George Borrow.

The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2





There is nothing remarkable in Leon,249249
The name of Leon has nothing to do with lions, but is a corruption of legionis, or the city of the 7th Legion, quartered here by Augustus to defend the Cantabrian frontier. The city is full of historic interest, and bears the records of the conquerors of many ages and nations.
The cathedral referred to by Borrow was finished about 1300, after having been at least a hundred years a-building, and is in the early pointed style of what we call Gothic, but the Spaniards Tudesque. The west front and the painted glass windows in the aisles are of unrivalled beauty.
The church of San Isidoro, with the tombs of that great metropolitan and of Alfonso el Batallador, of inferior ?sthetic interest, is even more attractive to the antiquary.


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which is an old gloomy town, with the exception of its cathedral, in many respects a counterpart of the church of Palencia, exhibiting the same light and elegant architecture, but, unlike its beautiful sister, unadorned with splendid paintings. The situation of Leon is highly pleasant, in the midst of a blooming country, abounding with trees, and watered by many streams, which have their source in the mighty mountains in the neighbourhood. It is, however, by no means a healthy place, especially in summer, when the heats raise noxious exhalations from the waters, generating many kinds of disorders, especially fevers.

I had scarcely been at Leon three days when I was seized with a fever, against which I thought the strength even of my constitution would have yielded, for it wore me almost to a skeleton, and when it departed, at the end of about a week, left me in such a deplorable state of weakness that I was scarcely able to make the slightest exertion. I had, however, previously persuaded a bookseller to undertake the charge of vending the Testaments, and had published my advertisements as usual, though without very sanguine hope of success, as Leon is a place where the inhabitants, with very few exceptions, are furious Carlists, and ignorant and blinded followers of the old papal church. It is, moreover, a bishops see, which was once enjoyed by the prime counsellor of Don Carlos, whose fierce and bigoted spirit still seems to pervade the place. Scarcely had the advertisements appeared, when the clergy were in motion. They went from house to house, banning and cursing, and denouncing misery to whomsoever should either purchase or read the accursed books, which had been sent into the country by heretics for the purpose of perverting the innocent minds of the population. They did more; they commenced a process against the bookseller in the ecclesiastical court.

Fortunately this court is not at present in the possession of much authority; and the bookseller, a bold and determined man, set them at defiance, and went so far as to affix an advertisement to the gate of the very cathedral. Notwithstanding the cry raised against the book, several copies were sold at Leon: two were purchased by ex-friars, and the same number by parochial priests from neighbouring villages. I believe the whole number disposed of during my stay amounted to fifteen; so that my visit to this dark corner was not altogether in vain, as the seed of the Gospel has been sown, though sparingly. But the palpable darkness which envelops Leon is truly lamentable, and the ignorance of the people is so great, that printed charms and incantations against Satan and his host, and against every kind of misfortune, are publicly sold in the shops, and are in great demand. Such are the results of Popery, a delusion which, more than any other, has tended to debase and brutalize the human mind.

I had scarcely risen from my bed where the fever had cast me, when I found that Antonio had become alarmed. He informed me that he had seen several soldiers in the uniform of Don Carlos lurking at the door of the posada, and that they had been making inquiries concerning me.

It was indeed a singular fact connected with Leon, that upwards of fifty of these fellows, who had on various accounts left the ranks of the Pretender, were walking about the streets dressed in his livery, and with all the confidence which the certainty of protection from the local authorities could afford them should any one be disposed to interrupt them.

I learned moreover from Antonio, that the person in whose house we were living was a notorious alcahuete, or spy to the robbers in the neighbourhood, and that unless we took our departure speedily and unexpectedly, we should to a certainty be plundered on the road. I did not pay much attention to these hints, but my desire to quit Leon was great, as I was convinced that as long as I continued there I should be unable to regain my health and vigour.

Accordingly, at three in the morning, we departed for Galicia. We had scarcely proceeded half a league when we were overtaken by a thunderstorm of tremendous violence. We were at that time in the midst of a wood which extends to some distance in the direction in which we were going. The trees were bowed almost to the ground by the wind or torn up by the roots, whilst the earth was ploughed up by the lightning, which burst all around and nearly blinded us. The spirited Andalusian on which I rode became furious, and bounded into the air as if possessed. Owing to my state of weakness, I had the greatest difficulty in maintaining my seat, and avoiding a fall which might have been fatal. A tremendous discharge of rain followed the storm, which swelled the brooks and streams and flooded the surrounding country, causing much damage amongst the corn. After riding about five leagues, we began to enter the mountainous district which surrounds Astorga. The heat now became almost suffocating; swarms of flies began to make their appearance, and settling down upon the horses, stung them almost to madness, whilst the road was very flinty and trying. It was with great difficulty that we reached Astorga,250250
Astorga is an old Roman town, Asturica Augusta, established after the Cantabrian war (b. c. 25), when the southern Astures first became subject to Rome. But a far more ancient origin is claimed for the city, which was traditionally founded by Astur, the son of Memnon (see Silius Italicus, iii. 334; Martial, xiv. 199). The surrounding country of the Astures was celebrated at once for the riches of its gold-mines and for its breed of horses, whence the Latin Asturco (see Petron., Sat., 86, and Seneca, Ep., 87; Pliny, viii. 42, s. 67).


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covered with mud and dust, our tongues cleaving to our palates with thirst.

CHAPTER XXIII

Astorga The Inn The Maragatos Habits of the Maragatos The Statue.

We went to a posada in the suburbs, the only one, indeed, which the place afforded. The courtyard was full of arrieros and carriers, brawling loudly; the master of the house was fighting with two of his customers, and universal confusion reigned around. As I dismounted I received the contents of a wine-glass in my face, of which greeting, as it was probably intended for another, I took no notice. Antonio, however, was not so patient, for on being struck with a cudgel, he instantly returned the salute with his whip, scarifying the countenance of a carman. In my endeavours to separate these two antagonists, my horse broke loose, and rushing amongst the promiscuous crowd, overturned several individuals, and committed no little damage. It was a long time before peace was restored: at last we were shown to a tolerably decent chamber. We had, however, no sooner taken possession of it, than the waggon from Madrid arrived on its way to Corunna,251251
Borrow has it Coru?a, but it should be either La Coru?a, if written in Spanish, or Corunna, if written in English. Our ancestors, who had good reason to know the place, called it The Groyne, but it would be pedantic to so call it now.


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filled with dusty travellers, consisting of women, children, invalid officers, and the like. We were now forthwith dislodged, and our baggage flung into the yard. On our complaining of this treatment, we were told that we were two vagabonds whom nobody knew; who had come without an arriero, and had already set the whole house in confusion. As a great favour, however, we were at length permitted to take up our abode in a ruinous building down the yard, adjoining the stable, and filled with rats and vermin. Here there was an old bed with a tester, and with this wretched accommodation we were glad to content ourselves, for I could proceed no farther, and was burnt with fever. The heat of the place was intolerable, and I sat on the staircase with my head between my hands, gasping for breath: soon appeared Antonio with vinegar and water, which I drank, and felt relieved.

We continued in this suburb three days, during the greatest part of which time I was stretched on the tester-bed. I once or twice contrived to make my way into the town, but found no bookseller, nor any person willing to undertake the charge of disposing of my Testaments. The people were brutal, stupid, and uncivil, and I returned to my tester-bed fatigued and dispirited. Here I lay listening from time to time to the sweet chimes which rang from the clock of the old cathedral. The master of the house never came near me, nor, indeed, once inquired about me. Beneath the care of Antonio, however, I speedily waxed stronger. Mon ma?tre, said he to me one evening, I see you are better; let us quit this bad town and worse posada to-morrow morning. Allons, mon ma?tre! Il est temps de nous mettre en chemin pour Lugo et Galice.

Before proceeding, however, to narrate what befell us in this journey to Lugo and Galicia, it will, perhaps, not be amiss to say a few words concerning Astorga and its vicinity. It is a walled town, containing about five or six thousand inhabitants, with a cathedral and college, which last is, however, at present deserted. It is situated on the confines, and may be called the capital, of a tract of land called the country of the Maragatos, which occupies about three square leagues, and has for its north-western boundary a mountain called Telleno, the loftiest of a chain of hills which have their origin near the mouth of the river Minho, and are connected with the immense range which constitutes the frontier of the Asturias and Guipuzcoa.

The land is ungrateful and barren, and niggardly repays the toil of the cultivator, being for the most part rocky, with a slight sprinkling of red brick earth.

The Maragatos252252
The origin of the Maragatos has never been ascertained. Some consider them to be a remnant of the Celtiberians, others of the Visigoths; most, however, prefer a Bedouin or caravan descent. It is in vain to question these ignorant carriers as to their history or origin, for, like the gypsies, they have no traditions and know nothing. Arrieros, at all events, they are, and that word, in common with so many others relating to the barb and carrier-caravan craft, is Arabic, and proves whence the system and science were derived by Spaniards. Where George Borrow and Richard Ford are so uncertain, it is assuredly unbecoming to dogmatize. Mariana (vol. i. lib. vii. cap. 7), speaking of King Mauregato, who is supposed, as much from his name as from anything else, to have been an illegitimate son of Alfonso I. by a Moorish lady, seeks to trace the origin of the Maragatos as being more especially the subjects of Mauregato, but it is rather an extravagant fancy than an explanation.
Monsieur Francisque Michel, in his Races Maudites de la France et de lEspagne (Paris, 1847), has nothing to say of these Maragatos, though he notices (ii. 4144) a smaller tribe, the Vaqueros, of the neighbouring Asturias, whose origin is also enveloped in mystery. See De Rochas, Les Parias de France et lEspagne, p. 120. [The Cagots were also found in northwest Spain as well as in France, but not, as far as we know, to the west of Guipuzcoa. For an account of these Cagots and the various etymologies that have been suggested for their names, see De Rochas and F. Michel, ubi supra, tom. i. ch. i.]


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are perhaps the most singular caste to be found amongst the chequered population of Spain. They have their own peculiar customs and dress, and never intermarry with the Spaniards. Their name is a clue to their origin, as it signifies Moorish Goths, and at the present day their garb differs but little from that of the Moors of Barbary, as it consists of a long tight jacket, secured at the waist by a broad girdle, loose short trousers which terminate at the knee, and boots and gaiters. Their heads are shaven, a slight fringe of hair being only left at the lower part. If they wore the turban, or barret,253253
A transliteration of the old Spanish Barrete, an old kind of helmet, then, generally, a cap.


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they could scarcely be distinguished from the Moors in dress; but in lieu thereof they wear the sombrero, or broad slouching hat of Spain. There can be little doubt that they are a remnant of those Goths who sided with the Moors on their invasion of Spain, and who adopted their religion, customs, and manner of dress, which, with the exception of the first, are still to a considerable degree retained by them. It is, however, evident that their blood has at no time mingled with that of the wild children of the desert, for scarcely amongst the hills of Norway would you find figures and faces more essentially Gothic than those of the Maragatos. They are strong athletic men, but loutish and heavy, and their features, though for the most part well formed, are vacant and devoid of expression. They are slow and plain of speech, and those eloquent and imaginative sallies so common in the conversation of other Spaniards seldom or never escape them; they have, moreover, a coarse, thick pronunciation, and when you hear them speak, you almost imagine that it is some German or English peasant attempting to express himself in the language of the Peninsula. They are constitutionally phlegmatic, and it is very difficult to arouse their anger; but they are dangerous and desperate when once incensed; and a person who knew them well told me that he would rather face ten Valencians, people infamous for their ferocity and blood-thirstiness, than confront one angry Maragato, sluggish and stupid though he be on other occasions.

The men scarcely ever occupy themselves in husbandry, which they abandon to the women, who plough the flinty fields and gather in the scanty harvests. Their husbands and sons are far differently employed: for they are a nation of arrieros, or carriers, and almost esteem it a disgrace to follow any other profession. On every road of Spain, particularly those north of the mountains which divide the two Castiles, may be seen gangs of fives and sixes of these people lolling or sleeping beneath the broiling sun, on gigantic and heavily laden mutes and mules.254254
A mute is the offspring of a stallion and a she-ass, a mule of a jackass and a mare.


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In a word, almost the entire commerce of nearly one-half of Spain passes through the hands of the Maragatos, whose fidelity to their trust is such, that no one accustomed to employ them would hesitate to confide to them the transport of a ton of treasure from the sea of Biscay to Madrid; knowing well that it would not be their fault were it not delivered safe and undiminished, even of a grain, and that bold must be the thieves who would seek to wrest it from the far-feared Maragatos, who would cling to it whilst they could stand, and would cover it with their bodies when they fell in the act of loading or discharging their long carbines.

But they are far from being disinterested, and if they are the most trustworthy of all the arrieros of Spain, they in general demand for the transport of articles a sum at least double to what others of the trade would esteem a reasonable recompense. By this means they accumulate large sums of money, notwithstanding that they indulge themselves in far superior fare to that which contents in general the parsimonious Spaniard another argument in favour of their pure Gothic descent; for the Maragatos, like true men of the north, delight in swilling liquors and battening upon gross and luscious meats, which help to swell out their tall and goodly figures. Many of them have died possessed of considerable riches, part of which they have not unfrequently bequeathed to the erection or embellishment of religious houses.

On the east end of the cathedral of Astorga,255255
Founded in 1471, on the site of one more ancient.


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which towers over the lofty and precipitous wall, a colossal figure of lead may be seen on the roof. It is the statue of a Maragato carrier, who endowed the cathedral with a large sum.256256
The name of this celebrated arriero was Pedro Mato; the statue is of wood.


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He is in his national dress, but his head is averted from the land of his fathers, and whilst he waves in his hand a species of flag, he seems to be summoning his race from their unfruitful region to other climes, where a richer field is open to their industry and enterprise.

I spoke to several of these men respecting the all-important subject of religion; but I found their hearts gross, and their ears dull of hearing, and their eyes closed. There was one in particular to whom I showed the New Testament, and whom I addressed for a considerable time. He listened, or seemed to listen, patiently, taking occasionally copious draughts from an immense jug of whitish wine which stood between his knees. After I had concluded, he said, To-morrow I set out for Lugo, whither, I am told, yourself are going. If you wish to send your chest, I have no objection to take it at so much (naming an extravagant price). As for what you have told me, I understand little of it, and believe not a word of it; but in respect to the books which you have shown me, I will take three or four. I shall not read them, it is true, but I have no doubt that I can sell them at a higher price than you demand.

So much for the Maragatos.

CHAPTER XXIV

Departure from Astorga The Venta The By-path Narrow Escape The Cup of Water Sun and Shade Bembibre Convent of the Rocks Sunset Cacabelos Midnight Adventure Villafranca.

It was four oclock of a beautiful morning when we sallied from Astorga, or rather from its suburbs, in which we had been lodged: we directed our course to the north, in the direction of Galicia. Leaving the mountain Telleno on our left, we passed along the eastern skirts of the land of the Maragatos, over broken uneven ground, enlivened here and there by small green valleys and runnels of water. Several of the Maragatan women, mounted on donkeys, passed us on their way to Astorga, whither they were carrying vegetables. We saw others in the fields handling their rude ploughs, drawn by lean oxen. We likewise passed through a small village, in which we, however, saw no living soul. Near this village we entered the high-road which leads direct from Madrid to Corunna, and at last, having travelled near four leagues, we came to a species of pass, formed on our left by a huge lumpish hill (one of those which descend from the great mountain Telleno), and on our right by one of much less altitude. In the middle of this pass, which was of considerable breadth, a noble view opened itself to us. Before us, at the distance of about a league and a half, rose the mighty frontier chain, of which I have spoken before; its blue sides and broken and picturesque peaks still wearing a thin veil of the morning mist, which the fierce rays of the sun were fast dispelling. It seemed an enormous barrier, threatening to oppose our further progress, and it reminded me of the fables respecting the children of Magog,257257
The word Gog is not Hebrew, and, according to Renan and Ku?bel (Volkert, p. 63), is mountain, and Magog is great mountain. Maha, Sanskrit, and Koh or Goh, Persian. The legends concerning Gog and Magog are very numerous, and extend over many parts of Europe, Asia, and even Africa.


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who are said to reside in remotest Tartary, behind a gigantic wall of rocks, which can only be passed by a gate of steel a thousand cubits in height.

We shortly after arrived at Manzanal,258258
The place of the apples.


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a village consisting of wretched huts, and exhibiting every sign of poverty and misery. It was now time to refresh ourselves and horses, and we accordingly put up at a venta, the last habitation in the village, where, though we found barley for the animals, we had much difficulty in procuring anything for ourselves. I was at length fortunate enough to obtain a large jug of milk, for there were plenty of cows in the neighbourhood, feeding in a picturesque valley which we had passed by, where was abundance of grass, and trees, and a rivulet broken by tiny cascades. The jug might contain about half a gallon, but I emptied it in a few minutes, for the thirst of fever was still burning within me, though I was destitute of appetite. The venta had something the appearance of a German baiting-house. It consisted of an immense stable, from which was partitioned a kind of kitchen and a place where the family slept. The master, a robust young man, lolled on a large solid stone bench, which stood within the door. He was very inquisitive respecting news, but I could afford him none, whereupon he became communicative, and gave me the history of his life, the sum of which was, that he had been a courier in the Basque provinces, but about a year since had been dispatched to this village, where he kept the post-house. He was an enthusiastic liberal, and spoke in bitter terms of the surrounding population, who, he said, were all Carlists and friends of the friars. I paid little attention to his discourse, for I was looking at a Maragato lad of about fourteen, who served in the house as a kind of ostler. I asked the master if we were still in the land of the Maragatos; but he told me that we had left it behind nearly a league, and that the lad was an orphan, and was serving until he could rake up sufficient capital to become an arriero. I addressed several questions to the boy, but the urchin looked sullenly in my face, and either answered by monosyllables or was doggedly silent. I asked him if he could read. Yes, said he, as much as that brute of yours which is tearing down the manger.

Quitting Manzanal, we continued our course. We soon arrived at the verge of a deep valley amongst mountains not those of the chain which we had seen before us, and which we now left to the right, but those of the Telleno range, just before they unite with that chain. Round the sides of this valley, which exhibited something of the appearance of a horse-shoe, wound the road in a circuitous manner; just before us, however, and diverging from the road, lay a footpath, which seemed, by a gradual descent, to lead across the valley, and to rejoin the road on the other side, at the distance of about a furlong, and into this we struck, in order to avoid the circuit.

We had not gone far before we met two Galicians on their way to cut the harvests of Castile. One of them shouted, Cavalier,259259
Caballero. As a mode of address in common life, equivalent merely to sir.


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turn back: in a moment you will be amongst precipices, where your horses will break their necks, for we ourselves could scarcely climb them on foot. The other cried, Cavalier, proceed, but be careful, and your horses, if surefooted, will run no great danger: my comrade is a fool. A violent dispute instantly ensued between the two mountaineers, each supporting his opinion with loud oaths and curses; but without stopping to see the result, I passed on. But the path was now filled with stones and huge slaty rocks, on which my horse was continually slipping. I likewise heard the sound of water in a deep gorge, which I had hitherto not perceived, and I soon saw that it would be worse than madness to proceed. I turned my horse, and was hastening to regain the path which I had left, when Antonio, my faithful Greek, pointed out to me a meadow by which, he said, we might regain the highroad much lower down than if we returned on our steps. The meadow was brilliant with short green grass, and in the middle there was a small rivulet of water. I spurred my horse on, expecting to be in the high-road in a moment; the horse, however, snorted and stared wildly, and was evidently unwilling to cross the seemingly inviting spot. I thought that the scent of a wolf or some other wild animal might have disturbed him, but was soon undeceived by his sinking up to the knees in a bog. The animal uttered a shrill sharp neigh, and exhibited every sign of the greatest terror, making at the same time great efforts to extricate himself, and plunging forward, but every moment sinking deeper. At last he arrived where a small vein of rock showed itself: on this he placed his fore feet, and with one tremendous exertion freed himself from the deceitful soil, springing over the rivulet and alighting on comparatively firm ground, where he stood panting, his heaving sides covered with a foamy sweat. Antonio, who had observed the whole scene, afraid to venture forward, returned by the path by which we came, and shortly afterwards rejoined me. This adventure brought to my recollection the meadow with its footpath which tempted Christian from the straight road to heaven, and finally conducted him to the dominions of the giant Despair.





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