In Santiago de Compostela, during Christmas night of 966, the dismissed and prisoned Bishop Sisnando Menéndez escaped from his cell. Then with the help of some accomplices, he sneaked into the House of Rosendo – the Bishop of Iria Flavia-Compostela – and, after surprising him in bed, he captured and threatened him with death, then expelled him out of the city. Upon leaving the room, Rosendo found the courage to tell the usurper: “one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword”.
This story is an example of the continuing struggles that occurred between the Galician nobles to hold the ecclesiastical dignities. The problem has been existent since the previous century, when the Kings of León began appointing local nobles to occupy the senior religious positions; as it was a question of controlling the tithes and first fruits that the peasants had to pay to the Church. The Kings were not really controlling the territories, for which the local noblemen were fighting; sometimes in their capacity as clergy, but always as warriors.
At the death of King Sancho I “The Fat”, Sisnando Menéndez starred in the spectacular performance recounted at the beginning.
In the absence of the King, the situation became very unstable, because the heir of Sancho “El Gordo” was still a child of five years. For that reason, the regency of the Kingdom of León, during the minority ages of Ramiro III, was led by two women: the queen widow Teresa, and the nun Elvira, sister of the deceased King Sancho. In the absence of a strong leader, Galicia had returned to being controlled by the nobles: the aforementioned Sisnando was occupying the diocese of Santiago de Compostela, while the Count Gonzalo Sanches (the rebel who was accused of the murder of King Sancho) remained in his dominion. After Sisnando expelled bishop Rosendo from his diocese, helocked himself up in the monastery of San Juan de Caaveiro; but after a vision, he moved to the valley of Villar where he founded the monastery of Celanova. There he lived through a life of prayer and construction of the building for years.
The complicated Galician situation would further poison itself extraordinarily because of an idea that emerged thousands of kilometres away. In the year 968, the Duke of Normandy had already finished defeating the French, so he no longer needed the help of Viking warriors who had helped him in obtaining victory. To prevent the feared Vikings from growing too much of a fond to the land, the Duke told Chief Gunderedo – brother of King Herald II of Norway – about the excellence of Galicia, territory that was enriched by the growing pilgrimages to the tomb of the apostle. He would also not stop informing him that it was ruled by two women whose authority was challenged by nobles like Sisnando and García. In the opinion of the Duke, the Vikings in Galicia were going to have it very easy there. With such favourable prospects, the Norman army embarked on two hundred ships and headed for Galicia. The fleet commanded by Gunderedo turned to the Ría of Arousa, arriving at Xunqueira, in the vicinity of the current Catoira. After the landing, the Vikings attacked Iria Flavia (Padrón), to then trace the river Ulla towards Compostela.
On 29 March 968, in the vicinity of Fornelo – parrish of Raris, between Padrón and Compostela – the Vikings were cornered by the troops of the bishop Sisnando Menéndez – who were waiting for them. The fiery bishop Sisnando Menéndez was in command of the cavalry, rushing them fearlessly against the enemy. The risky gallop ended with a bowshot that resulted in the death of Sisnando Menéndez. With the death of their chief, the Galician warriors dispersed and the Vikings conquered Compostela. The defeat in the battle of Fornelos left Galicia without an authority capable of facing the Vikings, whom for three years camped comfortably, looting different Galician regions.