Tuesday, September 12, 2017

THOUGHTS from Galicia: 12.9.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
  • Cataluña 1: The view of El País: The government’s decision to restore legality by appealing to the Constitutional Court is the right one. It is particularly commendable that the main opposition parties, despite their differences with the government, have thrown their support behind this decision. Unless it returns to the realms of legality, the Catalan question will drift further away from viable, constructive solutions that avoid division, and hopefully, frustration and pain. It's hard to disagree with that.
  • Cataluña 2: Here's Politico's view of what Spain has to lose, if independence is gained and the region lost to the state.
  • More Good News.
My daughter's Madrileño partner pronounces España as Epaña and 'smoothy' as emoothee. The second one is rather ironic, in that the E is added so that the S can be pronounced by Spaniards as the first letter. And then the S which made this necessary is dropped. I guess it makes sense to someone Spanish . . .

More on the Madrid metro . . . The underground station at Estación Sur isn't called that, but Méndez Álvaro. In my own mind, never having travelled this far south, I had it confused with Puerta del Sur, on Line 10. Which you can see on this better map of the Metro*:-

* Or, rather you could, if it were included after Batán in the far left corner, along with the other 5 stations between Batán and Puerta del Sur. Don't ask me why they aren't. Perhaps no one ever goes to them:- 

Finally. . . A rare treat. I will be in both Segovia and Ávila later this week and I've been reading about them in a book by an English vicar - the Rev. Townsend - who travelled around Spain in the 1780s and wrote up his trip very thoroughly. I've transcribed relevant bits for my camino colleagues or, to be more accurate, I've corrected the only available-for-downloand computer transcription in a massive labour of love that will almost certainly go unrewarded. Essentially, the computer could make neither head not tail of the S's written back then as F's and so there are thousands of corrections to be made. Some of them - as can be seen below - impossible to decipher.

So, here are the Segovia and Ávila extracts from Townsend's entertaining (sometimes): A Journey through Spain in the Years 1786 and 1787, with particular Attention etc., etc.

By the way, there's a reward for anyone who can guess correctly the words I gave up on . . . .

As I might have already said, these days St Teresa would be locked up as a complete nutter. Rightly or wrongly.


Being now within the distance of two short leagues from Segovia, I could not return without paying a visit to that interesting city. On the way to it, there is little appearance of cultivation, and the obvious reason is the continual depredations occasioned by the royal deer. As we passed through the woods, before we came into the open field, we saw vast herds of them, unconfined, and free to range unmolested over all the country.

In Segovia, the first object to attract the eye is the aqueduct. It contains one hundred and fifty-nine arches, extends about seven hundred and forty yards, and, where it crosses the valley, it is something more than ninety-four feet high.

The cathedral has no great pretensions ; yet in one of the chapels there is a good altar, with the Descent from the Cross well executed in mezzo relievo, by a disciple of Michael Angelo, and finished A. D. 1571. The church is nearly upon the model of the great church at Salamanca, but it is not so highly finished.

The Alcazar, or ancient palace of the Moors, has been so often described, that I should pass it over in silence, did not the attentions I received there deserve a particular remembrance. I had no letters, and count ??? the inspector, was absent ; but, upon presenting myself to his lieutenant, as a stranger, he received me with politeness, and conducted me to every apartment. This strong tower is no longer, as formerly, a state prison : it serves a more honourable purpose, and is devoted to one hundred cavaliers, who are here instructed in the military science. The sight of this building gave me pleasure, more especially the great hall, with the images of all their monarchs ; but the highest satisfaction was, to see the Spanish character strongly marked in the countenances of many among the young gentlemen who are educated here. A Spaniard may possibly grow rich in trade ; he may make progress in the sciences ; but, were he left to follow his natural inclination, he would certainly betake himself to a military life ; and for that, if generosity, if patience and fortitude, if a spirit of enterprise are requisite, in all these the true Spaniard will excel.

Segovia was once famous for its cloth, made on the king’s account ; but other nations have since become rivals in this branch, and the manufacture in this city has been gradually declining. When the king gave it up to a private company, he left about three thousand pounds in trade ; but now he is no longer a partner in the business. In the year 1612, were made here, twenty-five thousand, five hundred pieces of cloth, which consumed forty-four thousand six hundred and twenty-five quintals of wool, employed thirty-four thousand one hundred and eighty-nine persons ; but at present they make only about four thousand pieces. The principal imperfections of this cloth are that the thread is not even, and that much grease remains in it when it is delivered to the dyer, in consequence of which the colour is apt to fail. Yet independently of imperfections, so many are the disadvantages under which the manufacture labours, that foreigners can afford to pay three pounds for the arroba of fine wool, for which the Spaniard gives no more than twenty shillings and after all his charges can command the market even in the ports of Spain.

In the year 1525, the city contained five thousand families ; but now they do not surpass two thousand ; a scanty population this of twenty-five parishes : yet, besides the twenty-five churches, together with the cathedral, they have one and twenty convents. When the canal is finished, and the communication opened to the Bay of Biscay at Santander, the trade and manufactures of Segovia may revive ; but, previous to that event, there can be nothing to inspire them with hope. 


As soon as we arrived In Avila, I visited the market, to make, as usual, provision for the day ; and having purchased a kid, which, when the Merino flocks are passing, sells for about ten reales, or two shillings, I sent it to the cook’s shop, and then began my rambles. Whilst I was making some inquiries, a gentleman accosted me, gave me the informations I required, undertook himself to be my guide, and, before we parted, made me engage to dine with him. This was D. Baltasar Lezaeta, a prebendary of the cathedral ; from whom I received as much attention as if 1 had been recommended by a friend.

Avila has at present only a thousand liOLifes, or one-sixth part of its former population; yet the convents are not diminished, being sixteen in number, nine for men, seven for women. Besides these, it maintains eight parish churches, a cathedral with forty canons, five hospitals, and a university No wonder, then, that it should swarm, as it does, with sturdy beggars.

This city, built upon a granite rock, and inclosed by a wall, with eighty-eight projecting towers, has everywhere the appearance of great antiquity, but more especially in the cathedral.

In this are many things worthy of attention, but principally the cloister, for its exquisite neatness, and elegant simplicity. The sacristy is a good building, and the treasure contained in it, both in plate and jewels, would in England be called inestimable. The custodia, as usual, of solid silver, is four feet high, adorned with Ionic, Composite, and Corinthian columns, and displays much taste both in its design and execution. Among their jewels they have the pectoral of the late archbishop of Toledo, the infant don Luis, valuable chiefly for its gems, all large and of the finest water. The choir has beautiful carvings.

Of the convents, the most remarkable are those of the Carmelites; one for nuns, the other for friars ; the latter built upon the spot where S. Teresa was born, the former where she took the veil. In this, the principal thing at present worthy to be noticed, is a picture by Morales, representing a dead Christ in his mother’s arms ; of which, nothing need be said after having named the painter, because all his works have such peculiar softness and expression, that men have universally agreed in calling him divine. The Carmelites of Avila once proffered a treasure infinitely more valuable to them than all the pictures ever painted by Morales ; this was the body of S. Teresa. It was originally interred at Alba, A. D. 1552 but three years afterwards it was secretly taken up, and conveyed to Avila, where it was not suffered long to rest ; for the duke of Alba finding all other expedients vain, made application to the pope, and obtained an order for its return.

The life of S. Teresa, lately published among those of other saints, by the Rev. A. Butler, is peculiarly interesting. Her frame was naturally delicate, her imagination lively, and her mind incapable of being fixed by trivial objects, turned with avidity to those, which religion offered, the moment they were presented to her view. But unfortunately, meeting with the writings of S. Jerome, became enamoured of the monastic life, and quitting the life for which nature designed her, she renounced the most endearing ties, and bound herself by the irrevocable vow. Deep melancholy then seized on her, and increased to such a degree, that for many days she lay both motionless and senseless, like one who is in a trance. Her tender frame, thus shaken, prepared her for ecstasies and visions, such as it might appear invidious to repeat, were they not related by herself, and by her greatest admirers. She tells us, that in the fervour of her devotion, she not only became insensible to every thing around her, but that her body was often lifted up from the earth, although (she endeavoured to resist the motion ; and bishop Yepez relates in particular, that when she was going to receive the Eucharist at Avila, she was raised in a rapture higher than the grate, through which, as usual in nunneries, it was presented to her. She often heard the voice of God, when she was recovered from a trance ; but sometimes the devil, by imitation, endeavoured to deceive her ; yet she was always able to detect the fraud. She frequently saw S. Peter and S. Paul landing on her left hand, whilst our Lord presented himself before her eyes in such a manner, that it was impossible for her to think it was the devil ; yet, in obedience to the church, and by the advice of her confessor, she insulted the vision, as she had been used to do the evil spirits, by enrobing herself, and making signs of scorn. Once, when she held in her hand the cross which was at the end of her beads, our Lord took it from her, and when he restored it, she saw it composed of four large gems incomparably more precious than diamonds. These had his five wounds engraved upon them after a most curious manner ; and he told her that she should always see that same appearance : and so she did ; for from that time she no longer saw the matter of which the cross was made but only these precious stones, although no one saw them but herself. Whenever devils appeared to her in hideous forms, she soon made them keep their distance, by sprinkling the ground with holy water. She had often the happiness of seeing souls freed from purgatory and carried up to heaven.; but she never saw more than three which escaped the purifying flame, and these were F. Peter of Alcantara, F. Ivagnez, and a Carmelite friar.

It is acknowledged that many of her friends, distinguished for their good sense and piety, after examination, were of opinion, that she was deluded by the devil ; yet such was the complexion of the times, that she was at last universally regarded as a saint. She had indeed everything needful to conciliate the good opinion of her friends, and the admiration of the multitude. The gracefulness and dignity of her appearance, the softness of her manners, and the loveliness of her disposition, the quickness of her wit, the strength of her understanding, and the fire of her imagination, all her natural accomplishments receiving lustre from her exalted piety and zeal, from the sanctity of her life, and the severity of her discipline, all conspired to established her reputation, as one that had immediate intercourse with heaven.

It is curious, yet most humiliating, to see a person of this description, amiable and respectable as S. Teresa, deceived, and, with the beft intentions, deceiving others. In this instance, we can readily account for the delusion from the delicacy and weakness of her frame, the strength of a disturbed imagination, and the prevalence of superstition. But when we see men of the hneil undersendings, in perfect health, of different and distant nations, in all ages treading upon the same enchanted ground, we can only wonder, for who can give any rational account of the aberrations of our reason? The history of mysticism, if well written, would be highly interesting, as embracing some of the finest characters that were ever admired in the world. Should any able writer be engaged to undertake this work, he will explain to us the principles upon which Boffuet, that prodigy of learning, persecuted Fenclon, the most amiable of men, while S. Francis of Sales was the object of his adoration ; and why he poured contempt upon Madame Guion, whilst he had the highest reverence for S. Teresa

This extraordinary woman, cherished by sovereign princes, universally admired whilst living, and worshipped when dead, had the happiness of leaving behind her sixteen nunneries, and fourteen convents of friars, founded by herself, and subject to the order of Carmelites, which she had reformed.

Avila, although it no longer possesses her remains, yet, as the place of her nativity and chief residence, is much resorted to at the season of her festival. It has no manufactures. Some years since they began making cloth, but the situation not being favourable, the project was abandoned, and their dependence at present is on the produce of the soil. The country abounds with saffron, and this for a season hands employment for the women and the children. Were it not for the cathedral and the convents, the city would be deserted, because not one proprietor of land resides here; the whole being either rented, or held in administration, as they express it; that is, cultivated by stewards on the proprietors account.

No country can suffer more than Spain for want of a rich tenantry; and, perhaps, none in this respect can rival England. We find universally that wealth produces wealth; but then, to produce it from the earth, a due proportion of it must be in the pocket of the farmer. Many gentlemen among us, either for amusement, or with a view to gain, have given attention to agriculture, and have occupied much land ; they have produced luxuriant crops, and have introduced good husbandry; but, I apprehend, few can boast of having made much profit, and most are ready to confess that they have suffered loss. If, then, residing on their own estates, with all their attention, they are considerable losers ; how great would be the loss, if in distant provinces instead they employed only stewards, to plough, to sow, to sell, and to eat up all the produce of their lands? In France they are so sensible of this, that for want of wealthy farmers, the proprietor finds flock, and takes his proportion of the produce; but in Spain, excepting a few provinces, the lands are commonly in administration; and hence, extend ve difiridls yield only a contemptible revenue to their lord.


Alfred B. Mittington said...

Oh, but how difficult can it be??

In 19th C books, the S and the F are distinguished by the S having only one half of a horizontal stroke (on the left of the upright) and the F having both halves, on the left and on the right of the upright.

If you cannot handle different fonts and types, why read history at all??


Colin Davies said...

Thank-you for that utterly useless information. Unlike you,I was thinking of my readers. His book was printed in the 18th century, by the way.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

You are not rich enough to own a first edition. So you obviously read the reprint. Which did not come out until 1854.

Anyway, for your poor readers: tell me again what words you wish to be identified? And kindly give me the page number so that I can check whatever you misread or scrambled!


Colin Davies said...

Read the excerpts and you will see them!

Alfred B. Mittington said...

I have no patience to read stuff like this which I have read thoroughly already.

But might 'forty-four thousand fix hundred and twenty-five' possibly mean: 44.625 ??? It really is SO difficult to interpret the 'fix'.

And - let me see now - the 1,000 'liOLifes' COULD just be a cryptic script for 'houses' maybe??

And so forth and so on.

Get new reading glasses!


Colin Davies said...

You didn't need to read through it all. The queries are highlighted in bold . . .

paideleo said...

Ej que los gallegos no saben hablar. Ej que en Madrí hablamos así.

Colin Davies said...

Se río mucho, él.

Patrick Glenn said...

The author had no regard for the Cathedral in Segovia. I think it is an important Gothic Cathedral. It has a reclining Christ by Gregorio Fernandez. He carved many of these throughout Spain. It also contains a Pieta by Juan de Juni in the chapel of Santo Entierro. There are other works of art in there but these 2 examples are magnificent.

Colin Davies said...

Yes, Patrick. I thought so too, having been in the cathedral only a couple of weks ago.

Search This Blog