The Bible in Spain. Volume 1 of 2
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leader of the english armies,
slain in battle,
The tomb itself is of marble, and around it is a quadrangular wall, breast-high, of rough Gallegan granite; close to each corner rises from the earth the breech of an immense brass cannon, intended to keep the wall compact and close. These outer erections are, however, not the work of the French, but of the English government.
Yes, there lies the hero, almost within sight of the glorious hill where he turned upon his pursuers like a lion at bay and terminated his career. Many acquire immortality without seeking it, and die before its first ray has gilded their name; of these was Moore. The harassed general, flying through Castile with his dispirited troops before a fierce and terrible enemy, little dreamed that he was on the point of attaining that for which many a better, greater, though certainly not braver man, had sighed in vain. His very misfortunes were the means which secured him immortal fame; his disastrous route, bloody death, and finally his tomb on a foreign strand, far from kin and friends. There is scarcely a Spaniard but has heard of this tomb, and speaks of it with a strange kind of awe. Immense treasures are said to have been buried with the heretic general, though for what purpose no one pretends to guess. The demons of the clouds, if we may trust the Gallegans, followed the English in their flight, and assailed them with water-spouts as they toiled up the steep winding paths of Fuencebadon, whilst legends the most wild are related of the manner in which the stout soldier fell. Yes, even in Spain, immortality has already crowned the head of Moore; – Spain, the land of oblivion, where the Guadalete, the ancient Lethe,283283
At the commencement of August I found myself at Saint James of Compostella. To this place I travelled from Corunna with the courier or weekly post, who was escorted by a strong party of soldiers, in consequence of the distracted state of the country, which was overrun with banditti. From Corunna to Saint James the distance is but ten leagues; the journey, however, endured for a day and a half. It was a pleasant one, through a most beautiful country, with a rich variety of hill and dale; the road was in many places shaded with various kinds of trees clad in most luxuriant foliage. Hundreds of travellers, both on foot and on horseback, availed themselves of the security which the escort afforded: the dread of banditti was strong. During the journey two or three alarms were given; we, however, reached Saint James without having been attacked.
Saint James stands on a pleasant level amidst mountains: the most extraordinary of these is a conical hill, called the Pico Sacro, or Sacred Peak, connected with which are many wonderful legends. A beautiful old town is Saint James, containing about twenty thousand inhabitants. Time has been when, with the single exception of Rome, it was the most celebrated resort of pilgrims in the world; its cathedral being said to contain the bones of Saint James the elder, the child of the thunder,284284
The cathedral, though a work of various periods, and exhibiting various styles of architecture, is a majestic venerable pile, in every respect calculated to excite awe and admiration; indeed, it is almost impossible to walk its long dusk aisles, and hear the solemn music and the noble chanting, and inhale the incense of the mighty censers, which are at times swung so high by machinery as to smite the vaulted roof, whilst gigantic tapers glitter here and there amongst the gloom, from the shrine of many a saint, before which the worshippers are kneeling, breathing forth their prayers and petitions for help, love, and mercy, and entertain a doubt that we are treading the floor of a house where God delighteth to dwell. Yet the Lord is distant from that house; He hears not, He sees not, or if He do, it is with anger. What availeth that solemn music, that noble chanting, that incense of sweet savour? What availeth kneeling before that grand altar of silver, surmounted by that figure with its silver hat and breast-plate, the emblem of one who, though an apostle and confessor, was at best an unprofitable servant? What availeth hoping for remission of sin by trusting in the merits of one who possessed none, or by paying homage to others who were born and nurtured in sin, and who alone, by the exercise of a lively faith granted from above, could hope to preserve themselves from the wrath of the Almighty?
Rise from your knees, ye children of Compostella, or, if ye bend, let it be to the Almighty alone, and no longer on the eve of your patron’s day address him in the following strain, however sublime it may sound: —
At Saint James I met with a kind and cordial coadjutor in my biblical labours in the bookseller of the place, Rey Romero, a man of about sixty. This excellent individual, who was both wealthy and respected, took up the matter with an enthusiasm which doubtless emanated from on high, losing no opportunity of recommending my book to those who entered his shop, which was in the Azabacheria,285285
I was walking late one night alone in the alameda of Saint James, considering in what direction I should next bend my course, for I had been already ten days in this place; the moon was shining gloriously, and illumined every object around to a considerable distance. The alameda was quite deserted; everybody, with the exception of myself, having for some time retired. I sat down on a bench and continued my reflections, which were suddenly interrupted by a heavy stumping sound. Turning my eyes in the direction from which it proceeded, I perceived what at first appeared a shapeless bulk slowly advancing: nearer and nearer it drew, and I could now distinguish the outline of a man dressed in coarse brown garments, a kind of Andalusian hat, and using as a staff the long peeled branch of a tree. He had now arrived opposite the bench where I was seated, when, stopping, he took off his hat and demanded charity in uncouth tones and in a strange jargon, which had some resemblance to the Catalan. The moon shone on grey locks and on a ruddy weather-beaten countenance which I at once recognized. “Benedict Mol,” said I, “is it possible that I see you at Compostella?”
Myself. – I can scarcely believe my eyes. Do you mean to say that you have just arrived at this place?
Benedict. – Ow yes, I am this moment arrived. I have walked all the long way from Madrid.
Myself. – What motive could possibly bring you such a distance?
Benedict. – Ow, I am come for the Schatz– the treasure. I told you at Madrid that I was coming; and now I have met you here, I have no doubt that I shall find it, the Schatz.
Myself. – In what manner did you support yourself by the way?
Benedict. – Ow, I begged, I bettled,287287
Myself. – Why not?
Benedict. – Why! because here they all beg and bettle, and have scarce anything for themselves, much less for me, whom they know to be a foreign man. Oh, the misery of Galicia! When I arrive at night at one of their pigsties, which they call posadas, and ask for bread to eat in the name of God, and straw to lie down in, they curse me, and say there is neither bread nor straw in Galicia: and sure enough, since I have been here I have seen neither, only something that they call broa, and a kind of reedy rubbish with which they litter the horses: all my bones are sore since I entered Galicia.
Myself. – And yet you have come to this country, which you call so miserable, in search of treasure?
Benedict. – Ow yaw, but the Schatz is buried; it is not above ground; there is no money above ground in Galicia. I must dig it up; and when I have dug it up I will purchase a coach with six mules, and ride out of Galicia to Lucerne; and if the Herr pleases to go with me, he shall be welcome to go with me and the Schatz.
Myself. – I am afraid that you have come on a desperate errand. What do you propose to do? Have you any money?
Benedict. – Not a cuarto; but I do not care now I have arrived at St. James. The Schatz is nigh; and I have, moreover, seen you, which is a good sign; it tells me that the Schatz is still here. I shall go to the best posada in the place, and live like a duke till I have an opportunity of digging up the Schatz, when I will pay all scores.
“Do nothing of the kind,” I replied; “find out some place in which to sleep, and endeavour to seek some employment. In the mean time, here is a trifle with which to support yourself; but as for the treasure which you have come to seek, I believe it only exists in your own imagination.” I gave him a dollar and departed.
I have never enjoyed more charming walks than in the neighbourhood of Saint James. In these I was almost invariably accompanied by my friend the good old bookseller. The streams are numerous, and along their wooded banks we were in the habit of straying and enjoying the delicious summer evenings of this part of Spain. Religion generally formed the topic of our conversation, but we not unfrequently talked of the foreign lands which I had visited, and at other times of matters which related particularly to my companion. “We booksellers of Spain,” said he, “are all liberals; we are no friends to the monkish system. How indeed should we be friends to it? It fosters darkness, whilst we live by disseminating light. We love our profession, and have all more or less suffered for it; many of us, in the times of terror, were hanged for selling an innocent translation from the French or English. Shortly after the Constitution was put down by Angoul?me and the French bayonets,288288
Once, as we were walking through the streets of Saint James, he stopped before a church and looked at it attentively. As there was nothing remarkable in the appearance of this edifice, I asked him what motive he had for taking such notice of it. “In the days of the friars,” said he, “this church was one of refuge, to which if the worst criminals escaped, they were safe. All were protected there save the negros, as they called us liberals.” “Even murderers, I suppose?” said I. “Murderers!” he answered, “far worse criminals than they. By-the-by, I have heard that you English entertain the utmost abhorrence of murder. Do you in reality consider it a crime of very great magnitude?” “How should we not?” I replied. “For every other crime some reparation can be made; but if we take away life, we take away all. A ray of hope with respect to this world may occasionally enliven the bosom of any other criminal, but how can the murderer hope?” “The friars were of another way of thinking,” replied the old man; “they always looked upon murder as a friolera; but not so the crime of marrying your first cousin without dispensation, for which, if we believe them, there is scarcely any atonement either in this world or the next.”
Two or three days after this, as we were seated in my apartment in the posada, engaged in conversation, the door was opened by Antonio, who, with a smile on his countenance, said that there was a foreign gentleman below who desired to speak with me. “Show him up,” I replied; whereupon almost instantly appeared Benedict Mol.
“This is a most extraordinary person,” said I to the bookseller. “You Galicians, in general, leave your country in quest of money; he, on the contrary, is come hither to find some.”
Rey Romero. – And he is right. Galicia is by nature the richest province in Spain, but the inhabitants are very stupid, and know not how to turn the blessings which surround them to any account; but as a proof of what may be made out of Galicia, see how rich the Catalans become who have settled down here and formed establishments. There are riches all around us, upon the earth and in the earth.
Benedict. – Ow yaw, in the earth, that is what I say. There is much more treasure below the earth than above it.
Myself. – Since I last saw you, have you discovered the place in which you say the treasure is deposited?
Benedict. – Oh yes, I know all about it now. It is buried ’neath the sacristy in the church of San Roque.
Myself. – How have you been able to make that discovery?
Benedict. – I will tell you. The day after my arrival I walked about all the city in quest of the church, but could find none which at all answered to the signs which my comrade who died in the hospital gave me. I entered several, and looked about, but all in vain; I could not find the place which I had in my mind’s eye. At last the people with whom I lodge, and to whom I told my business, advised me to send for a meiga.
Myself. – A meiga!289289
Benedict. – Ow! a Haxweib, a witch; the Gallegos call them so in their jargon, of which I can scarcely understand a word. So I consented, and they sent for the meiga. Och! what a Weib is that meiga! I never saw such a woman; she is as large as myself, and has a face as round and red as the sun. She asked me a great many questions in her Gallegan; and when I had told her all she wanted to know, she pulled out a pack of cards and laid them on the table in a particular manner, and then she said that the treasure was in the church of San Roque; and sure enough, when I went to that church, it answered in every respect to the signs of my comrade who died in the hospital. Oh, she is a powerful Hax, that meiga; she is well known in the neighbourhood, and has done much harm to the cattle. I gave her half the dollar I had from you for her trouble.
Myself. – Then you acted like a simpleton; she has grossly deceived you. But even suppose that the treasure is really deposited in the church you mention, it is not probable that you will be permitted to remove the floor of the sacristy to search for it.
Benedict. – Ow, the matter is already well advanced. Yesterday I went to one of the canons to confess myself and to receive absolution and benediction; not that I regard these things much, but I thought this would be the best means of broaching the matter, so I confessed myself, and then I spoke of my travels to the canon, and at last I told him of the treasure, and proposed that if he assisted me we should share it between us. Ow, I wish you had seen him; he entered at once into the affair, and said that it might turn out a very profitable speculation: and he shook me by the hand, and said that I was an honest Swiss and a good Catholic. And I then proposed that he should take me into his house and keep me there till we had an opportunity of digging up the treasure together. This he refused to do.
Rey Romero. – Of that I have no doubt: trust one of our canons for not committing himself so far until he sees very good reason. These tales of treasure are at present rather too stale: we have heard of them ever since the time of the Moors.
Benedict. – He advised me to go to the Captain-General and obtain permission to make excavations, in which case he promised to assist me to the utmost of his power.
Thereupon the Swiss departed, and I neither saw nor heard anything further of him during the time that I continued at Saint James.
The bookseller was never weary of showing me about his native town, of which he was enthusiastically fond. Indeed, I have never seen the spirit of localism, which is so prevalent throughout Spain, more strong than at Saint James. If their town did but flourish, the Santiagans seemed to care but little if all others in Galicia perished. Their antipathy to the town of Corunna was unbounded, and this feeling had of late been not a little increased from the circumstance that the seat of the provincial government had been removed from Saint James to Corunna. Whether this change was advisable or not, it is not for me, who am a foreigner, to say; my private opinion, however, is by no means favourable to the alteration. Saint James is one of the most central towns in Galicia, with large and populous communities on every side of it, whereas Corunna stands in a corner, at a considerable distance from the rest. “It is a pity that the vecinos of Corunna cannot contrive to steal away from us our cathedral, even as they have done our government,” said a Santiagan; “then, indeed, they would be able to cut some figure. As it is, they have not a church fit to say mass in.” “A great pity, too, that they cannot remove our hospital,” would another exclaim; “as it is, they are obliged to send us their sick poor wretches. I always think that the sick of Corunna have more ill-favoured countenances than those from other places; but what good can come from Corunna?”
Accompanied by the bookseller, I visited this hospital, in which, however, I did not remain long, the wretchedness and uncleanliness which I observed speedily driving me away. Saint James, indeed, is the grand lazar-house for all the rest of Galicia, which accounts for the prodigious number of horrible objects to be seen in its streets, who have for the most part arrived in the hope of procuring medical assistance, which, from what I could learn, is very scantily and inefficiently administered. Amongst these unhappy wretches I occasionally observed the terrible leper, and instantly fled from him with a “God help thee,” as if I had been a Jew of old. Galicia is the only province of Spain where cases of leprosy are still frequent; a convincing proof this that the disease is the result of foul feeding, and an inattention to cleanliness, as the Gallegans, with regard to the comforts of life and civilized habits, are confessedly far behind all the other natives of Spain.
“Besides a general hospital, we have likewise a leper-house,” said the bookseller. “Shall I show it you? We have everything at Saint James. There is nothing lacking; the very leper finds an inn here.” “I have no objection to your showing me the house,” I replied, “but it must be at a distance, for enter it I will not.” Thereupon he conducted me down the road which leads towards Padron290290
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