Interview to Adolfo de Abel Vilela

Interview made by the Spanish team

Mapa do Lugo medieval / Map of medieval Lugo

In november before starting working seriously in the topics we are going to deal with in the European Proyect Grundtvig in which we are integrated, we decided to interview the person who best knows our city (Lugo) from a historical point of view. His contribution seemed to us, and so it was, essential for linking our city with the Camiño de Santiago and the medieval lyrics. In fact, these topics can hardly be understood without knowing how Lugo was in the medieval times talking about it´s urban structure, the lifestyle, the leisure, etc.

Adolfo de Abel at Campo square

Adolfo de Abel Vilela (Lugo, 1946) is a doctor in Geography and History, an especialist in Modern and Contemporary art, a profound researcher of the history of the city of Lugo to which he has dedicated several books, we have a special interest in quoting La ciudad de Lugo en los siglos XII a XIV. Urbanismo y sociedad (2009).

1. How was people in the medieval Lugo. Which was its population? What did they do? How did they earn their lives?

The human being is exactly the same as it always was, the only thing that changes is the technology. In the 12th to 15th centuries rich people lived in the Campo Square, but in the 18th they used to lived in Miño street. They were the merchants, many of them certainly Jews, because even though there aren´t any traces of a Jewish comunity in Lugo, there are names like Salomon, Adán, Jordán that show this origin.

The economic basis of the city were the monthly fair and market; there were also yearly fairs that lasted several days.

The number and variety of artisans was important which is certified by the names of the streets and the documents: knife makers street, blacksmiths, candy shops... there were tailors, tanners, shoemakers, etc. too. There also existed people dedicated to the construction, in fact, the public construction was an important force (this is the case of the Cathedral which was started around 1129). The people who lived on trading had their houses in the Campo Square.

There were servants too, for example the members of the cathedral government had people working for them, some of them were clergymen and other were called “o home do deán”.

In the same way, the bishop and, for example, the Lemos Count were lords and were accompanied by military men.

It´s very difficult to know the number of inhabitants, because there isn´t any documentation about it; in the 17th and 18th there were about 2000 inhabitants and surely the medieval population had a similar number. Talking about the structure of the city we can say that from the medieval age there still exist some houses with a medieval typology, in the Campo square and surroundings, more or less modified and some of them had Gothic elements like in the case of the building that hosts the Centro de Interpretación do Camiño Primitivo which conserves a window with that style. The tower-house typology, in which this building can be included, were the houses of the economically powerful families. They were made on stone and had some floors.

The market was celebrated in the Campo, the fair in the Carballal (corresponding with the actual Saint Marcos and Ferrol Square). For this latter a well or a fountain were needed and they had always to be near a church or another ecclesiastical building. The convents (in our case Saint Domingo and Saint Francisco) were placed wherever the fair was situated because they collected the taxes in kind and took advantage of the transactions in that place to collect money.

In the medieval Lugo there were three convents and a high number of government, so we can think that many inhabitants were religious people.


We can difference these parts in the city:

  • Old burg: around the cathedral
  • New burg: Saint Pedro area and the castle
  • Saint Román Cortiñas, where the main square is placed now, between the two burgs.

The rest of the intramural space were formed by the Tinería (the tanners street) placed in the suburbs to avoid bad smells; even farther was the Carril dos Fornos (baker´s street) to avoid the fires. In the rest of the space there were houses and farmlands.

Other preserved buildings from that age, apart from the houses mentioned before, are the convent of Saint Francisco, which have medieval rests; one piece of the Saint María a Nova in the diocesan museum of the cathedral; the cathedral itself and the path of the streets in the old burg. In the 19th century the conceal decided to demolish the arcade because they wanted to enlarge the width of the streets.

2. In the medieval Lugo, what kind of locals were for cultural activities and amusements, what were these and how was the citizen participation level?

We only have constance of the leisure activities in the "coengos", but we can assume that the same or similar playful practises were realized by other social groups. There was a game, called “o pelete”, quite similar to the football; people enjoyed going to the baths or to the spa and going for picnics by the river. In winter they usually played cards or dice or chess; in summer they used to go to the bullfights. The usually meal which they would eat at that moment were eggs cooked wrapped in humid cloths.

3. Following with the social matter and the amusements of the people from that age, there is the sex matter too. Was there prostitution?

We don´t have data in the documents about their existence or the location of the locals, but it´s presumably their existence. As a curiosity the access to the fountains (situated outside of the wall) was regulated in the "Rules of the good government" (1547) to avoid the encounter of men and women.

4. How did the health care work in that age? Were there care centres? Where were they placed?

There were many hospitals, but they worked more like asylums than for a healing function. We know these:

  • Saint Catalina (St. Pedro gate)
  • St. Bartolomeu (Main square)
  • Hostel in the Pinguela´s well
  • St. Miguel (Miña gate)
  • S. Lázaro

The lobby had it´s own physical or doctor; the barbers did health works too but they have to be graduated. The bleedings were common.

5. How was the Wall in those years?

Currently the Wall have flats left, so only a third part is conserved. The doors have had variations between the medieval age and now. The Miñá is the only one faithful to the Roman and medieval typology whereas the Santiago, San Pedro e A Falsa doors have been modified.

6. What do we know about the cultural level of the people from that age?

Most of the people were illiterate, including the upper classes; even there were kings that didn´t know how to read or write. The people that studied usually were those who were to join the ranks of the clergy; obviously, the merchants had enough knowledge for doing the accounting of their business.


7. Have we got data about the number of pilgrims who passed through the city of Lugo?

There was a hospital for pilgrims before the 11th century and the hospitals in the city marked the route of the road, so the number had to be high (because the number of hospitals was elevated for such a small city), but we haven´t got data.

A small book printed in Strasbourg in 1496 informed us of Herman Künig von Vach, who was in Lugo like a pilgrim. I only found one reference about the pilgrims in the Dead list of St. Pedro; it talks about a Swiss (Jacobo Jacquet) that died here the 5th of october 1788 near the A Ponte houses and was placed on record that he was a pilgrim. We can suppose that there were many more from that European areas.

8. What can you tell to us about the cultural value of the Road to Santiago?

There were detected immigrants from Central Europe and some clergy with a French origin can be found.

A lot of building models have a Central European origin, for example the irons in the north door of the cathedral, in the monastery of Meira and in the Vilar de Donas one are all identical to ones in St. Ulrich of Ratisbona (Regensburg). This implies that they most likely were made by blacksmiths with those origins.

Obviously many techniques and news came through this pilgrimage route.

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