Salamanca And Valladolid – Spain Travel

Once posses twenty-five colleges, twenty-five churches, twenty-five convents, twenty-five professors and twenty-five arches of its bridge; but the last alone remain intact—colleges, churches, convents and professorships have alike fallen; their destruction, begun by the French, having been finished by the law, which was made for the sake of plunder under Queen Isabella II., that no corporate body could hold any property. The university, which boasted above ten thousand students in the fourteenth century, has now little more than one thousand, and the splendid collegiate buildings, palaces worthy of the Corso of Rome or the Grand Canal of Venice, are either in ruins or let out to poor families, with the exception of San Bartolome, which is turned into the house of the civil governor, and El Arzobisbo, whose beautiful “cinque-cento” buildings are now given up to the Irish college.

This formerly was situated in another part of the town; it contains only nine students now, but the original foundation was magnificent, and bore witness to the anxiety of its founder, Philip II., to spite his sister-in-law Elizabeth of England. Day by day Salamanca becomes more entirely a city of ruins, and presents much the same appearance which Oxford would do were its revenues all stolen by the Government, and Christ-Church, Merton, Magdalen, University, etc., abandoned to the rats and owls. The few students who remain are lodged in private houses in the town, and go up for their “classes” to the building of the University proper, which answers to that called “the Schools” at Oxford, and has a gorgeous plateresque front and a curious Convocation House. The little square behind it, surrounded by collegiate buildings, is much like one of our college “quads.” In its center is a statue of the ecclesiastical poet Fra Luiz de Leon, who is numbered, with Cervantes, Saarvedra, and Cardinal Ximenes, among the eminent students of the University. The library contains many original letters of his, together with a splendid collection of MSS., chiefly brought from confiscated monasteries, and a large number of printed books of the fifteenth century. A volume of the Lord’s Prayer in one hundred and fifty-seven languages, ordered by the first Napoleon, is exhibited with great pride by the librarian. The reading-room is used by natives of Salamanca to a degree which shames the more populous Oxford; a day seldom passes without as many as ninety students availing themselves of it.

The university buildings face the cathedral, which was begun in 1513. Its florid gothic is excessively rich in detail, but wanting in general effect, and the brilliant yellow color of its stone annuls all appearance of antiquity; the interior, however, would be exceedingly magnificent if it were not so sadly blocked up by the Coro. In one of the chapels the Mosarabic ritual has been continued, as at Toledo. A few pictures deserve notice, especially those by Luiz de Morales, who here merits his epithet of “the Spanish Perugino,” and those by the rare master Fernando Gallegos, who was a native of Salamanca, where he died in 1550. From the north aisle one passes into a second and older cathedral, built in 1102 by the famous Bishop Geronimo, the confessor of the Cid, who fought by his side in all his battles, and supported his dead body on its final ride from Valencia to San Pedro de Cerdena.

He is buried here, and above his tomb hung for five hundred years “El Christo de las Batallas,” the famous bronze crucifix of the Cid, which he always carried with him. This has now disappeared, and is not to be found even in the Relicario, but the canons know of the hiding-place, where, in this age of church robbery, it has been secreted. The tomb of Geronimo was opened in 1606, when it is affirmed that the body of the holy warrior smelled truly delicious. The retablo, which follows the curved form of the apse in the old cathedral, contains a number of paintings interesting from the poetical character of their subjects. In that on “Angels came and ministered to him” a table-cloth spread with food is held by several angels be-fore the Savior in the wilderness, while others, kneeling, present fruit and a cup of wine. The exterior of this church is half a fortress, and gave it the epithet of “Fortis Salamantina”; the vaulted lantern has a low, crocketed spire and a scalloped stone roof.

From the cathedral, San Esteban is approached by the Calla del Colon, a memorial of Christopher Columbus and his residence in the neighboring Dominican convent, whose friars under Deza the Inquisitor upheld him and his scheme, when the doctors of the university found it to be “vain, impracticable, and resting on grounds too weak to merit the support of the Government.” In gratitude for the hospitalities he received from the Dominicans, Columbus used the first virgin gold imported from the New World in gilding the retablo of their church, and most gorgeous is still its appearance, as seen from under the dark, elliptical arch of the coro, through which the church is entered with such effect, leaving the view unbroken toward the high-altar—as at El Parral, and San Tomas of Avila. The western exterior is a labyrinth of plateresque gothic decoration, like that of the university. In the little convent of Las Buenas close by, Santa Teresa had one of her famous visions, when she came hither to found the eon-vent of her own order outside the gates.

Travelers in early spring will observe the quantities of pet lambs in the streets of Salamanca, generally decorated with bunches of red worsted. By a curious custom, a general slaughter of these takes place on Good Friday upon the doorsteps —the little creatures being executed by their own mistresses, who stab them in the throat.

Valladolid, which was the capital of Castile under Juan II., and one of the most flourishing cities of Spain under Charles V. and Philip IL, has been a mere wreck of its former self since the French invasion, in which many of its most important buildings were destroyed. Its situation is dreary in the extreme, in a barren, dusty plain quite devoid of natural beauty. Two small rivers, the Pisuerga and the Esqueva, meet under its walls and water its flat, ugly gardens. The great Plaza is vast and imposing; the cathedral, the work of Herrera (1585), is imposing too, and grand in its outlines, but intensely bare and cold. Near it stands the beautiful church of Santa Maria 1’Antigua, with a picturesque western steeple of the twelfth century and a ruined cloister, and there are several other churches where the architect will find interesting bits. All travelers, however, should visit San Pablo, a Dominican convent rebuilt in 1463 by Cardinal Torquemada, who had been one of its monks, and was the ferocious confessor of Isabella the Catholic, from whom he extorted a promise that she would devote herself “to the extirpation of heresy for the glory of God and the exaltation of the Catholic faith.”

Under his influence “autos da fe” frequently took place in the Plaza Mayor of Valladolid, attended by the Court then, as bullfights have been in late years, and in which the victims were arrayed in yellow shirts painted with flames and figures of devils. Torquemada, how-ever, was also a great patron of art and literature, and the inscription “operibus credite,” in reference to the splendor of the buildings which he founded here, was repeated round his tomb. This monument was destroyed by the French, but the facade of San Pablo is still a miracle of labyrinthine Gothic tracery quite splendid of its kind, and so is the neighboring facade of San Gregorio, founded in 1488 by Bishop Alonzo of Burgos. Close by is the curious old house in which Philip IL was born.

The Museo must be visited, for, tho its upper story is filled with atrocious rubbish, pictorial art in wood is nowhere so well represented as in the collection of figures which occupies the ground floor. The best of these are from the hands of the violent Juan de Juni, remarkable for his knowledge of anatomy when it was generally unknown in Spain, or from those of the gentle Gregorio Hernandez (1566-1636), who, like Fra Angelico and Juanes, devoted himself to religious subjects, and never began to work without preparing his mind by prayer. At the end of the principal gallery, which is surrounded by the beautiful choir-stalls of San Benito, are the splendid bronze effigies of the Due and Duchess of Lerma, by Pompeio Leoni.