Thursday, April 24, 2014

The lovers of Teruel

Silly girl, silly boy. 


Each February since 1996, the city of Teruel has celebrated a reenactment of the wedding of Isabel de Segura.

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Spoiler: This is a medieval tale, and they loved tragic endings back then, so get out your kleenex.

In 1217 in the city of Teruel in east-central Spain, Isabel de Segura and Juan Diego Martínez de Marcilla grew up together and fell in love. Both were of noble families, in fact the Seguras were very rich.

Some versions of the story say the Marcillas had fallen on hard times, others say that as the second son, Diego inherited only a horse, but both Diego and Isabel knew her parents would never grant him permission to marry her if he was poor. Some versions of the story says Diego talked to her father, others say he spoke only to Isabel, but in any case they reached an agreement: he would have exactly five years to seek his fortune. And so he rode off.

For five years, Isabel waited with no news from Diego while she fended off suitors, claiming that she had vowed to remain a virgin until age 20 and that no woman should marry until she knew how to run a household. At exactly five years, her father gave her in marriage to Pedro de Azagara.

As Teruel celebrated the wedding, city guards announced a commotion at a gate: Diego was arriving, and he was rich. She had started counting five years from the day they made their agreement, and he began his count on the following day.

That night, he snuck into the newlyweds’ bedchamber, woke Isabel, and begged: “Kiss me, for I am dying.” She refused out of dedication to her new husband. Diego fell dead next to the bed. She woke Pedro, who praised her virtue but feared he would be blamed for Diego’s death, so their servants quietly carried his body to his parents’ home.

The next day during the funeral, a woman walked into the church and proceeded toward the altar: Isabel, in her splendid wedding dress. She stopped at the corpse of her beloved Diego, bent to kiss him, and after she did, fell dead on top of him.

They were buried together, finally united in love for eternity.

The legend spread and gave rise to the refrain: “Los amantes de Teruel, tonta ella, tonto él.” The lovers of Teruel, silly girl, silly boy, commenting on the way passion can give rise to misfortune.  

Is this story true?

 Maybe. In Italy in 1353, Boccaccio told a similar story about Girolamo and Salvestra, and he may have borrowed it from Spanish folklore. In Spain, writers including Tirso de Molina and Tomás Bretón have also dramatized the story.

In 1555, the bodies of the lovers (or of some people) were exhumed and found to have mummified, which is not unusual in Spain’s dry climate, and they were placed into beautiful new marble tombs sculpted by Juan de Ávalos in San Pedro Church. The two lovers are carved into the lids of their tombs, and their outstretched hands almost touch. On the sides of the tombs, open stonework filigree allows visitors to view their mummified remains.

If you can’t get to Teruel to visit the mausoleum, you can visit the website of “The Lovers Foundation” here.

But if you can get to Teruel, each February it hosts a city-wide recreation of the tale with plenty of medieval festivities, as you can see in the promotional video for 2013: food, dance, and spectacle.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chapter 69 [part 3 of 4]

[How Galaor and Norandel met Dinarda and her damsel, and how they fell in and out of love.] 


[Illustration from Roman de la Rose, written by Guillaume de Lorris in the 1200s and made into a manuscript for Count Engelbert of Nassau around 1487.]
 

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Arcalaus left quickly because night had already fallen, but the moon shone bright. He was taken over a ridge, then left that road and took another more hidden route that he knew.

The two knights agreed that, since their horses were tired and night had come, they would rest alongside the spring.

“If that is what ye want,” Sir Galaor’s squire said, “an even better shelter is available than ye might think.”

“What is that?” Norandel said.

“Know,” he answered, “that the old building amid those brambles, the two damsels are hiding who were traveling with the knight on the stretcher.”

They dismounted next to the spring, washed their faces and hands, and went to where the damsels were. They entered through some narrow openings, and Sir Galaor shouted:

“Who is hidden here? Give me that fire, and I shall make them come out.”

Dinarda, when she heard this, was afraid and said:

“Oh, my lord knight, have mercy, for I shall come out.”

“Then come out,” he said, “so I shall see who ye are.”

“Help me,” she said, “for I can get out no other way.”

Galaor approached her, and she held out her arms, lit by the moonlight. He took her by the hands and helped her out from where she had been hiding. He was deeply struck by her, for he had never seen a damsel who looked so fair. She wore a scarlet skirt and a cape of white fur. Norandel helped out the other damsel, and they brought them to the spring, where they enjoyed the food that the squires had brought and what they found on one of Arcalaus’s packhorses.

Dinarda was afraid that Galaor would find out that she had imprisoned his father and brothers, so she desperately wished for him to become enamored of her and want her love, which until then she had given to no one. She gazed at him with desirous eyes and praised his handsome appearance to her damsel, all with the thought that, if he were to take her love and he were to find out afterwards, he would not wish to do her harm.

Galaor, given his ways, had no other thought than how to make her willingly become his beloved, and soon came to know that she was very willing; so after supper, he left Norandel with the damsel and, chatting, took Dinarda into some underbrush in the forest. He began to embrace her, and she threw her arms around his neck, showing him great love although she despised him, as some women sometimes do out of fear or selfish greed rather than happiness. So it happened that she who until that time had often needed to protect her chastity, for she had been desired by many lovers whom she had cast aside, now found herself with her enemy through adverse fate, although she considered it an advantage; and she changed from damsel to lady.

Norandel, who had remained with the damsel, had great hopes that she would give him her love because he was very struck by her, but she told him:

“Ye may do your will by force, but by my will it shall not be done unless my lady Dinarda orders it so.”

Norandel said:

“Is this Dinarda the daughter of Ardan Canileo, whom they say has come to this land to get advice from Arcalaus the Sorcerer about how to avenge her father’s death?”

“I do not know why she came here,” she said, “but she is the one of whom ye speak, and know that the knight who has attained her love has had great good fortune, because she is a damsel who has been coveted and desired by more men than any other, but until now no one could have her.”

At that, Galaor and Dinarda returned, who had enjoyed their leisure together, but not equally. Instead, I say that her sadness was greater than his pleasure. Norandel took Galaor aside and said:

“Do ye not know who this damsel is?”

“No more than ye do,” he said.

“Then know that she is Dinarda, daughter of Ardan Canileo, whom your cousin Mabilia told you had come to this land to seek the death of Amadis by trickery.”

Sir Galaor thought about that and said:

“Of her heart I know nothing besides that it seemed to show that she loved me dearly, and I would not wish to do her harm for anything in the world because of all the woman I have seen she is the one who has made me the happiest, and I do not wish her to be separated from me. Since we are going to Gaul, I will find a way to have Amadis make some amends to her so that she will forgive him.”

As they were talking, Dinarda was with her damsel and learned how she had not wished to consent to Norandel’s request, and how she had told him who she was, which Dinarda regretted, and said:

“My friend, in such times discretion means we must deny our wills, for otherwise we shall be in great danger. I ask you to do what that knight wishes, and let us show them love until we find a way to leave them.”

She said she would do so. Sir Galaor and Norandel, after they had spoken for a while, returned to the damsels, and spent part of the night talking and playing with them amid laughter and pleasure. Then, each man took his partner and lay down on beds of grass their squires had made, where they slept and enjoyed themselves all night.

Sir Galaor asked Dinarda the name of the evil knight who had wanted to kill them, and he meant the knight he had killed, but she understood that he meant the knight in the stretcher, and she told him:

“How did ye not know when ye approached the stretcher that he was Arcalaus? The knights ye defeated were his.”

“Really?” Sir Galaor said. “That was Arcalaus?”

“Yes, he truly was,” she said.

“Oh Holy Mary!” he said. “What subtlety he used to escape death.”

When Dinarda heard that they had not killed him, she was the happiest woman in the world, but she did not show it. She said:

“Earlier today I would have given my life for his, but now that I have your love and your mercy and restraint, I hope he will suffer an ignoble death because I know that he deeply despises you, and what he wishes for you and your family may God be pleased to have befall upon him.”

And she embraced him and showed him all the love she could. And so, as ye hear, they spent the night, and when day came, they armed themselves and took their lovers and their squires, who carried their weapons, and continued their travels toward the sea and Gaul.

Arcalaus arrived at midnight at his castle, terrified by what had happened to him. He ordered its gates closed and that no one be allowed to enter without his permission. He tended to his injuries with the intention of being more evil and doing greater crimes than ever, as evil men do; for although God’s spirit is within them, they do not wish or desire to be released from the mighty chains that the vile Enemy has thrown around them. Instead, enchained, they are taken to the lowest pit of hell, as it must be believed that this evil man was.

Sir Galaor and Norandel and their lovers rode for two days toward a port to go to Gaul, and on the third day they arrived at a castle where they decided to seek shelter. They found the gate open, went inside, and did not encounter a single person. But then a knight came out of a hall who was the lord of the castle, and when he saw them inside, he glowered at his staff because they had left the gate open.

But he greeted the knights with a happy face and received them very well, and did them many honors, although against his will because this knight, named Ambades, was a cousin of Arcalaus the Sorcerer, and he recognized Dinarda, who was his niece, and learned from her how the knights had brought her against her will.

In secret, Ambades’ mother wept with her and wanted to have them killed. But Dinarda told her:

“Do not let this madness take you or my uncle.”

Then she told them how the two knights had defeated Arcalaus’ seven knights, and everything that had happened to him, and said:

“My lady, do them honor, for they are very courageous knights, and tomorrow I and my damsel shall linger, and when they leave, pull up the drawbridge, and thus we shall be safe.”

She, Ambades, and his mother agreed, and they served supper to Sir Galaor and Norandel and their squires, and give them good beds to sleep in. Ambades did not sleep all night because he was so afraid to have such men in his castle. When morning came, he arose and put on his armor, went to his guests, and said:

“My lords, I wish to accompany you and show you the road, since this is my work: to ride armed in search of adventure.”

“Host,” Sir Galaor said, “we would appreciate that.”

Then they were armed, had their lovers mounted on their palfreys, and left the castle. But the host and the damsels remained behind, and when the knights and their squires were outside, the drawbridge was pulled up, and so the trick was executed. Ambades dismounted happily, went to the top of the castle wall, and saw the knights waiting to see someone they could ask about the damsels. He said:

“Go, wicked and lying guests, and may God confound you and give you as bad a night as ye gave me, for the ladies that ye thought to enjoy will remain with me.”

Sir Galaor said:

“Host, what are you saying? Do not be such a man who after having given us this service and pleasure in your home, in the end would do such dishonesty as to take our ladies by force.”

“If it were so,” he said, “it would be a bigger pleasure because the affront would be greater, but I took them willingly because they were forced to travel with their enemies.”

“Let us see them,” Galaor said, “and we shall learn if it is as ye say.”

“I shall do so,” he said, “not to give you pleasure but because ye shall see how detested ye are by them.”

Then he brought Dinarda to the wall, and Sir Galaor told her:

“Dinarda, my lady, this knight says that ye stay there by your will. I cannot believe it given the great love between us.”

Dinarda said:

“If I showed you love, it was due to the overwhelming fear I had, but since ye know that I am the daughter of Ardan Canileo, and ye are the brother of Amadis, how could I be made to love you, especially since ye wish to take me to Gaul where I would be in the power of my enemies? Go, Sir Galaor, and if I did anything for you, do not thank me, and do not remember me as anything but as an enemy.”

“Stay there, then,” Galaor said, “with the ill fate that God may give you, for from a root like Arcalaus, there can only be a bud like you.”

Norandel, who was irate, said to his lover:

“And ye, what shall ye do?”

“The will of my lady,” she said.

“May God confound her will,” he said, “and the will of this evil man for the way he tricked us.”

“If I am evil,” Ambades said, “ye are not such men that I would consider myself honored to defeat.”

“If thou art such a praiseworthy knight as thou sayest,” Norandel said, “come out and fight with me, I on foot and thou on horseback. And if thou wert to kill me, know that thou wouldst eliminate a mortal enemy of Arcalaus, and if I defeat thee, give us the damsels.”

“What a fool thou art,” Ambades said. “I hold you both as nothing. Then, what would I do to thee alone on foot, when I am on horseback? And as for what thou sayest about Arcalaus, my lord, he would not give a straw for twenty like thee or like thy companion.”

He took a Turkish bow and began to fire arrows at them. They pulled back and returned to the road that they had been on before, speaking about how Arcalaus’ vileness extended to all those in his lineage. They both laughed heartily about the answers from Dinarda and their host, and about Norandel’s ire, and about how their host, speaking from safety, held them as so little.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Chapter 69 [part 2 of 4]

[How Gandalin helped King Perion, Sir Florestan, and Amadis escape, and how Arcalaus tricked Sir Galaor and Norandel.] 

[Loarre Castle in northeastern Spain, built in the 11th and 12th centuries; the curtain wall was added in the 13th or 14th century. It appeared in the 2006 film Kingdom of Heaven. Photo by Miguel Daza.] 
 



Gandalin, Orfeo, and the dwarf had been put in a prison below the floor where their lords were, and there they found a lady and two knights. One was her husband, long in years, and the other her son, a fine young man. They had been there a year. Gandalin told them how they had come in search of the three knights with the dragon insignia and had been captured.

“Holy Mary!” the knight said. “Know ye that those of whom ye speak were received very well in this castle, and while they were sleeping, four men came in here and turned this iron lever that ye see to lower the floor, so they have been betrayed.”

Gandalin, who was astute, immediately understood that his lord and the others were up there and in great danger of death. He said:

“If it is so, we must labor to raise it up. If we do not, neither they nor we shall ever leave here. Ye may be sure that if they are saved, we shall be freed.”

Then the knight and his son on one side and Gandalin and Orfeo on the other began to turn the lever, and the floor began to rise. King Perion, who was not sleeping peacefully more because of his worry for his sons than forr himself, immediately felt it move. He woke his sons and said:

“Do ye see how the floor is rising up? I do not know why.”

Amadis said:

“Whatever the reason, there is a great difference between dying as knights or dying as thieves.”

They leaped from their beds, had their squires arm them, and waited to see what would happen. The floor was brought up with great effort by those making it rise. King Perion and his sons, who were at the door, saw light between the boards and knew they were back where they had entered. The three worked hard to knock it down and came out on the castle wall, where the guards were. With such great courage and bravery that it was amazing, they began to kill and throw down everyone they found on the wall, and they shouted:

“Gaul, Gaul, for this castle is ours!”

Arcalaus heard that and was terrified. He thought that the deceit was by one of his men who had brought his enemies there, ran naked to a tower, and drew up the wooden ladder used to enter it. He did not fear the prisoners, whom he thought were securely locked up. He leaned out of a window and saw the knights with the dragon insignia rushing through the castle, and although he recognized them, he did not dare to leave and go down to them. Instead he shouted to his men not to fear them, for they were only three knights.

Some of his men down in the castle began to arm themselves, but the three knights, who had by then eliminated the guards from the wall, heard them and came after them, and soon they had killed or injured so many of them that no one dared to oppose them. When the people in the prison heard what was happening, they shouted for help. Amadis recognized the voice of his dwarf, for he and the lady were the most afraid, and Amadis and his father and brother immediately went to free them.

And so they did. With great effort they broke the hasps and opened the door, and the prisoners escaped. They searched the stables around the courtyard and found their horses and those of their lords, and the horses of Arcalaus, which they gave to the knight and his son, and Dinarda’s palfrey to the lady.

They led the horses out of the castle, and when everyone had mounted, the King ordered the stables set on fire. They began to burn so fiercely that everything seemed to be aflame, and the fire was so big it reached the tower.

The dwarf shouted:

“My lord Arcalaus, receive this smoke as uncomplaining as I did when ye hung me by one leg and deceived Amadis.”

The King was delighted by how the dwarf insulted Arcalaus, and they all laughed to see how it was the result of their effort. Then they took the road that went to the ship, and as they rode up a mountain, they saw the great flames of the castle and heard the shouts of its people, which gave them great pleasure. They rode on until they were in the hills. When the day grew bright, they saw the ship at the seashore. They went there and when they were on board, they disarmed and rested.

The lady, when she saw the King disarmed, went to kneel before him, and he recognized her, raised her up by the hand, and embraced her with good will, for he loved her dearly. The lady said to the King:

“My lord, which of them is Amadis?”

He told her:

“The one in the green gambeson.”

Then she went to him, knelt, and wanted to kiss his foot, but he was embarrassed and raised her up. The lady introduced herself, saying that she was the one who threw him in the sea after he was born in order to save his mother’s life. She asked for his forgiveness.

He said:

“My lady, now I know what I never did, for although my foster-father, Gandales, told me he found me in the sea, I did not know why I was there. I forgive you, for it was no wrong to me, since it was done in the service of she whom I must serve all my life.”

The King was happy to speak about that time, and laughed with them for a while. And so they went out to sea, very happy with their adventures, and they arrived at the Kingdom of Gaul.

Arcalaus, as ye heard, was in the tower where he had taken refuge, naked, and he could not leave because the flames had reached the door. The smoke and heat were too much and he could not withstand them or find any protection, although he had climbed on the roof. The smoke was so dense that he suffered greatly. He spent two days there, for no one could enter the castle because the fire was too large. But on the third day they could get in without danger, and they went up into the tower.

They found Arcalaus unconscious and about to lose his soul. They poured water into his mouth and brought him to, although with great difficulty. They took him in their arms to carry him to the town, and when he saw the castle burned and completely destroyed, he sighed and said with great pain in his heart:

“Oh, Amadis of Gaul, how much harm comes to me from thee! If I could capture thee, such cruelty I would give thee to avenge my heart of all the harm I have received from thee. And because of thee, I swear and promise that I shall never let any knight live whom I capture, so that if thou wert to fall into my hands, thou wouldst not escape from them as thou hast done now.”

He spent four days in that town regaining his life, and then, in a stretcher with seven knights to guard him, he left for his castle at Mount Aldin, accompanied by the beautiful Dinarda and another damsel. That night he slept in the home of a friend, and the next day he was to arrive at his castle. After two thirds of the day had passed on the road, as he was resting alongside a spring, he saw two knights coming past the edge of a forest toward him. They came richly armed and rode splendidly. When they saw the stretcher and the knights, they waited to find out what had happened. And as they were waiting, Dinarda came to Arcalaus and said:

“Good uncle, over there you can see two knights who are strangers.”

He lifted his head, and when he saw them, he called his men and told them:

“Take your arms and bring me those knights without telling them who I am, and if they resist, bring me their heads.”

Know that those knights were Sir Galaor and his companion Norandel. Arcalaus’s knights came to them and told them to put down their arms, for they were taken at the orders of the man in the stretcher.

“In the name of God,” Galaor said, “who is this who gave such orders, and what does it matter to him if we come armed or unarmed?”

“We do not know,” they said, “but it is best if ye did so, or we shall take your heads.”

“We are not at the point where ye could do so,” Norandel said.

“Now ye shall see,” they said.

Then they attacked, and at the first meeting two of them fell two the ground with mortal wounds. The others broke their lances but did not move the two knights from their saddles. Immediately they put their hands on their swords, and there was a wild and cruel battle among them all. But at the end, three of Arcalaus’s men were on the ground, badly injured, and the two who remained did not dare to await more mortal blows, so they left for the forest at a gallop.

The two companions did not follow them. Instead, they immediately went to learn who was in the stretcher. When they arrived, all of Arcalaus’s company ran away except for two men who were on horseback. Sir Galaor and Norandel raised the curtain covering the stretcher and said:

“Lowly knight, may God curse you, is this how ye treat knights who come down the road without danger? If ye were armed, we would make ye know that ye are vile and treacherous to God and the world. Since ye are ill, we shall send you to Sir Grumedan, who will judge you and give you the penalty ye deserve.”

When Arcalaus heard this, he was desperate, for he knew well that if he were taken to Sir Grumedan, his death was certain. As he was subtle in all things, he made his face look calm and said:

“Truly, my lords, send me to Sir Grumedan, my cousin and my lord, and ye do me a great mercy, for he knows my good and bad qualities well. But understand that I have suffered misfortune and sickness outside my reason, and my intentions are only to serve all knights-errant. I beg you, my lords, that ye listen to my misadventure, and then do with me what ye will.”

When they heard him say he was Sir Grumedan’s cousin, whom they deeply esteemed, they regretted the dishonorable things they had said to him, and told him:

“Now speak, and we shall gladly listen.”

He said:

“Know, my lords, that I was riding armed one day in the forest at Black Lake, where I found a lady who complained to me of an injury that had been done to her. I went with her and returned her rights to her before Count Guncestra. As I was returning home to my castle, I had not gone far before I met that knight whom ye killed there, may God damn him, who was wicked, accompanied by two other knights. To take my castle, they charged at me. When I saw this, I held my lance tight and came at them, and I did everything in my power to defend myself, but I was defeated and taken prisoner. He held me in his castle for a year, and if he did me any honor, it was to heal these wounds.”

Then he showed them his scars, for he had many because he was a valiant knight and had given and received many injuries.

“As I was desperate, I agreed to deliver him the castle to get out of his prison, but I was so weak that he could only bring me in this stretcher. I had planned to go immediately to Sir Grumedan, my cousin, and to King Lisuarte, my lord, and ask for justice for that betrayer who had robbed me. My lords, it seems ye have done me better than I had hoped for without my asking for it. And if I received no remedy there, I would have looked for Amadis of Gaul or his brother Sir Galaor to ask them to take pity on me and give me remedy, as they do for all others with grievances. The reason those traitors attacked you was so ye would not learn about me in this stretcher, for the reason I have told you.”

When they heard this, they believed it was entirely true, and asked forgiveness for the dishonorable words they had said. They asked what his name was. He said:

“I am called Granfiles. I do not know if ye have heard of me.”

“I have,” Sir Galaor said. “I know that ye do great honor to all knights-errant, from what your cousin has told me.”

“Thanks be to God,” he said, “that ye know of me that way. And since ye know my name, I ask you in equal measure to take off your helmets and tell me your names.”

Galaor told him:

“Know that this knight is named Norandel and is the son of King Lisuarte, and my name is Sir Galaor, brother of Amadis.”

And they took off their helmets.

“Thanks be to God,” Arcalaus said, “that I was rescued by such knights.”

Looking carefully at Sir Galaor to recognize him and do him harm if he were ever in his power, he said:

“I trust God, my lords, that eventually the time will come when fate will put me where the wish I have for you can be fulfilled. I ask you to tell me what to do.”

“Whatever ye wish,” they said.

He said:

“I wish to continue traveling to my castle.”

“May God guide you,” they said.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Martín Alhaja, more legend than truth

This simple shepherd saved the day on two important occasions in medieval Spain. Maybe.


The Gate of Aljaraz (The Sheep Gate) in Cuenca, also known as the Puerta de San Juan for a nearby church. Photo by Sue Burke.

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Legend says a shepherd named Martín Alhaja helped Christian troops defeat the Moors in Cuenca in 1177 during the Reconquest. Then, in 1212 in Andalusia, he help the combined Christian armies find a mountain pass so they could fight in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.

Like so many Spanish legends, the story is better than the facts – which makes it worth telling.

Cuenca is a city in Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain located on a spur of rocky cliffs between two rivers, the Júcar and Huécar. The gorges make the city breathtaking, a World Heritage Site popular with tourists. When the Moors arrived there in 714, there was no city yet, but they recognized that the site would be strategic and impenetrable with the addition of walls at the east and west end, so they built a fortress there. Soon a prosperous city grew up on top of those cliffs.

Starting in the late 1000s, the Reconquest was being fought in earnest in La Mancha, and the city passed from Moorish to Christian hands several times. Finally in 1177, King Alfonso VIII of Castile laid siege to the city.

Here’s where Martín Alhaja comes in. This shepherd had received a visitation from the Virgin Mary telling him he would play an important part in the victory for the Christians. So one day, September 21 to be exact, while he was outside the city tending his flock, he met some Christian soldiers and told them of an easy way to enter the city in secret: kill some sheep, cover themselves with the skins, and accompany him back into the city. The guard at the Gate of Aljaraz was blind and trusted Martín, so the knights could sneak past. They did, and the city fell.

Well, Cuenca did fall to King Alfonso’s troops on September 21, 1177. Martín’s story appeared in a historical account several centuries later, but in following centuries less credulous historians rejected it and showed that the original source, supposedly from the 13th century, was a fabrication. In fact, the episode seemed suspiciously similar to an episode in Homer’s Odyssey involving Odysseus and the giant cyclops Polyphemus.

But that was not the end of Martín’s legendary adventures, although this time the shepherd might have instead been an apparition of Madrid’s patron saint, Isidro (Saint Isidore the Laborer), in disguise.

Here’s the situation: in July of 1212, King Alfonso VIII was again on the march against the Moors, this time united with other Spanish Christian kings. However, their troops were stopped at the mountain pass of La Losa in southeastern Spain, held by Moorish guards. Then a shepherd appeared as a “godsend,” according to King Alfonso’s letter to the Pope, written after the battle. This shepherd showed them a different, safe pass through the Sierra Morena. The troops marched on and won the decisive Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.

Starting  in the 16th century, some chronicles began to name this shepherd as Martin Alhaja and later as Saint Isidore, and they added other details, including the miraculous appearances of El Cid, Santiago (St. James the Apostle, who killed a lot of Moors during the Reconquest), various angels, and Count Fernán González, in the battle.

In this case, there may have been a shepherd who helped the troops find their way, but it seems  it was our friend Martín.

By the way, as far as I know, “Alhaja” is not used as a last name in Christian Spain. It comes from an Arabic word meaning “jewel” or “outstanding person.” Clearly, Martín Alhaja is outstanding – a gem of a story to tell friends over a bottle of wine at a cliffside café gazing out over a stunning sunset view of Cuenca.

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