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Monday, April 30, 2012 (read 3294 times)

Las Nieves Pilgrimage in Galicia, Spain

by Kimberly

Las Nieves (Spanish) or As Neves (Galician) in a town in an isolated part of northwestern Galicia in Spain where a yearly pilgrimage takes place every July 29th. The Las Nieves pilgrims participate in the event to express gratitude after having survived a near death experience the same year. The Las Nieves pilgrimage ends in the Saint Marta de Ribarteme church, dedicated to the patron saint of resurrection.

Spain has always been known for its religious pilgrimages, dating back to the time of the crusades. The Las Nieves Pilgrimage, however, is unique due to a strange tradition in which pilgrims who have faced a near death experience during the last year arrive at the church either carrying a coffin or riding inside a coffin in an effort to show respect to Saint Marta de Ribarteme for having spared their lives. The coffins are carried by solemnly-dressed loved ones or by the person who escaped death himself.

The Las Nieves Pilgrimage event usually starts around 10 in the morning as people swarm into the town to view the parade of coffin carriers as they make their way to the small granite church of Saint Marta de Ribarteme. At noon, mass is held and broadcasted outside the church on loudspeakers so that those who were unable to enter the church can participate.

After the afternoon Las Nieves mass, the bells chime and the pilgrims, carrying the statue of the saint, start to make their to the local cemetery to pay their respects before proceeding through town with the crowd following behind.  During the procession the Las Nieves pilgrims chant the words “Virgin Saint Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death" in an atmosphere of both solemnity and celebration. 

Despite the somber event, the celebratory contrast is obviously noted during the Las Nieves pilgrimage because the streets fill up with street food vendors, Gypsy musicians and street vendors. Popular souvenirs include Last Supper scenes, colorful statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, silver crosses and plastic angels. Additionally, there are firecracker displays to mark the progress of the procession through town. A traditional delight during the Las Nieves pilgrimage event is octopus, cooked in copper cauldrons.

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Posted In: Spain, Culture


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