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Spanish Secrets: Keeper Of The Keys

"Down the leafy lanes and dusty tracks near our Galician home there are a multitude of centuries-old treasures waiting to be discovered,'' says Craig Briggs. One of these is the church at San Fiz de Cangas, and who better to lead Craig and his wife Melanie on a tour of this historic building than the daughter-in-law of the Keeper of the Keys.

Down the leafy lanes and dusty tracks near our Galician home there are a multitude of centuries-old treasures waiting to be discovered. Grand manor houses and medieval chapels nestle in the shadows of ancient poplars. Brave knights rest in eternal slumber. Weathering granite tombs are all that remain of their heroic deeds.

One such chapel is the Church at San Fiz de Cangas. This 13th century church is built in the Romanesque style. The religious origins of the site are believed to date back to a monastery of Benedictine nuns during the Visigoda era (3rd to 6th century).

Next to the church is the manor house of San Fiz. Here resides Don Antonio Fernandez - keeper of the keys. Don Antonio is 85 years old and has lived in the manor house most of his life.

Heís a small man with a furrowed brow and disproportionately large ears. He has a keen eye, an active mind and a warm heart, but his hearing isnít quite what it used to be.

We were fortunate that his daughter-in-law Pilar, was on hand to give us a guided tour of the church. Her command of the English language made my attempts at Spanish quite embarrassing.

We entered the church directly into the nave through a side door. The air was dark and cool. Pilar asked us to wait a moment whilst she walked off into the darkness with assured familiarity towards the sacristy.

The echoing click of a light switch illuminated a section of this preserved architectural artefact, then another and finally a third. Our eyes feasted on this historic monument.

The floor was paved with granite slabs, each of which had a small rectangular slot cut through the thick stone. We learnt that under each stone lay the remains of notable village figures entombed centuries earlier.

Several solid stone baptismal fonts, weathered through age, stood around the walls. A 13th century calvary, a representation of the crucifixion, was a focal point for the congregation. Lovingly carved and preserved in polychromatic wood, it featured Christ, Saint John and the Dolorosa, Christís route to the cross.

A recent restoration unearthed another hidden treasure. Whilst cleaning a wall the builders discovered part of a medieval fresco. At one time, these colourful paintings may well have covered most of the churchís interior walls. Careful restoration has preserved this vivid artwork for a new audience.

Slowly and quietly we followed Pilar towards the apse. It was difficult not to feel a sense of reverence and privilege. She led us through the transept and into an annex built to the left of the high altar.

She explained that this was a 16th century addition to the church by a wealthy local family called Espasantes. The sculpture of a knight knelt above his own tomb is so well preserved it could have been finished weeks rather than centuries ago.

Our extended and extensive tour alerted Don Antonioís curiosity and he entered through the side door to see what was going on. With our tour complete we stepped from the cool dimly-lit church into the bright warm sunshine of mid-afternoon.

Having kindly thanked them both for their time we prepared to leave. Not before the kind-hearted keeper of the keys invited us to dine with him and his family during the forthcoming village fiesta. An invitation we were delighted to accept.

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Copyright © 2006 Craig Briggs


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