It’s no news that the Norse and Germanic culture spread so wildly throughout Europe and even got to Portugal, the last European country by the sea. For obvious reasons Portugal as always been the favorite European country for all the Europeans to settle and make a living, since the neolithic times that many diferente peoples from Europe went there, fertily soils for agriculture, warm weather, during the winter too harsh to the north but nothing that the people weren’t used to, great strategic places, soils filled with diffrent types of ore, abundance of wildlife and game, rivers filled with fish and by the sea for fishing, a rich land where Celts, Iberians, Lusitanians, Swabians, Vandals, Vikings, and so on settled and prospered. Portugal has deep roots in the Celtic, Germanic and Norse culture, and the people lived with such culture and religious beliefs for almost 2500 Years before christianity conquered the land, possibly more, for the historical records began in a time where Portugal was already with such cultures in the ancient past of the land.
In this post i will talk about the Portuguese past with the Norse/Germanic culture, because in most historical maps, i have seen the routes of the Norse people voyages, but seldom do those routes pass in Portugal, and today i will show you one more proof that the Norse/Germanic peoples came there, settled, built, traded, farmed, lived and left a lot of descendants.
Póvoa de Varzim is a city in northern Portugal with a rich past, a place that has been permanently inhabited since pre-historic times, where the inhabitants of that área used to live in the mountains, protected from agression of other tribes, but the need for food was great, for in the mountains with nothing but cold, snow, frost and harsh storms, it is hard to farm and hard to hunt, so very early in history, the people from that área settled near the sea and small fishing villages started to apear. This place was Celtic land, and later the Swabians settle there also and centuries after the Vikings arrived. The norse writing system ( the runes ) was the first thing that was passed down to these people, in a period even before the vikings, more than 1500 years ago. In this reagion of northern Portugal the people adopted the runes not only as a form of writing but also to mark each family, instead of having a coat of arms, they had runes and other runic symbols such as the combination of runes. as you can see at the right of this post, the first image shows some of those runes and combination of runes that were also to represente spots, houses, family names, fishing tools and all kinds of stuff in a community. In the past, these were used to remember things and were known to be the only writing system that the people of Póvoa had, because many inhabitants did not knew how to write in the Latin alphabet, for the northern regions were hard places to get to and the Romans had much trouble going in there. These symbols had great utility, even merchants used it in trading, to mark an event, a selling, and so on, and these were read and recognized like we today read and recognize names written in the Latin alphabet.
Some of these symbols can still be found in the First Church of Póvoa de Varzim (first church since 1757) and in the Lapa church, the chapel of Santa Cruz in Balazar, in some religious places in north-western Iberia to where they went for praying, and are still very lightly used by some families. Thousands of these symbols existed in the former first church of Póvoa de Varzim (until 1757), but these were destroyed with the demolition of the church. The people of Póvoa wrote their marks in a kind of registry when they got married.
The symbols were passed down from father to son. In Póvoa’s tradition that lives until today, the heir of the family is the youngest son and a mark is given, a runic symbol, to the other children it was also given the same mark but with traces, known as «pique». Thus, the older son would have one pique, the next would have two, and so on. The youngest son would not have any pique, inheriting the same symbol as his father. The younger son is the heir because it was expected that he would take care of his parents when they became old. Also, unlike the rest of the nation, it is the women who governs and leads the family, this is also due to the fact that men passed most of the time at sea fishing.
It is importante to remembre our roots, to remembre who we are, and for the people of Póvoa de Varzim, this Norse past is somethign very importante that they hold on to, even today we can still see these markings in the well known
Portuguese stone sidewalk style as you can see below, you might want to click the image to enlarge.