Pelayo (c. 685-737) was a Visigoth nobleman who ostensibly founded the Kingdom of Asturias. He is credited with beginning the Reconquista, the Christian retaking of Spain from the Moors. Asturians proudly claim that “Asturias is Spain, the rest is reconquered land!” and often name their sons after the leader of this “reconquest”.
After being captured and held as a hostage following the revolt against the Moorish governor Munuza (who has a street named after him in Gijón), Pelayo escaped and assumed leadership of the rebellion in Asturias. The rebels, driven to the uplands of the Picos de Europa, managed to survive attack after attach by the Moorish armies. The turning point in their rebellion came at the Battle of Covadonga, also known as the Battle of Mount Auseva, the first Christian victory in the Iberian Peninsula.
Pelayo was subsequently accepted as the ruler of Asturias and set up a tiny kingdom, the Kingdom of Asturias, with its capital in Cangas de Onís, the gateway to the Picos. The legend has it that his remains were entombed in the Marian shrine of the Holy Cave of Covadonga, where he had prayed to the Virgin Mary for victory. King Alfonso I, The Catholic (739-757) later commanded that a monastery and chapel be built on the site. Following a fire in 1777, the shrine was rebuilt and eventually replaced by a great Basilica, consecrated in 1901. It continues to be a major site of pilgrimage in Spain.
The emblematic statue raised in honour of King Pelayo in Gijón was sculpted in bronze in 1891 by local sculptor José María López. In his right hand, Pelayo raises the Cross of Victory, a symbol that appears on the Asturian flag in memory of his successful rebellion and the beginnings of what was eventually to become the Kingdom of Spain.