Santa Mariña de Augas Santas is a small parish near Ourense in Galicia in North-Western Spain. It has a history reaching back before Christianity
Saint Margaret of Antioch, who was a native of Antioch, lived a secluded life as a sheep-herdess. However, Olybrius, the Roman Govenor, caught sight of her and asked to marry her, but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured. Her escape from these terrors resulted in a series of fables, which became popular all over Europe in spite of the fact that they were considered fairy-tales by the establishment.
In Santa Mariña de Augas Santas in Galicia a local version of her miracles were told. According to this she was condemned to die in an oven. But she was rescued from this fate by St. Peter, who brought her out of the oven and water to cool her off. Later she was beheaded, but her head bounced around three times causing three fountains to spring from the ground.
A series of key sites are identified as locations for the legend:
- Armea Iron Age Hillfort: the prison of St. Mariña
- The church of Ascension: The oven of torture
- ‘Piocas’: the pond, where she was refreshed by St. Peter
- The sacred Fountains of Santa Mariña: The places where her head bounced
- Santa Mariña Oaks: places with miraculous properties
- Vacariza carving stones: another legend associated with the saint
An interdisciplinary forum has analyzed how this sacred “reading” of the landscape reflects a pre-Christian structured topography transformed through the story of Santa Mariña, as it was retold by a powerful and accomplished elite busy reformulating – reingeneering – the ethos of the local community.
According to Spanish folklorists the story can be documented as far back as the 16th century. But it appears that the legend is in fact much older, deeply rooted in the archaeological and natural landscape of the parish. It dates back to at least the beginning of the 6th century.
A parallel archaeological excavation and study of the local church has shown that the earliest layer of the present Church was built in the 6th century (AD 502 – 593 according to optically stimulated luminescence). Beneath this building was an Iron Age Sweat-Lodge, linked to the nearby Armea Hillfort. Thus there is a complex of meanings read into the landscape: The Sweat Lodge turned metaphorically into the oven – and thus a sacred oratory – where thirst was quenched through the sprinkling with water (Mariña meaning water).
The story of Santa Mariña de Augas Santas is fascinating. It appears it is possible to not only uncover the ancient landscape, but also the myth told in order to transform the old pagan topography into a new Christian sacred topography.
An interdisciplinary group is currently studying the location of such very early churches in Galicia and their context in terms landscape, elite fortifications and settlement structure. Background is a continued effort to identify the location of the 132 churches listed in a very precious source: the Parochiale Suevum, written between AD 570 – 580. As these churches are mentioned as belonging to specific episcopacies, they were not private foundations. As such they reflect the on-going socio-political reorganisation of Galicia in a period characterised by vibrant economic expansion. Especially interesting is that they might be viewed in connection with the preserved proceedings of church councils from the same area and period.
Two glimpses to the religious landscapes of 6th century Galicia (NW Spain)
By José Carlos Sánchez-Pardo, rebeca Blanco-Rotea, Marco Garcia-Quintela from the University of Santiago de Compostela
(The story of Santa Mariña de Augas Santas as it was recently presented at a poster session at TRAC – theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference in Leicester 2014)
Organización eclesiástica y social en la Galicia tardoantigua. Una perspectiva geográfico-arqueológica del Parroquial Suevo.
By By José Carlos Sánchez-Pardo
In: Hispania Sacra 134, pp. 439-480.