Postcard from Segovia, Spain: Castilian castle commands bluff despite those painful pointy-toed shoes

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There was a lot of fighting going on in what we now call Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe in the old days. Boundaries constantly were changing; kingdoms were proclaimed and reclaimed over and over.

My feet were never meant for pointy-toed shoes, but what were those medieval designers thinking? I mean, Jimmy Choo’s highest spiked heels are so much kinder to women’s feet than the armor those soldiers were forced to endure.

Realize one would want every body part protected during battle, but how could one move without assistance in such absurdly curved and pointed shoes? And, with every finger armored, how could one wield a sword? I guess the more the protection inhibited movement, the more protection one would need?

Fortunately for the rulers ensconced at Alcazar, geography played a role in preventing mobile-impaired soldiers from having to maneuver more than possible.

The castle seems so familiar, so, well, Disney-like. But Alcazar definitely came first, its turrets and spires serving as inspiration for Walt centuries later.

Ruins of an ancient Roman fortress became the base for a Moorish post, which in turn was the foundation for a monumental stone compound, the primary home for Spanish royalty and its parliament.

King Alfonso VIII (1155–1214) began the first permanent construction of Alcazar, with Juan II (1405-1454) adding the major tower during his reign. Felipe II (1527-1598) updated things to keep up with the latest European architectural whims of royals by adding the slate-covered pointy spires.

Things went south from that point. King Felipe II moved the seat of government to Madrid, and the former home of royalty suffered the indignity of serving as a prison for two centuries.

King Carlos III (1716-1788) repurposed it into the Royal Artillery School. But that meant storage of highly explosive materials within the fortress walls, which added to the spectacular fireworks display when a fire broke out in 1862.

Royalty briefly was out in Spain, but, when reestablished (a major oversimplification of history), Alfonso XII (1857-1885) began restoration of this monument to Spain’s past. Although the young monarch died of complications from tuberculosis and dysentery at age 28, Alcazar still reigns over Segovia and the surrounding countryside.

 

 

Postcard from Segovia, Spain: Saintly mystery, a case of incorruptu disruptus?

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San Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591) and Santa Teresa de Avila (1515-1582) figure prominently in churches in this portion of Spain. Disagreements with Moors and pagans represented only a portion of the conflicts facing Roman Catholics.

Juan and Theresa ran counter to many of the early Carmelites for their insistence upon deprivation among the order, promoting the discalced discipline, meaning a shoeless existence, in addition to religious contemplation in isolation. Those other Carmelites thought they deserved shoes, and a few more basic luxuries, in exchange for their devotion.

The complicated politics involving different orders of Catholics are so far beyond comprehension based on the simplistic teaching of Roman Catholicism to children in the United States. We always went barefoot whenever possible and often when impractical in Virginia Beach, but I’m fairly certain that had little to do with where we stood on the discalced argument within the church. And Father Habit certainly would not have let us attend Mass in a shoeless state; he definitely was a no-shoes, no-host kind of priest. Otherwise, Catholic surfers might have caught one last wave and tracked sand all the way up to the altar.

But one quickly senses in Europe, all Roman Catholics are not alike. Religion is more complicated than those Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s we repeated somewhat mechanically following weekly confessionals.

But enough uninformed diversion about those distinctions.

Segovia is filled with Romanesque churches existing in the shadows of the Cathedral.

But I might have to go back to the claim of the plaque at the head of this post. “Incorruptu.” That means San Juan’s body remained intact, miraculously even after burial. However, that proclamation ignores all the harvestings by those who wanted to retain some of his miraculous powers in close geographical proximity.

According to Catholic Online:

The morning after John’s death, huge numbers of the townspeople of Úbeda entered the monastery to view John’s body; in the crush, many were able to take home parts of his habit. He was initially buried at Úbeda, but, at the request of the monastery in Segovia, his body was secretly moved there in 1593.

The people of Úbeda, however, unhappy at this change, sent representatives to petition the pope to move the body back to its original resting place. Pope Clement VIII, impressed by the petition, issued a Brief on 15 October 1596 ordering the return of the body to Ubeda. Eventually, in a compromise, the superiors of the Discalced Carmelites decided that the monastery at Úbeda would receive one leg and one arm of the corpse from Segovia (the monastery at Úbeda had already kept one leg in 1593, and the other arm had been removed as the corpse passed through Madrid in 1593, to form a relic there). A hand and a leg remain visible in a reliquary at the Oratory of San Juan de la Cruz in Úbeda, a monastery built in 1627 though connected to the original Discalced monastery in the town founded in 1587.

The head and torso were retained by the monastery at Segovia. There, they were venerated until 1647, when on orders from Rome designed to prevent the veneration of remains without official approval, the remains were buried in the ground. In the 1930s they were disinterred, and now sit in a side chapel in a marble case above a special altar built in that decade.

Sounds like a major case of incorruptu disruptus.

 

Postcard from Madrid: Gigantes y Cabezudos parade to greet us

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We arrived on a holiday, a three-day weekend for Madrilenos as they honor their patron saint, San Isidro Labrador (1070-1130). San Isidro was credited with hundreds of miracles, but the one most coveted by working stiffs? Angels would fill in for him, kindly taking over his plowing while Isidro lost himself in religious meditation and prayer.

Madrid has changed a lot since adopting the patron saint of farmers as its own. Arriving here after staying in small cities surrounded by farmland, we were shocked and a bit overwhelmed by the city’s size, both in the scale of the buildings and the number of people. Major sidewalks and pedestrian-only streets were packed.

But celebrations for San Isidro Labrador brought things back to a more human scale for us. The first thing we encountered was a hokey, hometown, colorful parade of Gigantes (Giants) and Cabezudos (Big-Heads) weaving through the streets. One of the shorter advance enforcers, a big-nosed Kiliki, hurled his foam weapon at Mister photographer; the event would be at home in any small town in Mexico.

San Isidro’s remains still reside here, or most of them, behind nine locks in the church bearing his name. Only the King of Spain has the key, and even he is not allowed access without the approval of the Archbishop of Madrid.

The high level of security might seem extreme, but even royalty can’t be trusted from temptation to take a bit of a saint home with them to provide a few miracles needed around the kingdom. Supposedly, Charles II had one of San Isidro’s teeth pulled to keep underneath his pillow. And what of San Isidro’s wife, Santa Maria de la Cabeza? Her head used to be trotted out and paraded around every time the farmers in the area needed rain.

Which brings us back to the parade of big-heads on May 14, followed by the saint’s official day on May 15 that began with many Madrilenos donning traditional fashions of yore and ended with an explosion of fireworks.