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A Fiesta to Die For at Santa Marta de Ribarteme

At noon on 29 July each year, in the small Pontevedran church of San Xosé de Ribarteme, one of the most unusual processions in the world sets out – the Romaxe dos cadaleitos (Procession of the Coffins) of Santa Marta de Ribartemeo. San Xosé de Ribarteme is in the municipality of As Neves, some 30 kilometres from Vigo, which for centuries remained isolated from the influence of traditional, orthodox Catholicism.

The effigy of St Martha is paraded at the procession of Santa Marta de Ribarteme,protectress of the helpless and patroness of lost causes, one of the most devoutly worshipped virgins in the community. She is also the sister of Mary Magdalene and Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Christ after having been dead for three days. Alongside her effigy and the images of St Benedict and the Virgin of Carmen, a funeral cortege comprising open coffins with living people insidefiles past, the coffins held aloft by family and friends. It is a profound act of faith, combining religion and symbology, by which the faithful intend to fulfil a promise they have made to St Martha out of gratitude for having survived some near-death experience. As the cortege files past, the other pilgrims sings the praises of the virgin’s healing powers to the rhythm of drums and the constant pealing of bells.“Virgin St Martha, Star of the North, we bring you those who saw death”.

The enactment breathes spirituality and a devotion typical of the Galician heartland. Visitors may be shocked by the scene, but every year more and more faithful, tourists and passers-by come to this small Galician village to experience this special moment. Galicia is a land of legends in which death and resurrection often play a major role. Stories which unfold across misty landscapes, like the one about the Holy Campaign – a procession of tormented souls who, in their grim wanderings, visit the homes where someone is about to die. This mysticism is part of the land’s charm – to discover the essence of Galicia, one has to come to terms with its ancestral customs.

In the International Limelight

The procession is arousing increasingly more interest among tourists and journalists around the world. It even came to the notice of The Guardian which ranked it the second most unusual festivity in the world, a fact which has increased its fame even further. Other landmarks in the area have also come to the prestigious newspaper’s notice – it has classed Rodas Beach and the Cíes Islands, in the archipelago of the same name in Pontevedra province, as the most beautiful in the world.

The journal, National Geographic, also set its sights on the Rías Baixas in a documentary on cultural traditions and communities around Europe. In the course of its making, the television presenter, Darren McMullen, got heavily involved in the action by climbing into one of the processionary coffins.

«El Concello de As Neves»

The Concello de As Neves municipality, closely linked to the river Miño, which forms the natural border with Portugal along a 10-kilometre stretch, is an ideal spot for delving into the past. This is evident at A Pedra da Moura, in the Taboexa parish district, and Monte das Carboeiras, in Liñares, as well as in the military vestiges at Cividá, Rocha and Altamira. The beautiful landscapes of As Neves can be viewed from several routes skirting the Miño riverbanks, notably the Sendeiro dos Pescadores de As Neves, which winds along the Galician side of the river, and the Ruta do Patrimonio Natural e Histórico-Artístico, a circular route which traverses the thirteen parish districts in the As Neves municipality.

Concello de As Neves also boasts fine cuisine, with such local produce as lamprey, baby eel, game, honey and queixo (cheese) das Neves, ideally washed down with a white wine from the Miño riverbanks such as Condado or Albariño, or the Rubios red.

Come and live out this extraordinary experience. Check out our flights to Vigo here.


Text by Scanner FM

Images by Ricardo Grobas for Vivir Galicia Turismo, Galicia Maxica, Un paseo o una foto

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