Monday, October 25, 2010

The Santa Compana

The legend of the Santa Compaña extends from Galicia, through Asturias and into western Castilla y Leon, as well as northern Portugal in one version or another.

Although the appearance of the Holy Company (Santa Campana) tradition varies in different areas, the most widespread is formed by a retinue of lost souls, dressed in hooded white robes wandering at night.

This ghostly procession forms two rows, wrapped in shrouds and barefoot. Each ghost has a candle and in passing leaves a smell of burning wax in the air. A more important spectre at the front of this ghostly company is called Estadea.

The procession is headed by a mortal carrying a large cross and a vessel of holy water, followed by the spirits with candles, sometimes invisible, but leaving the smell of burning wax in the breeze that arises in their wake.

This live person that precedes the procession can be male or female, depending on whether the Patron of the parish is a male or a female saint. It is also believed that whoever fulfills this "function" can not remember by day what happened during the night, they can only be recognized by their extreme thinness and pallor. Every night their lamp becomes stronger and each day their pallor increases. Not allowed rest at night, their health is weakened to sickness and no one can identify the cause of this mysterious malady. They are condemned to wander every night until they die or some other victim can be surprised (and placed at the head of the procession with the transfer of the cross).

They walk reciting prayers (usually the rosary) singing funerary songs and ringing a small bell.

Along the way, all noise in the forest stops. Dogs announce the arrival of the Holy Company with howling, cats flee in terror.


While all versions consider the Holy Company as a harbinger of death, there are different versions.

In most stories the Santa Campana makes its appearance at night, but there are also cases of sightings by day.

In some versions, it is said that the mourning procession carries a coffin with a body inside, which may even be the person watching - the apparition being his astral form in the coffin.

It can appear in different places, but above all at the crossroads.

There are specific dates that are said to have more frequent appearances of the Holy Company, for example, the eve of All Saints (from 31 October to 1 November), or the night of San Juan (24 June).

The Santa Campana in the Asturian tradition: The Güestier

Galicia is not the only region in which to see this procession of the dead but also in Asturias where it is called The Güestier, a procession known as Bona Xenta. Is a group of hooded figures approaching the house of a dying person, after circling three times around the house the person dies. They are usually familar to the dying. It is said that they cry out "Walk in the daytime for the night is mine." Its said that a woman left the house early to gather chestnuts, thinking it was daytime. A member of the procession told her he was her dead godfather. He extended his hand and gave her his lit candle, and after a few days she sickened and died.

Appearance of the company

The many tales about this group of spirits appear on roads near cemeteries in search of something or someone, and always appear for a reason that is symbolic of a disaster or curse. The reasons this company of wandering souls may appear:

* To claim the soul of someone about to die. Legend has it that he who receives a visit from the Compaña dies within the year.
* To warn of faults or errors on the part of the living. If the fault is particularly serious, the committer could be visited by the company, placed at its head, and condemned to wander until another mortal appears to replace him.
* To announce the death of an acquaintance of whomsoever is witness to the procession.
* To serve a sentence imposed by some authority of the beyond.

Protection against the Santa Campana

How to protect against the procession of the undead, in the unlikely event that the company is seen, the witness should carry out a series of rituals for protection that would include:

* Moving out of the path of the company, not looking at them and pretending not to see them.
* Make a circle with the Star of Solomon or a cross in it and step into it.
* Eat something.
* Pray and do not listen to the voices or the sound of the company.
* Throw yourself face down and wait without moving, even if the company passes over you.
* Never accept a candle from a member of the procession as this condemns you to be a part of it.
* In the latter case, run very fast.
* Legend has it that the Holy Company shall not have the power to capture the soul of the mortal who encounters it if he is on the steps of a "cruzeiro" located at a crossroads, or if you carry a cross with you and manage to wield it in time.
* Keep a cat with you.

Apparently, people are still seeing the Campana:

In the town of Budiño, Pontevedra there was one of the most typical and archetypal appearance of the Holy Company.

Sofia A. Perez is a housewife aged 42, mother of four children, known and respected by all villagers. Despite the time elapsed since the experience, Sophie remembers it well.

"I was eight when it happened. My mother and I had gone to visit a friend and we walked down the path behind the house, near the cemetery.

It wasn´t late, but being winter it was dark. It was right at the crossroads. I heard a very heavy footsteps, as if many people were nearing. I asked my mother if she heard it and she said yes. Then we saw a procession coming down the road, like a funeral. There were many, I do not know the number, but all dressed alike. They had a kind of black robe covering their entire body, with a black hood. They passed very close to us.

We were paralyzed. I was very small and did not really understand what it was, but my mother was terrified, She pressed me very hard against her, telling me not to make noise. And imagine our surprise when, at the end of the row of 'The Compaña", we saw a woman, a neighbor of ours!

She was "Tía Preciosa" a neighbor who lived a few houses above ours. I recognized for her walk, because she had a defect in her legs and then we saw her very clearly. She carried a stick in her hand and a kind of "stone" like marble, but very, very bright. She passed us quietly "like a ghost." And she followed the Holy Company.

We didn´t have time to ask what she was doing there. Four days after this happenned, "Tía Preciosa" died. She was in the kitchen and lightning came down the chimney and killed her. I think it was a warning ... we are all warned before dying ...».

Happy Halloween!

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