian devotion was first registered. The Romaría da Franqueira has also been the first one to be canonised, on 21st July 1963. The event is so important that another procession is held in June, known as Peregrinación das Pascuillas. Moreover, the Virgin has held the title of Honorary Mayor of A Cañiza since 1957.
The day before the festival, A Cañiza hosts the Procesión das Antorchas, where marchers carry candles from the temple to the place known as Alto da Coroación.
The official event begins on the 8th September and on this day masses are celebrated from 7 am to noon, the time of the procession. Here, the Virgin, with the same crown she wore on the day of the canonisation, which was a gift from the worshipers, is again transported by two oxen.
After the procession, another important event takes place: the recreation of one of the most popular miracles of the Virgin, the story of the Moors and the Christians. This miracle was recorded by the Galician writer Ramón Cabanillas in his book As Romaxes da Franqueira, published in 1927, and reprinted in 2008. The festival known as Festa dos Poxos, held on the third Sunday of September, also stands out. There, the offerings made to the Virgin during the year are auctioned, and the funds raised are used for social purposes.
The legend of the Moors and the Christians
According to the legend, there were some Christian soldiers in prison in Argel, and they asked the Virgin of Nosa Señora da Franqueira for help to be released. Far from fearing their prayers, the Moors in charge of watching the cells shut them up in chains in wooden chests. To their great surprise, one day some angels appeared to carry the chests with the prisoners, and the guards to the temple in A Franqueira. There, the Moors saw how the chests opened, without any help, and the soldiers went out without the chains. They were so shocked that they converted to Christianism.
To see and do
Visiting A Cañiza and discovering some of its beautiful paths is a good choice to get away from the bustle of the cities. O Camiño da Raíña, the old route the Queen Doña Urraca used when coming from Castile, stands out among these paths. Another popular route is the Ruta de Vieiros da Franqueira, starting halfway the towns of Soutomaior and Redondela. It is a bit longer, 42 kilometres, and it crosses four different towns before arriving to A Franqueira. Visiting the river beach in the parish of Luneda is also a good option for warm days, but if the weather is not clear, you can visit some of the viewpoints of the region, such as the ones located on Paradanta Hill, in A Franqueira; or on the Monte Pedroso Hill, in Arbo.