In the northeast of Spain lies the autonomous region of Galicia, a land that has its own mythology and his own legends. Among them, the Holy Companion is the most famous. It dates back to around the 16th century and consists of a somewhat dark procession because it is linked to wandering souls and outlines the border between the world of the living and that of the dead, associated with a strong smell of wax.
The Holy Companion, much more than a Galician legend
Although it is in Galicia where it is most rooted, it is true that it is nevertheless much more than an exclusively Galician legend. In other parts of Spain there are similar stories, known as the Candle, the Vision or the Apparition.
In Asturias, we find the "Güestia", in Extremadura, it is the legend "The Corteju de Genti de Muerti" which comes closest to it, the "Estadea" and the Troupe of Souls is what is known as a phenomenon. similar in the kingdom of Leon, and even in regions influenced by Celtic religions like the Wales and theScotland similar legends are found.
What is the Holy Companion?
The stories of Galician mythology and its legends were transmitted orally, so it is difficult to give an exact definition of what the Holy Companion is. In a few words, we can say that it is the procession of wandering souls or souls in purgatory who ask the living to pray for their eternal rest. Thus, to satisfy the Holy Companion, it is customary to intercede for these souls during a mass or to pray for them.
Other sources indicate that the Holy Companion appears to announce someone's death or that her appearance lets us know that she is claiming the soul of that deceased person. It can also represent the reproach made to the family of the deceased for errors committed by the members of this family during the life of the deceased person.
Usually, witnesses who have seen the Holy Companion describe it as a funeral procession where the members who compose it walk barefoot, wear long tunics and whose face is hidden under a hood. They carry candles in their hands, diffusing a strong smell of wax. They also sometimes carry torches.
At the head of the procession is a living person, a local inhabitant who carries a cross or sometimes a cauldron of holy water, a stoup or any other sign of Christian reference; from there comes the adjective “Holy” even if all that has nothing to do with holiness.
The number of the members of the Holy Companion can also vary: some affirm that they are six or twelve, but in other cases, it was mentioned up to fifty or sixty participants.
The message brought by this Galician legend
According to Galician legends, the person who leads the procession of the Holy Companion will soon die: she does not rest at night, and instead of sleeping, she leaves her house without anyone seeing her to lead this parade: the next day, she does not remember anything. This person will only be saved from his funereal fate if he gives the cross he is carrying to another person who will replace him.
For centuries, the myth of the Holy Companion has been very popular in Galicia and, in theory, you could come across her on your way in any dark place after dark. Today, due to the increase in roads and public lighting, it seems that this phenomenon is less and less frequent.
If the Holy Companion was able to last for centuries, it is also because she benefited from a certain ecclesiastical protection; if the village priest did not deny this legend, it then remained alive. As we said, this gathering of spirits from purgatory, surrounded by an aura of holiness and magic, was like a kind of transition where these restless spirits return to earth to claim masses to be held in their name.
These masses were very well paid in their time and perhaps for this reason the priests did not refuse them, although it went against the basic principles of Christian beliefs. On Judgment Day alone, the dead will come out of their tombs, as Saint John predicted.
Who can see the Holy Companion?
Not everyone can see the Holy Companion; some of the witnesses who saw it say they saw all the souls, others only felt their presence, still others claim to have seen only the candles and others finally even say that they knew that the procession passed by simply because he smelled the strong smell of wax. It is also said that some children can see it if, during their baptism, the priest blessed them with oil from the dead instead of blessing them with holy water.
It is interesting to note that this phenomenon is so rooted in the popular and rural culture of Galicia that each county has its own country, with its own characteristics that differentiate it from other neighboring municipalities. Thus, in certain regions, reference is not made to candles but to souls circulating with lighted torches and, in addition to the penitent who would carry the cross, there would be another person carrying a standard and another carrying a bell.
How to protect yourself from the Holy Companion?
If you come across the Holy Companion on your way, you must protect yourself so that you are not given the cross that opens the procession. You can do this in different ways: the most common protection is to draw a circle on the ground with a piece of wood (preferably blessed olive wood) and position yourself in this circle. Others advise lying on the ground, face down, so as not to meet the gaze of wandering souls. You can also protect yourself by having something in your hands, such as eating something or playing with a piece of wood...
As we will want to offer you a cross if you meet the Holy Companion, you can cross your arms and pronounce the name of Jesus Christ or answer: "I already have a cross" when the living person at the head of the procession will want to give you its own. This person is sometimes at the end of the procession, and it even happens that sometimes no living person is seen in the procession. Some finally say that you can drive this parade away by making a sign of the horns.