Medieval studies Professor George Greenia won the Cross of Isabel the Catholic, the Spanish equivalent to being knighted by the British queen, two weeks ago in a special ceremony that was attended by many dignitaries including Spain’s ambassador to the United States, Carlos Westendorp.
p. The Cross was originally a military award conferred by Spanish royalty for officers serving in the New World. Today, it is awarded to foreign nationals who have made it their lifetime goal to educate others of Spanish culture. All recipients are also granted with the title of “comendador” or Commander of the Order of the Cross of Isabel the Catholic.
p. Greenia was awarded the Cross because of his extensive work in the field of Spanish pilgrimages. Every couple of years, Greenia leads a group of College students to retrace the steps of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in northern Spain. The pilgrimage was the third most popular one taken by medieval Christians. It currently attracts close to 250,000 people yearly to see the tomb of the apostle St. James the Elder in Santiago de Compostela.
“Jerusalem being a war zone and Rome being more for affluent people, Camino de Santiago attracted many people all throughout medieval Europe,” Greenia said.
p. Greenia also organizes a gathering in Williamsburg every five years for all pilgrims who took the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
p. With the help of the College, Greenia has also been an influential figure in the publication of several texts, including medieval Spanish language journal “La Coronita,” a two-volume encyclopedia on Castilian writers, and a magazine focusing on pilgrimages called American Pilgrim.
p. “For William and Mary, it’s been a great educational contribution,” Greenia said. “It really is a William and Mary award in every way.”
p. The Cross is awarded on Columbus Day Eve, called the Fiesta Nacional in Spanish.
p. “Fiesta Nacional represents the forging of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries worldwide,” Greenia said.
p. Made of gold and enamel, the medal represents the unity of the old and the new. There is an image of two pillars to signify the Strait of Gibraltar, which was the opening to the New World during the age of Spanish exploration. There is also an image of two globes representing the old and New World.
p. Greenia is the first person from the College to earn the Cross. University of Virginia Spanish professor David Geiss won the award this year as well.
p. “It’s one of those things that seems unreal,” Greenia said, “These things don’t happen every day.”