With the weather clearing and snow all about, who wouldn’t walk briskly?
Time, of course, for a cafe con leche in the bar of San Nicolás del Real Camino.
Here I got chatting with some locals about the previous night’s match, and Spanish futbol in general. They described the mood when their nation won the World Cup some months before. There was jubilation such as nobody could remember. And the emotion here in Castile was identical to what was felt on the streets of Barcelona, of Bilbao. There were Basques and Catalans in that Spanish team – in fact, they were a particularly region-diverse bunch – but for one blazing moment everyone was Spanish.
The day’s destination was Sahagún, a fairly big town I’d visited in snow and darkness the night before with Patrick to watch the game.
Sahagún had an interesting medieval history, involving a centuries-long struggle between the powerful Cluniac monastery and the vibrant city’s prospering burgeses. New wealth was being generated by the latter, yet power lay with the abbot of San Facundo y Primitivo, who had holdings and influence far beyond the city. The monastery became so illustrious that it was known as the “Spanish Cluny”. For such a monastery to be independent of local authority and pressure was in line with Cluniac ideas of reform and renewal. Yet the emergence of a secular middle class has always been a challenge and a puzzle for Spanish society. The revolts against the power of San Facundo y Primitivo were several and violent.
Some of the monastery still stands.
Superb Romanesque survives here in Sahagún.
Another view of the same Church, San Tirso, displaying its mudéjar, or Moorish, elements.
And more fine mudéjar, San Lorenzo.
Sahagún was also the scene of a dramatic cavalry charge in the Napoleonic Wars. The British cavalry broke the French, and it proved to be a turning point in the war. Though the British were soon forced to retreat to the coast, they had opened up a front. That enabled the Spanish forces to regroup against Napoleon after their early losses in the war.
Sahagún’s patron, Saint John of Sahagún, was a fifteenth century local boy who passed on to Salamanca to perform his miracles, gain sanctity. A few generations later, another local boy would pass on to Salamanca for his university studies, and then on to the New World for the remaining sixty years of his long life.
He was a man born just seven years after Columbus’ arrival in the New World, a Franciscan friar who was a witness to the dismantling of Aztec civilisation and the establishment of the Holy Inquisition in Mexico. His beliefs were orthodox, his fundamental role was evangelical. Thus he remained dogmatically opposed to what he regarded as the paganism and idolatry of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
One may well ask how such a man, born in 1499 on the meseta, could become one of the world’s first and greatest ethnographers. The explanation is twofold. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún had very great scholarship and an even greater heart.
He left an enormous opus, thousands of pages, on the culture, rituals, language, and all that could be known of the indigenous people of Mexico. No detail was too slight. It was knowledge gained hard and physically, by travel, interview and observation over the decades, and it was based on nagging curiosity and deep respect.
He also aspired to forge an educated indigenous class. Instead, he lived to experience the sanctified plunder and centralising intolerance of the new colonial power – which even finished by banning Bernardino’s own translation of the Bible into Nahuatl. The humane and pro-indigenous approach of Bernardino and other Franciscans in New Spain lost out. And had such an approach prevailed, it could not have preserved the Aztecs from the physical diseases that soon swept so many away.
What Bernardino left was an example of true scholarship which, in these days of the facile statistic and the computer model, is almost too hard to live up to.
Because true scholarship takes massive guts.