Santo dos Croques: from Sculptor to ‘Saint’
However, for many years (many estimates even up to four centuries), there was another ‘Saint’ that partially stole the limelight from the mighty St James. In Galicia, it is called ‘Santo dos Croques’, the Saint of the Bumps.
The Santo dos Croques is a stone figure in a kneeling position on the inside of the Pórtico da Gloria, the Romanesque porch entrance to the Cathedral built in 1168 by Mestre Mateo, an important sculpture and architecture master of the time.
This figure became the object of a semi-religious tradition (or superstition) among visitors to the cathedral. The likely origin is Santiago’s University student population: University students would bang their heads three times against the head of the so-called Santo dos Croques, as they believed it to be a source of knowledge, intelligence, wisdom and ultimately a lucky charm ahead of University exams. Hence its name, ‘Croque’ meaning ‘bump’ in Galician.
This student tradition became widespread among the whole population of Santiago and beyond, as well as pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela. Many thought the figure was that of a Saint, some might have even believed it was St James, but, despite its name, the Santo dos Croques is not a Santo at all but a self-sculpture of Mestre Mateo, the master sculptor himself.
Four centuries of head rubbing and intelligence sharing finally ended in 2009. With the number of pilgrims walking the Camino and visitors to the cathedral increasing yearly, poor Mestre Mateo’s head suffered too much wear and tear.
Coinciding with the refurbishment and restoration work of the whole Pórtico da Gloria, Cathedral authorities decided it would be wise to ban this practice to protect the students’ favourite ‘Saint’.