We are in Via Sacra, in front of the church of San Paio de Antealtares. The titular saint is St. Pelayo, who travelled from Galicia to Cordoba when he was only a child to hand himself over to the Caliph Abd ar-Rahman the Third in exchange for his aging uncle, who had been captured. The Caliph fell in love with the beauty of the young man, who rejected him. As a result of this, St. Pelayo was tormented and finally beheaded. He died as a martyr in 925. His body was thrown into the river, but a group of Christians recovered his remains and took them to a safe place.
This church belongs to the Benedictine convent and has the privilege of housing the altar found next to St. James’ tomb, San Pelayo’s relics and an interesting Museum of Religious Art.
Let’s now turn around and face the back of the cathedral. This small esplanade before the door of San Paio was designed by the architect Domingo de Andrade. The author of the cathedral’s Clock Tower was also in charge of constructing the Casa de la Parra, to our right. The corner, wisely conceived, allows the framing of a unique view of the Clock Tower from this narrow street.
The tower was named Berenguela after Archbishop Berenguel de Landoira, who had it built in the 14th century. Back then, it was merely used for defensive purposes, and did not exceed the height at which the clock is today located. Andrade gave it its present-day appearance, adding the rest of the tower, which is 72 metres high, and the baroque ornamentation, turning it into one of the most beautiful ones in Europe. In fact, it is common to complement a pretty Galician woman by saying that she looks like a Berenguela.
The tower holds the biggest of all the cathedral bells, also known as the Berenguela. It weighs almost 6.5 tons, almost equalling the weight of all the Obradoiro bells together. It plays a low C note that can be heard when the clock strikes. Its daunting sound has made people believe it has supernatural power, enabling it to occasionally strike, at midnight, thirteen times instead of twelve.
The truth is that long ago, the bells’ sound was used to notify people regarding certain events: a resident’s death, a fire, an attack and even a woman giving birth. This signal ended up being eliminated, since every time a woman went into labour, the sound of the bells alarmed those who were not yet due, often causing them to deliver earlier.