Spain - The Son Of Thunder
( Originally Published 1905 )
Thou shield of that faith which in Spain we revere,
— Hymn to Santiago, in George Borrow's translation.
FATIGUES of the journey and discomforts of our lodging melted from memory like shadows of the night when we found ourselves, on the morning of July twenty-fourth, before that rich, dark mass of fretted granite, a majestic church standing solitary in the midst of spreading plazas. These are surrounded by stately buildings, the archiepiscopal palace with its memories of Gelmirez, the royal hospital founded by Ferdinand and Isabella for the succor of weary pilgrims, ancient colleges with sculptured facades, marvellous old convents whose holy fathers were long since driven out by royal decree into hungry, homesick exile, and the columned city hall with its frontal relief of the battle of Clavijo and its crowning statue of St. James. The great, paved squares, the magnificent stairways and deeply recessed portals were aglow with all Galicia. Peasants in gala dress, bright as tropic birds, stood in deferential groups about the pilgrims, for there were actual pilgrims on the scene, men and women whose broad hats and round capes were sewn over with scallop-shells, and whose long staffs showed little gourds fastened to the upper end. They wore rosaries and crucifixes in profusion, and their habit was spangled with all manner of charms and amulets, especially the tinsel medals with their favorite device of St. James riding down the Moors. We bought at one of the stalls set up before the doors for sale of holy wares a memento of the famous old jet-work, a tiny black hand, warranted, if hung about the neck, to cure disorders of the eyes. We fell to chatting with a pilgrim who was shod in genuine sandal shoon. A large gourd was tied to his belt, the rim of his hat was turned up at one side and caught there with a rosy-tinted shell, and his long, black ringlets fell loose upon his shoulders, framing a romantic Durer face. He talked with us in German, saying that he was of Wittemberg, and once a Lutheran, but had been converted to the true faith on a previous visit to Spain. Since then he had footed his penitential way to Jerusalem and other distant shrines. As his simple speech ran on, we seemed to see the mountains round about Santiago crossed by those converging streams of mediaeval pilgrims, all dropping on their knees at the first glimpse of the cathedral towers. With that sight the fainting were refreshed, the lame ran, and jubilant songs of praise to Santiago rolled out in many languages upon the air.
"Primus ex apostolis,
In those Ages of Faith all the gates of the city were choked with the incoming tide, the hostels and cure-houses overflowed, and the broad plazas about the cathedral were filled with dense throngs of pilgrims, massed nation by nation, flying their national colors, singing their national hymns to the strangely blended music of their national instruments, and watching for the acolyte who summoned them, company by company, into the august presence-chamber of St. James. His shrine they approached only in posture of lowliest reverence. Even now, at the end of the nineteenth century, our first glance, as we entered the lofty, dim, and incense-perfumed nave, fell on a woman-pilgrim dragging herself painfully on her knees up the aisle toward the High Altar, and often falling prostrate to kiss the pavement with groans and tears.
Medieval pilgrims, when they had thus won their way to the entrance of the Capilla Mayor, and there received three light blows from a priestly rod in token of chastisement, were granted the due indulgences and, in turn, laid their offerings before the great white altar. Still there sits, in a niche above, the thirteenth-century image of St. James, a colossal figure wrought of red granite, with stiffly flowing vestments of elaborately figured gilt. His left hand grasps a silver staff, with gilded gourd atop, and his right, whose index finger points downward to the burial vault, holds a scroll inscribed, " Hic est corpus divi Jacobi Apostoli ac Hispaniarum Patroni." Once he wore a broad-brimmed hat all of pure gold, but this was melted down by Marshal Ney in the French invasion. At that time the sacred vessels were heaped like market produce into great ox-carts, until the cathedral had been plundered of ten hundredweight of treasure. It was " the end of the pilgrimage " to climb the steps behind this statue and kiss its resplendent silver cape, studded with cockle-shells and be-sprinkled with gems. But the pilgrims of the past had much more to see and worship, — the jewelled crown of the Apostle set upon the altar, his very hat and staff, the very axe that beheaded him, and other relics to which the attention of the modern tourist, at least, is not invited. Yet even we were conducted to the Romanesque crypt beneath the High Altar, where stands another altar of red marble, decorated by a relief of two peacocks drinking from a cup. This altar is surmounted by a bronze pedestal, which bears the sumptuous ark-shaped casket with its enshrined handfuls of dubious dust.
Our latter-day pilgrims seemed well content with the measure of wealth and sanctity which Moorish sack and English piracy, French invasion and Carlist wars, had spared to the cathedral. In the matter of general relics, nevertheless, Santiago suffers by comparison with the neighbor cathedral of Oviedo, which proudly shows a silver-plated old reliquary, believed by the devout to have been brought in the earliest Christian times from Rome. This chest contains, in addition to the usual pieces of the true cross and thorns from the crown, such remarkable mementos as St. Peter's leathern wallet, crumbs left over from the Feeding of the Five Thousand, bits of roast fish and honeycomb from Emmaus, bread from the Last Supper, manna from the wilderness, a portion of Moses' rod and the mantle of Elijah. Oviedo possesses, too, that famous cross which the angels made for Alfonso II, and one of the six water jars of Cana. But the relic chapel of Santiago makes up in quantity whatever it may lack in quality, holding bones, garments, hair-tresses, and like memorials of a veritable army of martyrs, even to what Ford disrespectfully calls "sundry parcels of the eleven thousand Virgins." Special stress is laid on a Calvary thorn which turns blood-red every Good Friday, and a drop, forever fresh, of the Madonna's milk. If pilgrims are not satisfied with these, they can walk out to Los Angeles, an adjacent village, whose church was built by the angels. Eccentric architects they were in choosing to connect their edifice with the cathedral of Santiago by an underground beam of pure gold, formerly one of the rafters in God's own house.
We had speech of several pilgrims that first morning. One was a middle-aged, sun-browned, stubby little man, whom during the ensuing week we saw again and again in the cathedral, but never begging, with the most of the pilgrims, at the portals, nor taking his ease in the cloisters, — a social promenade where the laity came to gossip and the clergy to puff their cigarettes. This humble worshipper seemed to pass all the days of the festival in enraptured adoration, on his knees now before one shrine, now before another. We found him first facing the supreme architectural feature of the cathedral, that sublime and yet most lovely Portico de la Gloria. He was gazing up at its paradise of sculptured saints and angels, whose plumes and flowing robes still show traces of azure, rose, and gold, with an expression of naive ecstasy. He told us that he came from Astorga, and had been nine days on the way. He spent most of his time upon the road, he added, visiting especially the shrines of the Virgin. " Greatly it pleases me to worship God," he said, with sparkling eyes, and ran on eagerly, as long as we would listen, about the riches and splendors of different cathedrals, and especially the robes and jewels of the Virgen del Filar. He seemed in his devout affection to make her wealth his own. One of the most touching effects of the scene was the childlike simplicity with which the poor of Galicia, coming from such vile hovels, felt themselves at home in the dwelling of their saint. Not even their sins marred their sense of welcome. In the cloisters we encountered an old woman in the pilgrim dress, her staff wound with gay ribbons, limping from her long jaunt. She told us frankly that she was " only a beggar " in her own village, and had come for the outing as well as to please the priest, who, objecting to certain misdemeanors which she had the discretion not to specify, had prescribed this excursion as penance. She was a lively old soul, and was amusing herself mightily with the Goya tapestries, and others, that adorned the cloisters in honor of the time. " You have a book and can read," she said, "and you will understand it all, but what can I under-stand ? I can see that this is a queen, and she is very fine, and that those are butchers who are killing a fat pig. But we who are poor may understand little in this world except the love of God." Others of the pilgrims were village folk of Portugal, and, taken all together, these modern wearers of the shell were but a sorry handful as representing those noble multitudes who came, in ages past, to bow before the shrine. The fourteen doors of the cathedral then stood open night and day, and the grotesque lions leaning out over the lintels could boast that there was no tongue of Europe which their stone ears had not heard. Three open doors suffice in the feast days now, but with the new flood of faith that has set toward Lourdes, pilgrimages to Santiago, as to other Latin shrines, are beginning to revive.
Mass was over at the late hour of our arrival, but nave and aisles, transepts and cloisters, hummed with greetings of friends, laughter of children, who sported unrebuked about those stately columns, and the admiring exclamations of strangers. We were often accosted in Spanish and in French and asked from what country we came, and if we " loved the beautiful church of the Apostle." When we were occasionally cornered, and driven in truthfulness to say that we were Yankees, our more intelligent interlocutors looked us over with roguish scrutiny, but increased rather than abated their courtesies. As for the peasants, their geography is safely limited. Noticing that our Spanish differed from theirs, they said we must be from Castile, or, at the most, from Portugal. At all events we were strangers to Santiago, and they merrily vied with one another in showing us about and giving us much graphic information not to be found in guide-books.
Much of their lore appears to be of their own invention. The superb Puerta de la Gloria, wrought by a then famous architect sent from the king of Leon, but known to us to-day only as Master Mateo, was the fruit of twenty years' labor. This triple porch, which runs across the west end of the nave, being finally completed, Master Mateo seems to have symbolized the dedication of his service to the Apostle in a kneeling statue of himself, facing the east, with back to the richly sculptured pillar of the chief portal. The head of this figure is worn almost as round and expressionless as a stone ball by the caresses of generations of childish hands. The little girls whom we watched that morning as they patted and smoothed the much-enduring pate told us, kissing the marble eyes, that this was a statue of St. Lucia, which it certainly is not. In another moment these restless midgets were assaulting, with fluent phrases of insult, the carven faces of certain fantastic images which form the bases of the clustered columns. The children derisively thrust their feet down the yawning throats, kicked the grotesque ears and noses, and in general so maltreated their Gothic victims that we were moved to remonstrate.
" But why should you abuse them ? What are these creatures, to be punished so ? "
They are Yews," hissed our little Christians with an emphasis that threw new light on the Dreyfus afaire. But an instant more, and these vivacious, capricious bits of Spanish womanhood were all absorbed in aiding a blind old peasant who had groped her way to the sacred Portico for its especial privilege of prayer. The central shaft, dividing into two the chief of the three doorways, represents the Tree of Jesse, the patriarchal figures half-enveloped in exquisitely sculptured foliage. The chiselled capital shows the Trinity, Dove and Son and Father, with adoring angels. Above sits a benignant St. James, whose throne is guarded by lions, and over all, in the central tympanum of the sublime doorway, is a colossal figure of our Lord, uplifting His wounded hands. About Him are grouped the four Evangelists, radiant with eternal youth, and eight angels bearing the instruments of the Passion, the pillar of the scourging, whips, the crown of thorns, the nails, the scroll, the sponge, the spear, the cross. Other angels burn incense before Him, and the archivolt above is wrought with an ecstatic multitude of elders, martyrs, and saints, so vivid after all these centuries that one can almost hear the blithe music of their harps. It is the Christ of Paradise, enthroned amid the blest, to whom His presence gives fulness of joy forevermore. Above the lesser doors on either side are figured Purgatory and Hell. The fresh and glowing beauty, so piquant and yet so spiritual, the truly celestial charm of this marvellous Portico which Street did not fear to call "one of the greatest glories of Christian art," was never, during this festal week, without its throng of reverent be-holders, the most waiting their turn, like our old blind peas-ant, to fit thumb and finger into certain curious little hollows on the central shaft, and thus offer prayer which was sure of answer. Minute after minute for unbroken hours, the hands succeeded one another there, — old, knotted, toilworn hands, the small, brown hands of children, jewelled hands of delicate ladies, and often, as now, the groping hand of blindness, with childish fingers helping it to find those mystical depressions in the agate. Some of the bystanders told us that St. James had descended from his seat above the capital, and laid his hand against the column, leaving these traces, but more would have it that the Christ Himself had come down by night from the great tympanum to place His wounded hand upon the shaft. Street records that he observed several such petitioners, after removing the hand, spit into the mouths of the winged dragons that serve as base to the pillar ; but that literally dare-devil form of amen must now have gone out of fashion, for we did not see it once.
Toward noon we strolled out into the grand plaza before the west facade and found it a multitudinous jam of expectant merrymakers. Even nuns were peeping down from a leaf-veiled balcony. We seemed to have been precipitated out of the Middle Ages into an exaggerated Fourth of July. All the city bells were pealing, rockets and Roman candles were sputtering, and grotesque fire-balloons, let off from a parapet of the cathedral, flourished bandy legs and " Sagasta noses " in the resigned old faces of the carven images. And then, amid the acclamations of all the small boys in the square, sallied forth the Santiago giants. These wickerwork monsters, eight all told, are supposed to represent worshippers from foreign lands. They go by couples, two being conventional pilgrims with " cockle-shell and sandal shoon "; two apparently Moors, with black complexions, feather crowns, and much barbaric finery ; two nondescripts, possibly the French of feudal date ; and two, the leaders and prime favorites, regular Punch caricatures of modern English tourists. John Bull is a stout old gentleman with gray side-whiskers, a vast expanse of broadcloth back, and a single eye-glass secured by a lavender ribbon. The British Matron, in a smart Dolly Varden frock, glares with a shocked expression from under flaxen puffs and an ostrich-feathered hat. The popular attitude of mind toward these absurdities is past all finding out. Not the children alone, but the entire assemblage greeted them with affectionate hilarity. The giants, propelled by men who walked inside them and grinned out on the world from a slit in the enormous waistbands, trundled about the square, followed by the antics of a rival group of dwarfs from the city hall, and then made the round of the principal streets, executing clumsy gambols before the public buildings.
On the morning after, July twenty-fifth, the great day of the feast, anniversary of the Apostle's martyrdom, these same overgrown dolls played a prominent part in the solemn cathedral service. The Chapter passed in stately progress to the archbishop's palace to fetch his Eminence, and later to the ancient portals where the silver-workers once displayed their wares, to greet the Royal Delegate. At their head strutted this absurd array of giants. The High Mass was superb with orchestral music and the most sumptuous robes of the vestiary. The " King of Censers," the splendid botafumeiro of fourteenth-century date, made so large, six feet high, with the view of purifying the cathedral air vitiated by the hordes of pilgrims who were wont to pass the night sleeping and praying on the holy pavements, flashed its majestic curves, a mighty fire bird, from roof to floor and from transept to transept. It is swung from the ceiling by an ingenious iron mechanism, and the leaping, roaring flames, as the huge censer sweeps with ever augmenting speed from vault to vault, tracing its path by a chain of perfumed wreaths, make the spectacle uniquely beautiful. Knights of Santiago, their white raiment marked by crimson sword and dagger, received from the Royal Delegate " a thousand crowns of gold," the annual state donation, instituted by Rameiro, to the patron saint. The Delegate, kneeling before the image of Santiago, prayed fervently that the Apostle would accept this offering of the regent, a queen no less devout than the famous mother of San Fernando, and would raise up Alfonso XIII to be another Fernando, winning back for Spain her ocean isles which the heretics had wrested away, even as Fernando re-stored to Compostela the cathedral doors and bell which the infidel Moors had stolen. His Eminence, who is said to have accumulated a fortune during his previous archbishopric in Cuba, in turn besought St. James to protect Catholic Spain against "those who invoke no right save brute force, and adore no deity except the golden calf." In most magnificent procession the silver casket was borne around the nave among the kneeling multitudes. And then, to crown these august ceremonies, forth trotted our friends, the giants, into the open space before the Capilla Mayor. Here the six subordinate boobies paused, grouping themselves in a ludicrous semicircle, while pompous John Bull and his ever scandalized British Matron went up into the Holy of Holies and danced, to the music of guitars and tambourines, in front of the High Altar.
Every day of that festal week the cathedral services were attended by devout throngs, yet there was something blithe and social, well-nigh domestic, in the atmosphere of the scene even at the most impressive moments. Kneeling groups of peasant women caught the sunshine on their orange kerchiefs and scarlet-broidered shawls. Here a praying father would gather his little boy, sobbing with weariness, up against his breast ; there a tired pilgrim woman slumbered in a corner, her broad hat with its cockle-shells lying on her knees. Rows of kneeling figures waited at the wooden confessionals which were thick set along both aisles and ambulatory. Several times we saw a priest asleep in the confessional, those who would pour out their hearts to him kneeling on in humble patience, not venturing to arouse the holy father. Young officers, leaning against the pillars, smiled upon a school of Spanish girls, who, guarded by veiled nuns, knelt far along the transept. Pilgrims, standing outside the door to gather alms, vied with one another in stories of their travels and the marvels they had seen.
But at night, walking in the illuminated alameda, where thousands of Japanese lanterns and colored cups of flame made a fantastic fairyland, or dancing their country dances, singing their country songs, practising their country sports, and gazing with tireless delight at the fireworks in the spacious Plaza de Alfonso Doce, the worshippers gave them-selves up to frankest merriment. Through the days, indeed, there was never any lack of noisy jollity. From dawn to dawn again cannon were booming, drums beating, bagpipes skirling, tambourines clattering, songs and cries resounding through the streets. Four patients in the hospital died the year before, we were told, from the direct effects of this continuous uproar. But the thunder height of the fiesta is attained toward midnight on the twenty-fourth, the " Eve of Santiago," when rockets and fire-balloons are supplemented by such elaborate devices as the burning of " capricious trees " and the destruction of a Moorish facade built for the occasion out from the west front of the cathedral. At the first ignition of the powder there come such terrific crashes and reverberating detonations, such leaps and bursts of flame, that the peasant host sways back and the children scream. An Arabic door-way with ornate columns, flanked on either side by a wall of many arches and surmounted by a blood-red cross, dazzles out into overwhelming brilliancy, all in greens and purples, a glowing, scintillating, ever changing vision. Soon it is lustrous white and then, in perishing, sends up a swift succession of giant rockets. The facade itself is a very Alhambra of fret and arabesque. This, too, with thunder bursts reveals itself as a flame-colored, sky-colored, sea-colored miracle, which pales to gleaming silver and, while we read above it the resplendent words " The Patron of Spain," is blown to atoms as a symbol of Santiago's victory over the Moors. This makes an ideal Spanish holiday, but the cost, borne by the city, is heavy, there is distinct and increasing injury to the cathedral fabric, and all this jubilee for archaic victories over the Moslem seems to be mocked by the hard facts of to-day.
The Santiago festivities, of which the half has not been told, closed on Thursday afternoon, July twenty-seventh, with a procession through the streets. We waited a weary while for it before the doors where the old jet-workers used to set their booths, amusing ourselves meantime by watching the house maids drawing water from the fountain in the square below. These sturdy Galicians were armed with long tin tubes which they dextrously applied to the spouting mouths of the fountain griffins, so directing the stream into the straight, iron-bound pails. Not far away the market women covered the flags with red and golden fruit. A saucy beggar-wench, with the blackest eyes in Spain, demanded alms, and when we had yielded up the usual toll of coppers, loudly prayed to Santiago to pardon us for not having given her more on this his holy festival. At last out sallied the band, followed by those inevitable giants, and amid mad ringing of bells and fizzing of invisible rockets, forth from the venerable portals issued standards, crosses, tapers, priests in white and gold, and platformed effigies of pilgrims, saints, and deities. Then came bishops, cardinals, and archbishop, ranks of military bearing tapers, the alcalde and his associates in the city government with antique escort of bedizened mace-bearers, a sparkling statue of St. James on horseback busily beheading his legions of Moors, a bodyguard of all the pilgrims in attendance on his saintship, and finally the Virgen del Pilar, at whose passing all the concourse fell upon their knees. Churches in the line of march had their own images decked and ready, waiting in the colonnaded porches to fall into the procession. The market women and the maids at the fountain threw kisses to the Christ Child, leaning in blue silk frock and white lace tucker against a cross of roses, but the boys waved their caps for St. Michael, debonair that he was with blowing crimson robe, real feather wings fluttering in the breeze, and his gold foot set on the greenest of dragons.
The procession came home by way of the great west doors, opened only this once in the round year. The setting sun, bringing out all the carven beauty of that dark gray facade, glittered on the golden balls and crosses that tip the noble towers, and on the golden staff of St. James and the golden quill of St. John, where the two sons of thunder stand colossal in their lofty niches. A baby, in yellow kerchief and cherry skirt, toddling alone across the centre of the square, pointed with adoring little hand at the mounted image of Santiago, which halted at the foot of the grand stairway, his lifted sword a line of golden light, while the deep-voiced choir chanted his old triumphal hymn. John Bull and the British Matron, stationing themselves on either side as a guard of honor, stared at him with insular contempt. As the chant ceased, St. James chivalrously made way for the Virgen del Pilar, a slender figure of pure gold poised on an azure tabernacle, to mount the steps before him. The bells pealed out to welcome her as she neared the portals, and an ear-splitting explosion of a monster rocket, with a tempest-rain of sparks, announced the instant of her entrance beneath the chiselled arch. Behind her went the penitents, arduously climbing the long stone flights of that quadruple stairway upon their knees. These, too, were but shadows of those mediaeval penitents who of old staggered after this procession, bowed under the weight of crosses, or scourging themselves until they fainted in their own trail of blood. Yet it is still strange and touching to see, long after the inner spaces of the cathedral are dim with evening, those kneeling figures making their painful progress about aisles and ambulatory, sobbing as they go, and falling forward on their faces to kiss the pavement that is bruising them.