The region of Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, is a hilly region with coastal areas that alternate beautiful rías (submerged valleys where the sea enters the mainland) and rugged cliffs. The climate in Galicia is moderate and rainy, making it the greenest part of Spain. Despite ongoing efforts to modernise Galicia, the area remains strongly agricultural even today, a fact which in a way reinforces the ancestral ties between its inhabitants and the land they live on. Romanesque art (10th-13th century AD), together with Galician baroque, is also one of Galicia’s trademark features, particularly in religious architecture, and is present all over the area in almost every piece of architectural craftsmanship.
Most, if not all of Galician villages, also boast a cruceiro, a roadside stone cross situated atop a stone pillar. Such works of architecture are usually several metres high, and their ornamental details vary from the sober to the exuberant.
The most famous of these crosses, the Cruceiro de Hío, takes its name from the place were it was built, in the municipality of Cangas do Morrazo, in the province of Pontevedra. It is situated a few feet away from the local parish church and it is undoubtedly the most famous, symbolic and elaborate of all Galician cruceiros. Made of a single piece of solid granite and representing various passages of the Bible, the highest part of the cruceiro represents the crucifixion, while the bottom image represents Adam and Eve having been expelled from Paradise. This exquisite work of art was meticulously cut, finished and inaugurated in 1872, and I am proud to say, it was also erected by one of my great-great-grandfather’s relatives.
And yet, despite its fame and obvious architectural importance, the true identity of its author remains something of a conundrum. Over the years, many experts and locals have maintained that the author was a man called José Cerviño García (1843-1922), who was my great-great-grandfather’s second cousin. José Cerviño was known to have been a stone cutter from the parish of Aguasantas, in Cotobade, a small village located over an hour’s drive away from Hío (that is, an hour’s drive by modern standards – the distance would of course have been far greater in the late 19th century, when the cruceiro was built). José Cerviño’s claim to fame rests largely upon a left to us by Galician journalist and writer Alfonso Rodríguez Castelao, who confidently stated in the 1950’s: “José Cerviño was a genius, a revolutionary, capable of turning simple cruceiros into large calvaries, similar to those erected in Brittany. He was possessed by his geniality up to the point that he proved more expensive because of the wine he drank than the money he charged“. Naturally, José’s descendants claim to this day that their illustrious ancestor built this architectural marvel, but many other people are still not convinced, due mainly to the lack of evidence that would support José Cerviño’s claim.
Since the 1960’s, several Galician authors and historians have suggested that it was actually Ignacio Cerviño Quinteiro (1839-1905), my great-great-grandfather’s third cousin, who really erected the cruceiro. This second Cerviño, who also happened to be José Cerviño’s third cousin once removed through their common descent from an early 18th century ancestor, is supposed to be the real author of the cruceiro, and his supporters maintain that a lost document written by the local parish of Hío several decades ago, would confirm this hypothesis. And yet there is no definite proof that Ignacio Cerviño was more the author of the cruceiro than José Cerviño; all we have is hearsay and second-hand information. Therefore, the only alternative we have left is to analyse other sources to try and make an educated guess in order to unravel this century-long mystery.
In first place, I’ll consider the profession of our two candidates. My great-great-grandfather José Benito Cerviño was a stone-cutter who lived roughly at the same time as his two cousins; I know this because he often worked as a sort of building contractor, and it was he who was responsible for building several stone walls in the city of Vigo, where he ultimately settled and died. His distant cousin, José Cerviño, one of the purported authors of the Cruceiro de Hío, was also a stone cutter who would have worked in a similar business. However, the fact that he erected several ornate mausoleums (such as those in Antas, in Eiras, etc) and that he actually signed them, would confirm that José Cerviño did have a certain artistic talent for more than just cutting blocks of stone. His cousin and fellow candidate to the authorship of the cruceiro, Ignacio Cerviño, is actually described on various documents as a sculptor, as opposed to a humble stone cutter. Clue number 1.
But let us now explore the personal lives of our two Cerviño candidates. José Cerviño was born in 1843 into a humble family. His father was also a stone cutter, and his only brother was a simple peasant. His first marriage, which took place in his home town of Aguasantas in early 1872, produced four children; all three sons were born in the same village as their father, while the only daughter was born in the city of Pontevedra in 1878.Therefore José was nowehere near Hío at the time he was supposed to have been sculpting the Cruceiro de Hío. Clue number 2.
On the other hand, his distant relative Ignacio Cerviño was born in 1839, also into a poor family. His father was a stone cutter, the same as many other males in the family, and like José, Ignacio married twice as well. His first marriage took place in 1859, but I have not found any traces to suggest that the couple had any descendants. Then, at a later date, Ignacio remarried, as by 1869 his second wife gave birth to their daughter Delfina, who was born in Aguasantas, Ignacio’s native village. However, things changed within the next three years, as by 1872 (the same year the cruceiro was built, clue number 3) his wife gave birth to another daughter in the parish of Hío, the very same place the cruceiro was erected too! Clue number 4.
So, bearing in mind these unquestionable facts, I think we can safely assume that circumstantial evidence certainly points to Ignacio Cerviño Quinteiro as the likeliest author of the Cruceiro de Hío. While both he and his cousin certainly had the expertise and the talent to produce the most famous cruceiro in Galicia, the fact that Ignacio was at the right place and at the right time strongly points to him as the man we are looking for. Only time will tell whether we will ever find any conclusive evidence to corroborate the true identity of the cruceiro‘s author.