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Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 17 pp9-10 (Mar 1983).
On the old road that goes from Canillo to Meritxell one finds the ancient "Cross of the seven arms". Its sculptures have suffered a little with the passing of the years, and one of its arms is broken. This cross, of such original design, is the subject of a sad legend.
Once upon a time there lived in the village of Prats a poor youth who used to fear that one day he would meet the devil, so he seldom ventured very far. The other young people of the hamlet decided to make sport out of the fears of the poor youth, so they invited him to participate in a supper with them, provided he would go to Canillo to fetch the wine. "No, no" he said."Not me - it could be the devil might appear before me along the way." "Look", they said to him, "there's no need for you to be afraid. We'll lend you this musket, and if you see him Bang! you kill him!" "No, no, I don't want to go. I'm very afraid of the devil."... But finally, after much persuasion, they won him over, and, armed with the musket, he set off for Canillo, just as it was getting dusk. People who knew him asked "How is it that such a fearful chap as you are so far from home at this hour?" "Ah! I'm not afraid today. See, I have this musket and its charged!" So it was - but with flour. On entering the inn he found it full of people and the proprietor very busy, so he left the bottle on the counter to be filled when convenient, and went out for a walk round the village, placing the musket behind the open door.
After he had dealt with all his customers, the proprietor filled the bottle for the lad from Prats, and then went to close the door. In doing so he noticed the musket and, out of curiosity, examined it and saw that it was badly charged. Thinking that this was due to an oversight, and that the weapon might let its owner down at a critical moment, the proprietor charged it correctly and put it in good order.
When the lad from Prats returned to the inn the proprietor was sitting comfortably by the fire so the lad told him not to get up, put the money for the wine on the counter, took up the bottle and the musket, and set off for home. The lads from Prats had decided that along the pathway one of them clad in a sheet, would step out before the fearful youth. After all, even if he fired there was no danger from a musket charged with flour....
The returning youth was a good way towards home when, suddenly, a white, gesticulating figure appeared a couple of metres in front of him. "That must be the devil", he thought, and he raised the musket and fired at point blank range. The white form fell to the ground without a cry or a groan. The lad ran the rest of the way home, to announce that he had just killed the devil. The other young people, ignorant as to the exchange of the flour, laughed uncharitably at him. "Come on!" they said to him, "Let's go and see just where you killed the devil!" Off they went, but they found nothing. They looked for their companion, but he was nowhere to be found; he had mysteriously disappeared.....
The real devil had spirited away his body.... The young people had been punished for their spite.
On the spot where these sad events took place, it was decided to place the cross so that passers-by should remember, and consider the consequences of such unkind deeds. The cross had seven arms, because there were seven youths in the group who decided to make a mockery of their compatriot. One of the youths had disappeared - and also, by a strange coincidence - did one of the arms of the cross.
Legend or fairy tale, obviously. But might this have grown out of some sad event or fatal accident which at some time took place nearby? Might this cross - possibly some of the others - have been erected as a memorial in the dim and distant past?
Reference - "Andorra, el meu pais", pp. 265/6
Note: The purpose of the Andorran crosses is undocumented. My pet theory is that the taller crosses are route markers. Those of Andorra la Vella and Les Escaldes are at junctions of important ancient mule tracks. That of Meritxell is at the crest of the ridge, a point which would be critical to locate accurately in inclement weather. Simple wooden or iron crosses are occasionally seen at junctions of lesser importance. Although the 7-branched cross of Prats is at a junction, the side turning is of little consequence, leading only to meadows and high pasture, and would not seem to justify marking. The crosses of Andorra la Vella and Les Escaldes have in recent times been moved a little from their original locations to accommodate modern development. (E. J. J.)
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