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The Christ of Victory in the Concatedral de Santa María in Vigo, Galicia, Spain.

Storms, Religious Persecution, and War: The Arrival of a Famous Spanish Christ Statue


Every year, on the first Sunday in August thousands of Galicians take part in a spiritual journey. They travel through the city streets of Vigo with the religious treasure of their hometown – a large cross bearing the figure of Jesus, which is known as Cristo de la Victoria (the Christ of Victory).

This representation of Jesus is believed to make dreams come true, to provide support, and to heal the people who follow him. For most of the year, the cross stays in the small but beautiful collegiate called Santa Maria de Vigo in Galicia, Spain. The first church was built there in the 15th century, however, the current architecture of the church comes from the early 19th century. It is the oldest existing church in Vigo, and it has a special place in the history and hearts of the people who visit it.

When the Cross Came to Vigo

The age of the famous Vigo Jesus sculpture is unknown. There are many different stories related to the origins of the figure. However, all of them are based on oral tradition and there are no documents which could confirm any of them. For many centuries, the city of Vigo was focused on fishing. People lived off of the gifts of nature and focused on how to survive near the dangerous Atlantic Ocean.

‘Vigo Bay fishing fleet’ by William Lionel Wyllie.

‘Vigo Bay fishing fleet’ by William Lionel Wyllie. ( Public Domain )

The second name for the Christ of Victory is said to be the Christ of the Salt. However, no old documents certify this. According to the well-known Galicia legend published on the official site of Cristo de la Victoria's followers:

“there was an embarkation which transported a load of salt and picked up the image at sea and they were threatened by strong waves; the seamen opted for holding up in the first harbor to leave there the image and promised to attend a mass barefooted. However, they could reach Vigo without any problems and when the storm eased; they came back to the sea forgetting to fulfill their purposes. The sea waves elevated again against the embarkation and they had no choice than to get back to harbor. The operation was repeated again and seeing that the navigation was impossible they realized they had forgotten to fulfill their promise so they took away the image of the Collegiate to the city likely for the proximity to the harbor and listen there to the mass.''

Detail of the Cristo de la Victoria in Vigo, Spain.

Detail of the Cristo de la Victoria in Vigo, Spain. ( juantiagues/CC BY SA 2.0 )

But the truth may be different. Even the locals doubt this legend because if the figure had arrived on the ship in the legend, it would have probably been deposited in the convent of San Francisco, in the Berbes or the Chapel of mercifulness which belonged to the trade union.

Another version of the legend about the origins of the cross comes from the time of Henry VII, the famous British king. This story says that the Christians threw the cross with the statue of Jesus into the sea to save them from fire during persecutions against the Catholics. A ship apparently rescued it and brought to Galicia.

A story that is little bit more detailed comes from around 1740. It suggests that the artist who created the work was Sebastian Ucete, a Basque sculptor. This is also the year of the first document which is connected to the famous cross and Christ. It is a letter by Mrs. Bernarda Bello de los Rios which is addressed to the town council requesting permission to place a scaffold which had been withdrawn to pave the temple. This was done, but the place she mentioned was also rebuilt behind the pillar which was located in front of the one where the Holy Christ of Victory was placed. However, it is the only record which mentioned this name from that time. It is unknown if the Christ Bernarda Bello mentioned is the same one which is currently found in Vigo.

Procession of Cristo de la Victoria, Vigo, Galicia (Spain).

Procession of Cristo de la Victoria, Vigo, Galicia (Spain). (farrangallo/CC BY SA 2.0 )

Researchers suppose that the best explanation to the origins of the cross lie in the documents related to Marco del Pont, a Catalonian industrialist who lived in Vigo during the second half of the 18th century. He loved the city so much that he apparently gave it the cross as a gift.

Some scholars suggest that it also could have been a cross used by soldiers during the Napoleonic wars. The name Cristo de la Victoria probably comes from these times. It was called this by the Vigo's inhabitants for saving Vigo from Napoleon’s army. The cross and Christ may have also traveled to other battlefields in Spain.

‘The Battle of Vigo Bay’ a naval engagement fought on 23 October 1702 during the opening years of the War of the Spanish Succession. By Ludolf Bakhuizen.

‘The Battle of Vigo Bay’ a naval engagement fought on 23 October 1702 during the opening years of the War of the Spanish Succession. By Ludolf Bakhuizen. ( Public Domain )

An Icon of Vigo

With a variety of legends surrounding its incredible history, many bishops have planned to take it to different cathedrals and churches in Galicia and other regions. According to the local stories, however, every time someone comes to take it to a different church, it is very rainy.

Rainy weather isn't something unusual in Vigo, but some believe that it is not a coincidence that every time someone comes to take the cross away from the church it pours rain. Thus, the Christ of victory remains an iconic cross to the Old Town of Vigo. And every year on the first Sunday of August it leaves the church for a few hours to pass through the streets with its followers before returning to the collegiate, where it stays until the next year. The cross of the Christ of victory continues to be one of the most important religious symbols in the city. It brings hope during bad times and may even protect the city when it's needed.

Top Image: The Christ of Victory in the Concatedral de Santa María in Vigo, Galicia, Spain . Source: José Luis Filpo Cabana/CC BY 3.0

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

J. Santiago y Gomez, Historia de Vigo y su comarca, 2006.

B. Cegarra Martinz, Vigo na historia, 1998.

El Cristo de la Victoria (Christ of Victory), available at:
http://www.turismodevigo.org/en/el-cristo-de-la-victoria-christ-victory

The Christ of Vigo, available at:
http://www.cristodevigo.es/the-christ-of-vigo/

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