The mountains of A Paradanta are home to the Shrine of the Virxe da Franqueira, recorded as an 11th century Benedictine monastery. Hundreds of people flock here from Galicia and the north of Portugal to honour this Virgin, the “mayor” of A Cañiza, an icon which has been worshipped since the 17th century. The two biggest dates surrounding the Virxe da Franqueira (Whit Monday and 8 September) are displays of devotion to the Virgin that hold a special place amongst Galician religious celebrations. Their age and unique character make them a tourist attraction.
The first romería pilgrimage is known as “As Pascuíllas” and is a beautiful spectacle, as various processions, from the parishes of A Cañiza and the surrounding areas, reach the shrine carrying their statues (of virgins and saints), decorated with flowers and the standards and banners of each parish. More than fifty icons pay tribute to the Virxe de Franqueira in the paved atrium. Protocol decrees that San Sebastian and the Virxe do Rosario are first, which means that other statues must wait if they arrive first.
Following the religious acts, the octopus, rosquilla doughnut, ao caldeiro meat, pastry, cheese, and honey stalls are inundated with people eager to buy the finest local produce and the pilgrims enjoy an outdoor meal in the area around the shrine. After four o’clock, the processions head back to return their icons to their churches and chapels.
The summer pilgrimage at the shrine of the Virxe da Franquiera happens on the day of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary and, as with the spring As Pascuíllas, it is known well-known beyond Galicia. The surroundings of the shrine of the Virxe de Franqueira fill up with the faithful who have travelled from all over the Pontevedra province and Portugal. The most emotive moment comes after the solemn mass at midday, when the Virgen is taken in a cart pulled by two blindfolded oxen (the legend holds that this is how she led the local people to the place where her shrine was to be built). The procession stops to take in the ancient dances of Santa María da Franqueira and the representation of the fight between a Moorish prince and a devout Christian, which symbolises one of the most famous miracles attributed to the Virxe da Franqueira: the freeing of a Christian prisoner in Algiers. The religious celebrations end with the traditional outdoor meal in the surroundings of the shrine.