I don’t know about you, but at least in my case there aren’t many trades or professions which have been passed down the family generation alter generation. For some undisclosed reason, when the time came to choose a profession, most of my ancestors chose a career which was very often totally unrelated to their parents’ jobs. Among my forefathers I can count an innkeeper, a tailor, a grocer, a lawyer, a tax-collector, a public notary, a butcher, a farmer, an aristocrat’s secretary, a couple of teachers, a few maids and quite a few carpenters.
My 2x great-grandfather’s family would, of course, be the exception to the rule. José Benito Cerviñ o(1851-1924) was a stonemason throughout his life. In fact, he did rather well for himself, being the first of his family to leave his small provincial village in Cotobade and moved to the bustling, industrial port city of Vigo, in NW Spain. His marriage produced ten children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. Most of his six daughters became an integral part of the local bourgeois society, and made good matches by marrying wealthy merchants who had just made their small fortunes in America. How different their lives would have been had José Benito not done so well in the stone-cutting business!
But my ancestor was not alone in becoming a stonemason. His father was, rather exceptionally, a school teacher, but many of his other relatives became stonemasons too. One of them met a particularly tragic end: his name was Antonio Cerviño and, like José Benito, who was born on the year of Antonio’s death, he became a stonemason from an early age. However, his life was cut short when he came down with a fever and died in March 1851 at the age of 15. Some sort of family rift had obviously taken place between him and his parents, because neither they nor the young man’s grandparents attended the funeral service, “the deceased having fallen into such disgrace”. What that disgrace was I honestly cannot say, as there are very few sources which could produce any further information about Antonio’s end.
Another, somewhat happier story about a stone cutter in my family refers to the life of José Benito’s second cousin, José Cerviño, who became one of the most famous stone-cutters in the whole region of Galicia. His works took him to the region’s capital, Santiago de Compostela, and beyond; his best piece, the Cruceiro de Hio, can still be admired today. But even he did not escape tragedy too; his first wife died in her 40’s leaving him to raise their four infant children; his second marriage produced a further three children, although one died in infancy. José himself died, in miserable circumstances, blind and forgotten by the world, in 1922. The Cruceiro de Hio is, incidentally, a large decorated stone cross depicting Biblical scenes, located opposite the small local church in Hio (Cangas do Morrazo) and towers several metres above the ground. What makes this cruceiro even more fascinating is the fact that it was cut out of a single block of stone. Not bad, I say.
The list of stonemasons and stonecutters in my family goes on and on: José’s father Manuel was also a mason, as were several of his cousins and nephews. As far as I know, there are no masons left in my family, or many of my relatives left in Cotobade for that matter, but that’s how History goes I’m afraid. If I have trouble finding a job come the following winter, I might consider becoming a mason. Ha! Fat chance!