Ramon Cabanillas- Starry Night

Ramón Cabanillas comes from Na Noite Estrelecida, published in 1926.  It gives a Galician connection to Arthurian legends.  In this fragment of O Cabaleiro do Sant Grial we find Galahad at the mountain pass of O Cebreiro, on the border between León and Galicia, where he discovers the Holy Grail.

The Starry Night

The sky, a silk panoply,
Earth, a flowery carpet,
Clouds, silver flecks
And every pine a lance shaft,
On Good Friday
It was gently dawning
When Galahad arrived
At the mountain valley.

Kissed by morning’s
Radiant softness,
A shield with its red cross
Slung across his arm,
Shod with golden spurs,
He held a gleaming sword
And his heart was strong,
Glowing and sin-free.
He went uphill, whilst in the wind
Rang soft and light
From an unseen bell-tower
A crystal tinkling.
The noble knight went up,
In his chivalrous dream,
To the miraculous mountain
Of O Cebreiro-Monsalvat.

Like an open heart,
Sweet and peaceful cradle,
A lone hermitage sleeps
Bedded on the crest.
There kneeling alone in silence
Before the empty altar
Galahad prayed
And surrendered up his sword.
And then the hermitage filled
With the glow of moonlight
And of blond angels dressed
In twisting white linen,
One with the spear of the Passion
Another swinging a censer
Soldiers of the Lord.
They all have the sign
Of a red cross on their breast
And a white lily in their hand.

The Chalice and Paten donated to the Church of O Cebreiro by Isabel la Católica

From his lips flowers a psalm
The fruit of his prayer as,
Transported by divine love.
Galahad raises his head.
His eyes behold the miracle!
Upon the altar table
Glowing with light gleams
The chalice of the Holy Grail.
A clamour of bells breaks out
The earth flowers with roses
And the dove of the covenant
Comes down from heaven
To renew the mystery holding
The green branch of peace.
Around him, in a circle,
Twelve stars shine,
And stay, hovering quietly
Above the Holy Grail!

Cabanillas is one of the founding members of the Irmandades de Fala, the Brotherhoods of Galician, the first of which was started in A Coruña in 1916 led by Villar Ponte, Losada Diéguez, Peña Novo, Porteiro Garea, Viqueira, Vicente Risco and Cabanillas himself.  Claims for a separate Galician cultural identity went hand-in-hand with demands for autonomy, independent taxation, agricultural reform and regional control over banking.

Like his friend Vicente Risco, Cabanillas sees Galician nationhood as a question of race.  In A Trabe de Ouro, Risco cleverly combines popular culture with romanticised archaeology and ethnology to give us deep ancestors of a Celtic Galicia.  Cabanillas’s appropriation of the Arthurian legends is a a part of the same desire to see Galicia as a part of the Atlantic fringe of Europe, united with Brittany, Wales and Ireland as one of the Celtic nations.  There is some history and a lot of legend to support this idea.  In the final chapters of Otero Pedrayo’s Os Camiños da Vida, when one of the protagonists makes a journey to Paris and Ireland, these ideas are well-described.

O Cebreiro is a small village on the Camino de Santiago resting at the top of a mountain pass.  There used to be a monastic church there with a hospital to tend to the pilgrims.  Every year there is another pilgrimage, from the small village of Barxa Mayor at the foot of the valley, to commemorate the miracle of O Cebreiro when the host was turned into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.  Isabel la Católica donated a chalice and paten to the church to celebrate the miracle, the iconography of which is similar to that of the Mystic Mass of St Gregory or the Mass at Bolsena

Altarpiece at Vilar de Donas showing Miraculous Mass at O Cebreiro

About Jason Preater

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