Don Álvaro de Coimbra in Mount Gaiás | An anonymous legend surrounding 'The Prism of senses'

The Saint John (San Xoán) festivities had passed. The days were long, and the midday sunbeams leaned out from between the curtains. Don Álvaro got up from the chair from which, between the window, he could observe the Coimbra cathedral under construction, the current “Sé Velha” (Old Cathedral). He turned around and, with utmost respect, he looked at the small altar with the Santiago figure, the celestial creator of the conquest of his beloved city. It was the moment to fulfil the promise he had made to the Apostle to go to Compostela, where he planned to arrive at sunrise on 25th of July. He had already studied the stages of the journey, and he knew that, deviating through the city of Porto, usually there were nineteen (different stages). Three more (stages) than taking the direct way from his native city of Coimbra. Surely, he would end up doing more due to his age. He chose the urban and coast route which, according to the legend, gave name to Portugal: “Portus Cale”, or “Porto dos galaicos” (harbour of the Galician people), although others say that it meant “porto belo” (beautiful harbour) and “porto de abrigo” (harbour for shelter).

Don Álvaro de Coimbra, as people called him because of the place where he was born, was old now, and he did not want to delay his hug to the Apostle in the Compostelan basilica. These were turbulent times of the 12th century which led to the independence of Portugal, but he knew that his old age would not allow him to wait much longer. He felt a tiredness growing in him every day, turning time against him.

He began the journey (Camiño) from the city where he was born and lived. He was very excited, and felt more illusion than strength, but the desire to reach Compostela gave no respite to discouragement. He kept walking past the different stages and, finally, on the evening of the 24th of July, he arrived at the outskirts of Compostela. A strange reason he could not comprehend made him deviate his way through the Vía de Plata. Lacking the necessary energy, he passed Angrois when it was almost night, and sped up until he reached the crosswalk of the Sar. But the gloom of the night fell upon him, and his strength began to desist, as he felt it, for ever. He could not continue. His eyes began to get flooded with tears because he would not be able to arrive and hug the Apostle. The last lights of the day slowly hid on the west, as a metaphor of his vital halo. He closed his eyes evoking the image of Santiago, whom he worshipped in his natal land of Coimbra, and, resigned, he left himself go, without exerting resistance, bidding farewell to the memories that fought to slide into his memory. Goodbye, beloved Coimbra! Such a shame not being able to make it to Santiago! He said with the last light of day.

O prisma dos sentidos - detalles

However, something happened that prevented him from vanishing. A force, powerful yet comfortable, held him by his chest preventing the fall. His feet softly lifted from the floor and that supernatural and mysterious energy lifted him up the side of Mount Gaiás. He levitated impulse by that other-worldly force, with the tip of his toes touching the heathers and the grass, barely feeling them. It transported him to a place in the forest where the last sunbeams allowed him to see the city and the cathedral. In addition, he did not know whether it was a dream, the Apostle smiled at him from one of the windows of the temple, while the mysterious force gave him the tight hug he could not give the beloved disciple of Jesus. Finally, Don Álvaro de Coimbra ceased feeling sad. He just smiled, invaded by a peace not of this world. He had time to observe, just before the sunset, how the night wrapped, slowly, cyclically and hopelessly, the city of Compostela. For him it was the last one.

Don Álvaro de Coimbra was never heard of again. Some daring people say that often the shadow of a medieval knight can be seen levitating over the place where Acisclo’s chapel is built, from where the noble pilgrim observed Compostela. Others even state that Daniel’s smile is proof of what happened, he knew about the miracle of Santiago with Don Álvaro. Who knows? It may all be a legend, a fantasy, and Don Álvaro de Coimbra may have never existed. Or maybe he did, and still levitates over the parallel world Acisclo retrieved on Mount Gaiás.

Anonymous legend surrounding the artistic intervention “The prism of senses”, created by sculptor Acisclo Manzano for the Forest of Galicia in the City of Culture. 

Exhibitions and Interventions
Santiago de Compostela, May 30 2023