Saint Quitera, A Bridge In The Pyrenees Mountains, And Rabies
***Ad nauseam: a Latin term used to describe something that has been continuing nonstop to the point of nausea. An example, once again, would be that loyal readers of this column have heard so much of Doc’s erudition (perpetual babbling) about rabies that it’s making them sick!
The two most important concepts to keep in mind about the disease rabies for you and your pets are: First, if you are exposed to the disease either through a bite wound or an intimate exposure to a rabid animal, and you do not seek immediate medical attention for yourself, there is nearly a 100% chance that if you catch the disease, you will die. Always remember, that with regards to bite wounds, your physician is your best friend. Secondly, rabies is nearly 100% preventable in your pet (as well as yourself) with proper vaccination. And always remember, that with regards to your pets health, his or her veterinarian is their best friend!
I can almost hear it out there as I write this humble article: “Wow, Doc, what a depressing topic this rabies stuff is!” And my first response would be: “Yup, it sure is!” But because I’m the sensitive, new-millennial, kind of guy that I am, I’m gonna give you most-treasured readers of this humble column a break. Instead of beating you over the head with more blah, blah, blah about the importance of vaccinating your pets against rabies, I’m gonna tell a travel story instead.
A couple of years back, my wife and I walked the Camino de Santiago (Walk of Saint James). From the land of the Basque people high in the Pyrenees Mountains, across the vineyards and wheat fields of Navarra, and ending in the Galician city of Santiago, the Camino is a thousand-year-old plus trail across northern Spain that has been used by Christian pilgrims to travel and gain Grace to the tomb of the Apostle James (the Greater). It’s an amazing experience full of good foods, delicious wines (not quite as good as my beloved Finger Lake’s wine region), history, legends, and miraculous events.
Part one: One of the more interesting legends on the Camino involves a rather plain and unimposing ancient Gothic stone bridge that we crossed over at the end of our second day of walking. As a veterinarian, I found this story especially interesting. The bridge, with its center pier and twin arches, crossed the Arga river into the little valley town of Zubiri. (Zubiri in the Basque language means “village of the bridge.”) What caught my attention the most about the bridge was its name: El Puente de la rabia, the “bridge of rabies.”
I know! I know! that I said I was going to skip the rabies stuff, but I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself! But as long as I have your attention, I might as well continue.
Part two: There is a much-venerated 5th Century Christian martyr in this border region between France and Spain (as well as Portugal) by the name of Saint Quiteria. Not too much is officially known about her except that she was the virgin daughter of a Galician prince, who was beheaded by her father because she refused to renounce her Christianity. Because it was said that she held at bay two mad rabid dogs with her saintly voice, Saint Quiteria’s intercession is prayed for to help in the prevention of rabies. The good saint is depicted in paintings and sculpture always leading a dog.
I can hear it out there now: “That’s interesting stuff, Doc. But what does a 5th virgin martyr and a simple stone bridge have to do with anything?” Ah, dear readers, this is where it gets interesting. It turns out that some—or maybe all—of Saint Quiteria’s relics are embedded in the central pier of the bridge of rabies. And, for over a thousand years—and still to this very day—local farmers believe that if they march their animals three times over the central pier, the beast will be immune from rabies. Also, they believe that if they walk a rabies infected animal three times around the central pier (the river in the summer is not all that deep) that it will be cured of the disease! I’m not too sure of the science of all this hard work, but it must be more exciting that just getting a shot at the vets!