Spain - The Immemorial Fashion
( Originally Published 1905 )
"For as many auchours affirtne (and mannes actions declare) that man is but his mynde; so it is to bee daily tride, that the bodie is but a mixture of compoundes, knitte together like a fardell of fleashe, and bondell of bones, and united as a heavie lumpe of Leade (without the mynde) in the sillie substance of a shadowe. —THOMAS CHURCHILL, GENTLEMAN.
MY Spanish hostess, brightest and prettiest of little ladies despite the weight of sorrow upon sorrow, came tripping into my room one afternoon with her black eyes starry bright under the lace mantilla. "And where have you been to get so nicely rested ? " "To a duels."
I turned the word over in my mind. Duelo ? Surely that must mean the mourning at a house of death, when the men have gone forth to church and the burial, and the women remain behind to weep together, or one of those tearful At Homes kept, day after day, until the mass, by the ladies of the afflicted household for their condoling friends. But such a smiling little senora ! I hardly knew what degree of sympathy befitted the occasion.
"'Were you acquainted with the — the person ? "
"No, I had never seen him. He had been an officer in the Philippines many years, and came home very ill, fifteen days since. I wept because I knew his mother, but I wept much. Women, at least here in Spain, have always cause enough for tears. I thought of my own matters, and had a long, long cry. That is why I feel better. There is so little time to cry at home. I must see about the dinner now."
And she rustled out again, leaving me to meditate on Spanish originality, even in grief.
In any country the usages of death are no less significant than the usages of life. That grim necropolis of Glasgow, with its few shy gowans under its lowering sky, those tender, turf-folded, church-shadowed graveyards of rural England, those trains of mourners, men by themselves and women by themselves, walking behind the bier in mid-street through the mud and rain of wintry Paris to the bedizened Pere Lachaise or Montparnasse — such sights interpret a nation as truly as its art and history; but the burial customs of Spain, especially distinctive, are, like most things Spanish, contradictory and baffling to the tourist view. " La Tierra de Vice Versa" is not a country that he who runs may read.
The popular verses and maxims treat of death with due Castilian solemnity and an always unflinching, if often ironic, recognition of the mortal fact. " When the house is finished," says the proverb, "the hearse is at the door." Yet this Spanish hearse is one of the gayest vehicles since Cinderella's coach. If the groundwork is black, there is abundant relief in mountings of brilliant yellow, but the funeral carriage is often cream-white, flourished over with fantastic designs in the bluest of blue or the pinkest of pink. Coffins, too, may be gaudy as candy-boxes. The first coffin we saw in Spain was bright lilac, a baby's casket, placed on gilt trestles in the centre of a great chill church, with chanting priests sprinkling holy water about it to frighten off the demons, and a crowd of black-bearded men waiting to follow it to the grave. Such a little coffin and not a woman near! The poor mother was decently at home, weeping in the midst of a circle of relatives and neighbors, and counting it among her comforts that the family had so many masculine friends to walk in the funeral procession and show sympathy with the household grief. There would be, on the ninth day after and, for several years to come, on the anniversary of the death, as many masses as could be afforded said in the parish church, when, again, the friends would make it a point of duty to attend.
The daily papers abound in these notices, printed in a variety of types, so as to cover from two to ten square inches, heavily bordered with black, and surmounted, in case of adults, with crosses, and with cherubs' heads for children. I take up a copy of La Epocha and read the following, under a cross: " Third Anniversary. Senorita Dona Francisca Fulana y Tal died the twenty-sixth of June, 1896, at twenty-one years of age. R. I. P. Her disconsolate mother and the rest of the family ask their friends and all pious persons to be so good as to commend her to God. All the masses celebrated to-morrow morning in the Church of San Pascual will be applied to the everlasting rest of the soul of the said senorita. Indulgences are granted in the usual form." It is the third anniversary, too, of a titled lady, whose husband, brothers, brothers-in-law, nephews, uncles, cousins, and all who inherit under her will " have ordered masses in two churches for the entire day to-morrow, and announce, moreover, that the ecclesiastical authorities grant " one hundred and forty days of indulgence to all the faithful for each mass that they hear, sacred communion that they devote, or portion of a rosary that they pray for the soul of this most noble lady."
In the case of another lady of high degree, who died yesterday, " having received the Blessed Sacraments and the benediction of his Holiness," the Nuncio concedes one hundred days of indulgence, the Archbishop of Burgos eighty, and the Bishops of Madrid, Alcala, Cartagena, Leon, and Santander forty each ; while a marquis who died a year ago, " Knight of the Illustrious Order of the Golden Fleece," is to have masses said for his soul in seven churches, not only all through to-morrow, but for the two days following.
May all these rest in peace, and all who mourn for them be comforted ! Yet thought drifts away to the poor and lowly, whose grief cannot find solace in procuring this costly inter-cession of the Church for the souls they love. It seems hard that the inequalities of life should thus reach out into death and purgatory. We used, during our sojourn in Granada, to meet many pathetic little processions on " The Way of the Dead." Over this hollow road, almost a ravine, the fortress walls, with their crumbling towers, keep guard on the one side, and the terraced gardens of the Generalife, with their grand old cypresses, on the other. And here, almost every hour of the day, is climbing a company of four rough men, carrying on their shoulders a cheap coffin, which perhaps a husband follows, or a white-haired father, or, hand in hand, bewildered orphan boys. The road is so steep that often the bearers set their burden down in the shadow of the bank-side, and fling themselves at full length on the ground beside it, thriftily passing from man to man the slow-burning wax match for their paper cigarettes. I remember more than one such smoking group, with a solitary mourner, hat in hand and eyes on the coffin, yet he, too, with cigarette in mouth, standing patiently by. All who pass make the sign of the cross, and even the rudest peasant uncovers his head. Very shortly the bearers may be seen again, coming down the hill at a merry pace, the empty box, with its loose, rattling lid, tilted over the shoulder now of one, now of another ; for the children of poverty, who had not chambers of their own nor the dignity of solitude in life, lie huddled in a common pit after death, without coffin-planks to sever dust from dust.
A century ago it was usual to robe the dead in monastic garb, especially in the habit of St. Francis or of the Virgin of Carmen, and within the present generation bodies were borne to the grave on open biers, the bystanders saluting, and bidding them farewell and quiet rest : —
"Duerme in paz ! ' dieen los buenos. '
But now the closed coffin of many colors is in vogue. In the Santiago market we met a cheerful dame with one of these balanced on her head, crying for a purchaser, and up the broad flights of steps to the Bilbao cemetery we saw a stolid-faced young peasant-woman swinging along with a child's white coffin, apparently heavy with the weight of death, poised on the glossy black coils of hair, about which she had twisted a carmine handkerchief.
Very strange is the look of a Spanish cemetery, with its ranges of high, deep walls, wherein the coffins are thrust end-wise, each above each, to the altitude of perhaps a dozen layers. These cells are sometimes purchased outright, sometimes rented for ten years, or five, or one. When the friends of the quiet tenant pay his dues no longer, forth he goes to the general ditch, osario comun, and leaves his room for another. Such wall graves are characteristically Spanish, this mode of burial in the Peninsula being of long antiquity. Yet the rich prefer their own pantheons, sculptured like little chapels, or their own vaults, over which rise tall marbles of every device, the shaft, the pyramid, the broken column ; while a poor family, or two or three neighboring households, often make shift to pay for one large earth grave, in which their dead may at least find themselves among kith and kin. Spanish cemeteries are truly silent cities, with streets upon streets enclosed between these solemn walls, which open out, at intervals, now for the ornamented patios of the rich, now for the dreary squares peopled by the poor. Here in a most aristocratic quarter, shaded by willows, set with marbles, paved with flower beds, sleeps a duke in stately pantheon, which is carved all over with angels, texts, and sacred symbols, still leaving room for medallions boasting his ancestral dignities. A double row of lamps, with gilded, fantastically moulded stands, and with dangling crystals of all colors, leads to the massive iron door. What enemy has he now to guard against with that array of bolts and bars ? Here are a poet's palms petrified to granite, and here a monument all muffled in fresh flowers. Here the magnificent bronze figure of a knight, with sword half drawn, keeps watch beside a tomb, while the grave beyond a rose bush guards as well. And here an imaged Sandalphon holds out open hands, this legend written across his marble scarf, " The tear falleth; the flower fadeth; but God treasureth the prayer."
There is a certain high-bred reserve about these costly sepulchres, but turning to the walls one comes so face to face with grief as to experience a sense of intrusion. Each cell shows on its sealed door of slate or other stone the name and age of its occupant, and perhaps a sentiment, lettered in gilt or black, as these : "We bear our loss— God knows how heavily." "Son of my soul." "For thee, that land of larger love; for me, until I find thee there, only the valley of sorrow and the hard hill of hope."
Most of the cells have, too, a glassed or grated recess in front of this inscription wall, holding tributes or memorials — dried flowers, colored images of saints and angels, crucifixes, and the like. Sometimes the resurrection symbol of the butterfly appears. In the little cemetery at Vigo we noticed that the flower-vases were in form of great blue butterflies with scarlet splashes on their wings. Sometimes there are locks of hair, personal trinkets, and often card or cabinet photographs, whose living look startles the beholder. Out from a wreath of yellow immortelles peeps the plump smile of an old gentleman in modern dress coat; a coquettish lady in tiara and earrings laughs from behind her fan ; and a grove of paper shrubbery, where tissue fairies dressed in rose petals dance on the blossoms, half hides the eager face of a Spanish midshipman. Where the photographs have faded and dimmed with time, the effect is less incongruous, if not less pathetic.
The niches of children contain the gayest possible little figures. Here are china angels in blue frocks, with pink sleeves and saffron pantalets, pink-tipped plumes, and even pink bows in their goldy hair. Here is a company of tiny Hamlets, quaint dollikins set up in a circle about a small green grave, each with finger on lip, " The rest is silence." Here are two elegant and lazy cherubs, their alabaster chubbiness comfortably bestowed in toy chairs of crimson velvet on each side of an ivory crucifix. And here is a Bethlehem, and here a Calvary, and here the Good Shepherd bearing the lamb in His bosom; and here, in simple, but artistic wood carving, the Christ with open arms, calling to a child on sick-bed to come unto Him, while the mother, prostrate before the holy feet, kisses their shadow. One cannot look for long. It is well to lift the eyes from the niche graves of Granada to the glory of the Sierra Nevada that soars beyond, and turn from the patios of San Isidro to the cheerful picture of Madrid across the Manzanares, even though, prominent in the vista, rises the cupola of San Francisco el Grande. This is the National Pantheon, and within, beneath the frescoed dome, all aglow with blue and gold, masses are chanted for the dead whom Spain decrees to honor, as, so recently, for Castelar.
Near this church a viaduct, seventy-five feet high, crosses the Calle de Segovia; and, despite the tall crooked railings and a constant police patrol, Madrilenos bent on suicide often succeed in leaping over and bruising out their breath on the stones of the street below. It is a desperate exit. The Seine and Thames lure their daily victims with murmuring sound and the soft, enfolding look of water, but Spaniards who spring from this fatal viaduct see beneath them only the cruel pavement. That life should be harder than stone ! And yet the best vigilance of Madrid cannot prevent fresh bloodstains on the Calle de Segovia.
Near the cemetery of San Isidro, across the Manzanares, are two other large Catholic burial grounds, and the Cementerio Inglis.
"But murderers, atheists, and Protestants are buried way off in the east," said the pretty Spanish girl beside me.
" Oh, let's go there ! " I responded, with heretic enthusiasm; but I had reckoned without the cabman, who promptly and emphatically protested.
" That's not a pleasant place for ladies to see. You would better drive in the Prado and Recoletos, or in the Buen Retiro."
We told him laughingly that he was speaking against his own interests, for the Civil Cemetery was much farther off than the parks. He consulted his dignity and decided to laugh in return.
"It is not of the pesetas I think first when I am driving ladies. But" (with suave indulgence) "you shall go just where you like."
So in kindness he gathered up his reins and away we clattered sheer across the city. Presently we had left the fountain-cooled squares and animated streets behind, had passed even the ugly, sinister Plaza de Toros, and outstripped the trolley track; but still the road stretched on, enlivened only by herds of goats and an occasional yenta, where drivers of mule trains were pausing to wet their dusty throats. We met few vehicles now save the gay-colored hearses, and few people except groups of returning mourners, walking in bewildered wise, with stumbling feet.
"The Cemetery of the Poor is opposite the Civil Cemetery," said our cabman, " and they have from thirty to fifty burials a day. The keeper is a friend of mine. He shall show you all about."
A bare Castilian ridge rose before us, where a farmer, leaning on his scythe, was outlined against the sky like a silhouette of Death. And at last our cheery driver, humming bars from a popular light opera, checked his mettlesome old mare, — who plunged down hills and scrambled up as if she were running away from the bull-ring, where she must soon fulfil her martyrdom, — between two dismal graveyards. From the larger, on our right, tiptoed out a furtive man and peered into the cab as if he thought we had a coffin under the seat.
He proved a blood-curdling conductor, always speaking in a hoarse whisper and glancing over his shoulder in a way to make the stoutest nerves feel ghosts, but he showed us, under that sunset sky, memorable sights — ranks upon ranks of gritty mounds marked with black, wooden crosses, a scanty grace for which the living often pay the price of their own bread that the dead they love may pass a year or two out of that hideous general fosse. Then the sexton reluctantly led us to the unblessed, untended hollow across the way, where rows of brick sepulchres await the poor babies who die before the holy water touches them, where recumbent marbles press upon the dead who knew no upward reach of hope, and where defiant monuments, erected by popular subscription and often bearing the blazonry of a giant quill, denote the resting-places of freethinkers and the agitators of new ideas. There were some Christian inscriptions, whether for Protestants or not I do not know, but to my two companions there was no distinction of persons in this unhallowed limbo.
Our dusty guide led us hurriedly from plot to plot.
" They say the mothers cheat the priests, and there are babies over yonder that ought to be here, for the breath was out of them before ever they were baptized. They say the priests had this man done to death one night, because he wrote against religion. He was only twenty-two. The club he belonged to put up that stone. They say there are evil words on it. But I don't know myself. I can't read, thanks to God. They say it was through reading and writing that most of these came here."
"But those are not evil words," I answered. "They are, ' Believe in Jesus and thou shalt be saved.' "
He hastily crossed himself, " Do me the favor not to read such words out loud. Here is another, where they say the words are words of hell."
I held my peace this time, musing on that broad marble with its one deep-cut line, " The Death of God."
"And over there," he croaked, pointing with his clay-colored thumb, " is Whiskers."
The senorita, whose black eyes had been getting larger and larger, gave a little scream and fairly ran for the gate.
Spaniards have usually great sympathy for criminals, news-paper accounts of executions often closing with an entreaty for God's mercy on "this poor man's soul," but Whiskers, the Madrid sensation of a fortnight since, was a threefold murderer. Passion-mad, he had shot dead in the open street a neighbor's youthful wife, held the public at bay with his revolver, and mortally wounded two Civil Guards, before he turned the fatal barrel on himself.
" His family wanted him laid over the way," continued that scared undertone at my ear, "but the bishop said no. A murderer like that was just as bad as infidels and Protestants, and should be buried out of grace."
I felt as if Superstition incarnate were walking by my side, and after one more look at that strangely peopled patch of unconsecrated ground, with its few untrimmed cypresses and straggling rose bushes, hillside slopes about and glory-flooded skies above, I gave Superstition a peseta, which he devoutly kissed, and returned to the cab, followed by the carol of a solitary bird.
I remember a similar experience in Cadiz. I had driven out with one of my Spanish hostesses to the large seaside cemetery, a mile beyond the gate. This is arranged in nine successive patios, planted with palms and cypresses. In the niches, seashells play a prominent part. The little angel images, as gay as ever, with their pink girdles and their purple wings, may be seen swinging in shells, sleeping in shells, and balancing on the edge of shells to play their golden flutes. Near by is an English and German cemetery, with green-turfed mounds and a profusion of blossoming shrubs and flower beds. Not sure of the direction, as we were leaving the Catholic enclosure I asked a bandy-legged, leather-visaged old sexton, who might have been the very one that dug Ophelia's grave, if the " Protestant cemetery " was at our right. He laid down his mattock, peered about among the mausolea to see if we were quite alone, winked prodigiously, and, drawing a bunch of keys from the folds of his black sash, started briskly down a by-path and signed to us to follow. He led us through stony passages out beyond the sanctified ground into a dreary, oblong space, a patch of weeds and sand, enclosed by the lofty sepulchral walls, but with a blessed strip of blue sky overhead.
" Here they are ! " he chuckled. " They wouldn't confess, they died without the sacraments, and here they are."
Some names lettered on the wall seemed to be those of Dutch and Norwegian sailors, who had perhaps died friend-less in this foreign port. There were pebble-strewn graves of Jews, and upright marbles from which the dead still seemed to utter voice : "I refuse the prayers of all the saints, and ask the prayers of honest human souls. I believe in God." And another, "God is knowledge." And another, "God is All that works for Wisdom and for Love."
Are there burial services for these ? " I inquired.
If the Church of England could have seen that crooked old sexton go through his gleeful pantomime!
" There's one that comes with some, and they call him Pastor ! And he scrapes up a handful of dirt— so ! And he flings it at the coffin—so! And then he stands up straight and says, 'Dust to dust!' I've heard him say it myself."
" God of my soul ! " cried the Spanish lady in horror, and to express her detestation of such a heathenish rite, she spat upon the ground.
The monarchs of Spain do not mingle their ashes. Who knows where Roderick sleeps ? Or does that deathless culprit still lurk in mountain caverns, as tradition has it, wringing his wasted hands and tearing his white beard in unavailing penitence? The "Catholic kings," Ferdinand and Isabella, lie, not where they had planned, in that beauti
ful Gothic church of Toledo, San Juan de los Reyes, on whose outer walls yet hang the Moorish chains struck from the limbs of Christian captives, but in Granada, the city of their conquest, where they slumber proudly, although their coffins are of plainest lead and their last royal chamber a small and dusky vault. Pedro the Cruel is thrust away in a narrow wall-grave beneath the Capilla Real of Seville cathedral. His brother, the Master of Santiago, whom he treacherously slew in one of the loveliest halls of the Alcazar, is packed closely in on his left, and Maria de Padilla, for whose sake he cut short the hapless life of Queen Blanche, on his right. Pleasant family discussions they must have at the witching hour of night, when they drag their numb bones out of those pigeon-holes for a brief respite of elbow room ! San Fernando, the Castilian conqueror of Castile, canonized "because he carried fagots with his own hands for the burning of heretics," is more commodiously accommodated in a silver sarcophagus in the chapel above, where Alfonso the Learned also has long leisure for thought. Another Alfonso and another Fernando, with another wife of Pedro the Cruel, keep their state in Santiago de Compostela, and still another Alfonso and two Sanchos have their splendid tombs in the Capilla Mayor of Toledo cathedral, while in its Capilla de los Reyes Nuevos, a line descended from that brother whom Pedro murdered, sleeps the first John, with the second and third Henrys.
Cordova cathedral, although this lovely mosque recks little of Christian majesties, has the ordinary equipment of an Alfonso and a Fernando, and the Royal Monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos shelters Alfonso VIII, with his queen, Eleanor of England. In less noted churches, one continually chances on them, rey or reina, infante or infanta, dreaming the centuries away in rich recesses of fretted marble and alabaster, with the shadow of great arches over them and the deep-voiced chant around.
But since Philip II created, in his own sombre likeness, the monastery of the Escorial, rising in angular austerity from a spur of the bleak Guadarrama Mountains, the royal houses of Austria and Bourbon have sought burial there. The first and chief in the dank series of sepulchral vaults, the celebrated Panteon de los Reyes, is an octagon of black marble, placed precisely under the high altar, and gloomily magnificent with jasper, porphyry, and gold. It has an altar of its own, on whose left are three recesses, each with four long shelves placed one above another for the sarcophagi of the kings of Spain, and on whose right are corresponding recesses for the queens. As the guide holds his torch, we read the successive names of the great Charles I, founder of the Austrian line; the three Philips, in whom his genius dwindled more and more; and the half-witted Charles II, in whom it ignobly perished. The coffin lid of Charles I has twice been lifted, once as late as 1871, in compliment to the visiting Emperor of Brazil, and even then that imperial body lay intact, with blackened face and open, staring eyes. The gilded bronze coffin of Philip II was brought to his bedside for his inspection in his last hour of life. After a critical survey he ordered a white satin lining and more gilt nails--a remarkable sense of detail in a man who had sent some ten thousand heretics to the torture.
Looking for the Bourbons, we miss the first of them all, the melancholy Philip V, who would not lay him down among these Austrians, but sleeps with his second queen, the strong-willed Elizabeth Farnese, in his cloudy retreat of San Ildefonso, within hearing of the fountains of La Granja. His eldest son, Luis the Well-Beloved, who died after a reign of seven months, rests here in the Escorial, but Fernando VI, also the son of Philip's first queen — that gallant little Savoyarde who died so young—was buried in Madrid. Charles III, best and greatest of the Spanish Bourbons, is here, the weak Charles IV, Fernando VII, " The Desired" and the Disgraceful, and Alfonso XII, while a stately sarcophagus is already reserved for Alfonso XIII.
To the cold society of these five Austrian and five Bourbon sovereigns are admitted nine royal ladies. Of these, the first three are in good and regular standing — the queen of Charles I and mother of Philip II, the fourth queen of Philip II and mother of Philip III, the queen of Philip III and mother of Philip IV. But here is an intruder. Philip IV, who had an especial liking for this grewsome vault, and used often to clamber into his own niche to hear mass, insisted on having both his French and Austrian queens interred here, although the first, Isabel of Bourbon, is not the mother of a Spanish king, the promising little Baltasar having died in boyhood. The brave girl-queen of Philip V is here, in double right as mother both of Luis and Fernando VI, and here is the wife of Charles III and mother of Charles IV. But of sorry repute are the last two queens, the wife of Charles IV and mother of Fernando VII, she who came hurrying down those slippery marble stairs in feverish delirium to scratch Luisa with scissors on her selected coffin, and this other, Maria Cristina, wife of Fernando VII and mother of the dethroned Isabel, a daughter who did not mend the story. It will not be long before she returns from her French exile to enter into possession of the sarcophagus that expects her here, even as another sumptuous coffin awaits the present regent. Pity it is for Isabel, whose name is still a byword in the Madrid cafes ! But she always enjoyed hearing midnight mass in this dim and dreadful crypt, and will doubtless be glad to come back to her ancestors, such as they were, and take up her royal residence with them in "dust of human nullity and ashes of mortality."