TITLE: The inscription
DATE PUBLISHED: 21/07/2014


The Inscription found in Betanzos

In this thematic document we focus on an inscription carved on a buttress of Santiago’s Church, built in Betanzos in the 14th century.

If our interpretation of this inscription is correct, its meaning is not associated with any religious subject. The inscription carved on the buttress literally means “Gaelic-speaking area”.

The inscription


Next to the heading of our web-site we say “wherever a language was spoken, there was an associated culture”. As the sentence implies, all our research work is based on linguistic evidence, so that we follow that evidence where it leads us. We do not simply try to find a Latin origin for most Galician words and Galician place-names regardless of the suitability of such an explanation.

With the intention of providing such linguistic evidence, in this paper we focus on an inscription carved on a buttress of a Galician church, Santiago’s Church, built in Betanzos in the 14th century. Though we leave it to specialists in epigraphy to decide the matter, our opinion is that the inscription was carved in a Gaelic (Goidelic) language, with a dot placed above two consonants to denote lenition (or weakening) of the consonant.

In the Gaelic languages, lenition could be denoted by using a dot or ponc séimhithe above a letter representing a consonant or by placing the letter h after the consonant. The use of the dot predominated when texts were written using the Gaelic orthography, while the use of the h predominated when writing using Roman orthography.

In the inscription found in the Galician church, carved in rough-grained granite, the dot-diacritic mark over each of the two consonants was given a longer shape so that it could be seen from the ground. The epigraph is some 5 or 6 meters above the ground.

If our interpretation of this inscription is correct, its meaning is not associated with any religious subject. Instead, it is directly related to the language spoken in Galicia at that time, since the meaning of the inscribed word is “Gaelic-speaking area”.


Leabhar Gabhála na hÉireann



   Lebor Gabála Érenn or The Book of the Taking of Ireland tells us that Goídel's descendant, Breogán, founded a city called Brigantia, and built a tower, from the top of which his son Íth glimpsed Ireland and sailed to the island with a group of men. There he was welcomed by its three kings: Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine of the Tuatha Dé Danann. However, he was killed by unnamed attackers, and his men returned to Hispania. The Gaels then set sail with a great force to avenge his death and took Ireland. The Gaels are referred to as the Sons of Míl Espáine or Milesians.


Brigantia refers to the town called Brigantium by the Romans. It is now known as A Coruña, and is on the northwest coast of Galicia. The town was captured by Julius Caesar in his campaign of 61-59 BC. The 17th century Irish historian Geoffrey Keating, drawing on the Lebor Gabála Érenn and other materials for his history of Ireland, Foras Feasaar Éirinn, drew an explicit and long-lasting connection between Ireland and Galicia, claiming that both peoples traditionally spoke the same language.


A Coruña

Until recently, many historians have dismissed the legendary accounts of Irish history in both Lebor Gabála Érenn and Foras Feasaar Éirinn as simply pseudo-history or the fantasies of medieval historians, but recent work in genetics, archeology and linguistics are re-opening the debates regarding the similarities between Ireland, Britain and Spain in regard to place-names and names of ethnic groups in all three areas. The essential historical truth behind the legends contained in Lebor Gabála Érenn – including not only the connections between early Celtic groups in Spain and those in Ireland but also the connections of Celts along the whole Atlantic coast with the Mycenaean area of the eastern Mediterranean -- has been demonstrated by scholars working within the “Celtic from the West” paradigm. Apparently legendary history is not necessarily pseudo-history.

As for Geoffrey Keating’s Foras Feasaar Éirinn, a recent scholar evaluated his work of interpretations of older documents, and found him to be a very careful scholar by the standards of the early seventeenth century. Examining Keating’s treatment of Irish place-names from older documents, he found only a handful of errors in the entire work, and these errors were all due to the uncertain handwriting of earlier scribes or the poor physical condition of the documents.

In conclusion, we may be reasonably certain that the main events of Lebor Gabála Érenn represent the vague outline, with literary flourishes, of actual historical events whose memory was carefully preserved in oral tradition by a long chain of professional historians – seanchaithe – with roots in the Indo-European past.


Church of Santiago – Betanzos


Church of Santiago, Betanzos (A Coruña-Galicia-Spain)


   A member of the Gaelaico Project has found an inscription carved in stone on a Galician church built in the 14th century on the site of a former Romanesque church.  The inscription can be seen carved on one of the Gothic buttresses. A few meters below it there is a Knight Templar’s cross carved on the same buttress. Above the inscription, also carved on the same buttress, one can see clearly a yardstick and a pair of scissors. It appears that all these carvings could have been done at the same time. The inscription has gone unnoticed until now. As far as we know, no-one has tried to find out what the carved letters could mean.


   The highlighted area shows the part of the 14th century buttress where the carvings can be seen. The buttress is on the outside of the central apse where the main altar is located. To its right is a clock tower built in the 16th century. The buttresses were built as support for the Gothic windows and walls of the central apse. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the inscription was carved when the church was being built or shortly after it was built.



The inscription


Inscriptions carved in stone churches, inside or outside, usually make religious reference, such as the saint to whom the church is dedicated, the Virgin Mary or her son Jesus, etc. Finding an inscription related to the people or nation who rules the land where the church stands is not so common. In fact, it can be considered something quite rare; that is why we will try to focus attention on it.



   In this image we can see the Knight Templar’s cross quite clearly. Seven rows of stone above it we can glimpse the inscription. Two rows of stone above the inscription we can see the yardstick and the scissors. Another two rows of stone above them we can see the Tree of Life. As we can see, each of these carvings is perfectly centered on the stone where it was carved seven centuries ago. Or so it looks from a distance.  We will now check to see if they are really centered.





   As we can see, the three inscriptions were carefully carved in a central position on the stones. In the middle carving, the yardstick is centered, but not the scissors.


We now come to the written text carved on another of the blocks of stone of the same buttress.



The first thing we note is that although the text is centered, it looks as though there could have been one more letter closer to each of the edges, one on the right and one on the left. These images have all been taken recently by members of the Gaelaico Project’s team. We are now going to see a picture taken a few years ago.




   Here we can see that there is one more letter on the right, very close to the edge of the stone block. We can also see that it looks as though there could have been another letter on the left margin, but that it has been erased either by natural erosion or by human activity.


We are now going to focus on each separate letter to see if we can find any clues to the meaning of the word that was carved here seven centuries ago. We will start by highlighting the more obvious letters.




As we can see, the A and the E are fairly clear and written together as it was done in medieval times. Therefore, we can now read AE.

We now come to the next two letters on the right. We see them in the following images.



As we can see, it clearly looks like an L. It also looks like the following letter is overlapping the L. We can see that it looks like a T overlapping the previous L with its big belly-like curve. The top stroke of the T overlaps the following letter too.

There cannot be many doubts about this letter. It is an A. We see it in the following image.

So now we have A E L T A.



Although we are not experts and we leave the interpretation or reading of the carving to specialists in that area, in our opinion there is very little doubt regarding the letters we have seen so far: A E L T A.

Because we have noticed some slight differences in the photographs taken a few years ago and the ones taken this year, we will now see one of the older photographs, where we can see that the letter on the right seems to be a D. But just before the D, there seems to be a C with a lenition dot over it.





Working on the photograph taken a few years ago and retracing our steps following what we have done on this year’s picture, we see this: A E L T A Ċ D

We have left the letter which seems to be the first on the left till last, because we have noticed something suspicious. We will now see an amplified image of the first letter from the left, keeping in mind that all the letters we have seen until now were carved with very round strokes, without any really straight lines. We should note too that the grooves on all these letters seem worn by erosion, without any obvious recent scratching on the stone.

The L-shaped strokes seem to be much straighter than the strokes used to carve the other letters. This becomes obvious when inverting the colors of the photograph.












So eventually we can see that it is really the letter G with a mark or accent over it. We think it represents a dot to indicate lenition, similar to the dot we have seen over the C. We draw the g following the older lines on the stone.

It is obvious that there is a letter missing on the left. Since we can only see traces of it, we will just have to follow them as best we can and wait for specialists to decide whether we are right or wrong.







A’ Ġaeltaċd - An Ghaeltacht-  A’Ghàidhealtachd – A Ghaliza

This is an unusual paper. As far as we know, it is the first time that someone has claimed that an inscription carved or written in Gaelic has been found in Galicia. It is not an inscription that can be disregarded as something unimportant, since it gives a very different dimension to what many have considered Irish “myths” and “legends” until now. We are, of course, referring to the manuscript traditions embodied in the book Lebor Gabála Érenn, considered a medieval Christian pseudo-history of Ireland. In it, the Milesians are the Gaels who came from Iberia / Hispania and settled in Ireland. They represent the Irish people.

Though this may seem odd or farfetched to most people, no-one has ever considered the possibility that the phrase A’ Ġaeltaċd (“Gaelic-speaking area”) might have something to do with the Galician and Portuguese name for Galicia: A Galiza (A Ghaliza with the Galician gheada).

In the modern Gaelic languages, lenition of a consonant is usually denoted by adding an h to the lenited letter. Until recently, when writing in the Gaelic script, lenition was indicated by placing a dot above the affected consonant, while in the Roman script, the convention was—and still is— to suffix the letter h to the consonant, to signify lenition. Still earlier, in Middle Irish manuscripts, lenition of s and f was indicated by the dot above, while lenition of p, t, and c was indicated by the post-posed h; lenition of other letters was not indicated consistently in the orthography.

As for the meaning of the inscription, in modern Irish Gaelic, Gaeltacht means:

1. (Lit.) The Irishry; Irish (-speaking) people.

2. Irish-speaking area.

3. Gaelic-speaking area of Scotland.” When preceded by the Gaelic article, it is written An Ghaeltacht.

In modern Scottish Gaelic, Gàidhealtachd means: “Gaeltacht, Highlands (Gaelic-speaking area of Scotland).” When preceded by the Gaelic article, it is written A’ Ghàidhealtachd. Let us now look at an example, a similar word written with dots to indicate lenition.

Here we see the dot over the d and over the c in the first word, and over the d and g in the second word: gaeealaċ; gaeealaiġe.


Note the older spelling of A’ Ghàidhealtachd:


Remember that the first known name of Galicia was Gallaecia and keep in mind that Gallaecia is a Latinized version of the name the Galician people used to refer to themselves as a nation or a tribe.

If we compare the word Gaelic, an anglicized version of the Gaelic words Gaelach, Gaidhealach, Gaeilge or Gàidhlig, to the first letters of the word Galicia, we find a notable resemblance: GaelicGalicia.

It is a known fact that the suffix –cia, meaning “land of the...”, was used to Latinize or Romanize the names of countries inhabited by various peoples keeping only a part of the root of the names:

FranceFrancia (Romanized) (Land of the Franks)
GreeceGrecia (Romanized) (Land of the Greeks)
ThraceTracia (Romanized) (Land of the Thracians)
SwedenSuecia (Romanized) (Land of the Swedes)
ScotlandEscocia (Romanized) (Land of the Scots)

So Gallaecia must have meant the land of the Gallaeci and Galicia must have meant the land of the Galici.

Now let us look at an attempt to Latinize or Romanize the name of another Gaelic region. The Latinized or Romanized name was still used in Spanish not so long ago:

Isla de Omey, en Connaught, Irlanda

Esta región puede aparecer como Connacht o La Conacia (el topónimo se presenta de esta guisa en "Método para apreender por principios la geografía general y particular" de 1775, pág. 100, de Juan Antonio González Cañaveras)

La isla de Omey (en irlandés, Iomaidh) es una isla mareal ubicada cerca de Claddaghduff en el extremo occidental de Connemara en el condado de Galway. Es posible conducir o pasear cruzando una larga franja arenosa a la isla siguiendo las señales con flechas. Con la marea alta, el agua es suficientemente profunda para cubrir un coche. Prácticamente deshabitada hogaño.


And this is what the Wikipedia says about Connacht in French:

Connacht ou Connaught (en gaélique Connachta, en latin Conacia) est une province de la République d'Irlande située à l’ouest sur la côte atlantique. La province comprend les cinq comtés de Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon et Sligo. Sa superficie est de 17 713,18 km².


In a book titled Erasto o el amigo de la juventud, written in Spanish by Fernando Romero de Leis in the 19th century we read this:

La Irlanda se divide en cuatro partes, que son: la Ultonia, al norte: la Lagenia, al oriente: la Mounster, al mediodía: y la Conacia, al occidente.



We can see Connacht written as Connacia in the map above (1657) and as Connatia in the map below (Mercator, Gerard, 1633). So perhaps when it comes to Latinizing or Romanizing a Gaelic name, anything is possible.


Connatia and Conacia, just like Scottia and Escocia. But if from Connacht we get Conacia as a Latinized or Romanized version, what would we get from Gaeltacht?


Connacht Conacia

Gaeltacht > Gallaecia Galicia


So perhaps the latter connection is not so farfetched after all. Connatia and Connacia were used in the 17th century while Gallaecia and Galicia were used at least 16 and 10 centuries earlier, respectively. We must keep in mind that the Romans were giving Latinized forms to indigenous names wherever they went in their conquests.

But that does not mean to say that the Galician people called themselves Galician. It only means that that was the name used by the Romans in reference to the people who inhabited the northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula.

The similarity between Gàidhlig /gaːlɪgʲ/ and Galego /galego/ in their phonetic forms is obvious. If we stretch it to faclair Gàidhlig (Gaelic lexicon) and falar galego (Galician language), it is even more obvious. So is the similarity between Gaélico and Galaico. Or the similarity between Gaelach and Galegho (Galego pronounced with the Galician gheada on the last g).

But leaving all these similarities aside, the inscription is there for all to see. We think the Gaelic phrase A’ Ġaeltaċd, an older slightly different version of An Ghaeltacht or A’Ghàidhealtachd, is inscribed or carved in the Galician Gothic church buttress built in the 14th century. The experts will have the final word, but until they decide, we will stick to our interpretation of it. If someone carved A’ Ġaeltaċd on a medieval church in Galicia, there must have been a reason for it.

What do you think?                






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