Those images from June 1984 had an impact. The remains of Alfonso Daniel Rodríguez Castelao returned to Galicia 34 years after dying in exile in Buenos Aires. They were going to the Pantheon of Illustrious Galegos, in Santiago de Compostela. It happened under a Popular Alliance Government, the first formed in the community after the restoration of democracy. Hundreds of people protested in the streets against what they understood to be a manipulation of his figure, that of the main theoretician and nationalist leader, and also a deputy for the Popular Front. The police were quick to attack the protesters. Between races and persecutions, Castelao’s coffin returned to his native country. It was the penultimate of the burials in the place – four years later the geographer Domingo Fontán would be transferred – but, without a doubt, the most emblematic. The chapel, owned by the Church and a Galician symbol, now remains in a kind of limbo that the large cast of agents involved tries to regulate.
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Like so many other elements of Galician symbology, including its anthem, the idea of the Pantheon of Illustrious Galicians was born in emigration. Specifically, in the associations of Galicians who, during the 19th century, had traveled to Cuba in search of a better future. The Chapel of the Visitation, inside the Gothic church of San Domingos de Bonaval, in Santiago de Compostela, was the site chosen to bury some of the most important figures in Galician culture. The first, in 1891, was Rosalía de Castro, transferred from the Adina cemetery (Padrón, A Coruña) six years after her death. Then the church, the chapel and the convent that make up the entire area did not belong to the Archbishopric. The confiscation of Mendizábal had made them public.
The next tenant to arrive was Alfredo Brañas, ideologue of Galician regionalism and precursor of nationalism. It was 1906. Between that date and 1961, when the sculptor Francisco Asorey was buried, there was no other burial. In 1967, in the midst of the dictatorship, it was the turn of Ramón Cabanillas, who had died eight years earlier. He was the Poeta da Raza, author of incendiary and anti-caciquiles books such as I don’t banish (1913) or da terra asoballada (1917). No one else until Castelao, in 1984, in the midst of incidents that are still the subject of debate in the nationalist world. The expulsion from the Galician Parliament of the three deputies of the BN-PG, the organization behind the protests and the main predecessor of the current BNG, for refusing to abide by the Constitution had left Camilo Nogueira, from Esquerda Galega, as the only nationalist deputy present in the official act. The controversy over what had been the correct attitude lasted for years. The transfer of Domingo Fontán, the geographer who mapped Galicia in the 19th century, closed, in 1988, the sextet of illustrious Galician men and women that houses the Pantheon.
But not only for burials has the chapel served. Located in a beautiful enclave of the city, adjacent to the convent owned by the City Council that houses the Museo do Pobo Galego, the Pantheon of Illustrious Galicians has served as the setting for countless political and cultural events. The lawsuit dragged from the time of the confiscation caused, at the beginning of this century, a new turn. In 2006, the Supreme Court delimited the properties. The church, and therefore the chapel of the Visitation, and the adjacent Rosario cemetery belong to the Archbishopric of Compostela. The convent, to the municipality, as well as the entrance to the church. The authorization to use the Pantheon thus corresponds to the Diocese of Santiago de Compostela. “You need to ask permission. Its use is now more measured. Some requests are denied”, sources from the Archbishopric warn elDiario.es, “to use what is inside someone’s property, authorization is needed”.
Looking for a formula
That the mortal remains of Rosalía de Castro, Castelao or Ramón Cabanillas, placed in a pantheon with the intention of being a community symbol, are subject to the law of a private institution, worried the Consello da Cultura Galega, an independent official body that appears in the Statute of Galicia. In conversations with the Galician Parliament for years, he has promoted the search for a formula to regulate the uses of the Pantheon of Illustrious Galicians. The actors to agree? The Archbishopric, the Rosalía de Castro, Castelao and Alfredo Brañas foundations, the City Council, the Xunta de Galicia, the Museo do Pobo Galego and the three parties with parliamentary representation, PP, BNG and PSdeG.
“This is an issue that is always on the verge of being solved, but ends up being derailed by some problem,” say sources from the PP parliamentary group, very active in a project that includes expanding the pantheon with the rear garden, owned by the municipality, attached to the gothic apse. Complications appear at the least expected moments. And even within each property. Any action that affects the church must have the acquiescence of the parish priest. And in addition to the Visitation chapel, there is also the Rosario chapel, governed by the brotherhood of the same name and with the right to bury its brothers there. Therefore, with right of way. In any case, these same sources assure that only two or three technical issues are missing to close a “sufficiently representative” and infrequent agreement since the parliamentary unanimity reached at the beginning of autonomy over the flag or the anthem.