IN the thirteenth century the doctrine of transubstantiation assumed especial importance. Miracle plays and cathedral glass told thrilling stories of attacks made by Jews on the sacred Wafer, which bled under their poniards or sprang from their caldrons and ovens in complete figure of the Christ. The festival of Corpus Christi, then established by Rome, was devoutly accepted in Spain and used to be celebrated with supreme magnificence in Madrid. Early in the reign of Philip IV, Prince Charles of England, who, with the adventurous Buckingham, had come in romantic fashion to the Spanish capital, hoping to carry by storm the heart of the Infanta, stood for hours in a balcony of the Alcazar, gazing silently on the glittering procession. How they swept by through the herb-strewn, tapestried streets musicians, standard-bearers, cross-bearers, files of orphans from the asylums, six and thirty religious brotherhoods, monks of all the orders, barefoot friars, ranks of secular clergy and brothers of charity, the proud military orders of Alcantara, Calatrava, and Santiago, the Councils of the Indies, of Aragon, of Portugal, the Supreme Council of Castile, the City Fathers of Madrid, the Governmental Ministers of Spain and Spanish Italy, the Tribunal of the Holy Office, preceded by a long array of cloaked and hooded Familiars, bishops upon bishops in splendid, gold-enwoven vestments, priests of the royal chapel displaying the royal banner, bearers of the crosier and the sacramental vessels, the Archbishop of Santiago, royal chaplains and royal majordomos, royal pages with tall wax tapers, incense burners, the canopied mystery of the Eucharist, the king, the prince, cardinals, nuncio, the inquisitor general, the Catholic ambassadors, the patriarch of the Indies, the all-powerful Count-Duke Olivares, grandees, lesser nobility, gentlemen, and a display of Spanish and German troops, closed by a great company of archers. So overwhelming was that solemn progress, with its brilliant variety of sacerdotal vestments, knightly habits, robes of state and military trappings, its maces, standards, crosses, the flash of steel, gold, jewels, and finally the sheen of candles, the clouds of incense, the tinkling of silver bells before the Santisimo Corpus, that the heretic prince and his reckless companion fell to their knees. One Spanish author pauses to remark that for these, who could even then reject the open arms of the Mother Church, the assassin’s blow and the Whitehall block were naturally waiting.
Such a pomp would have been worth the seeing, but we had arrived at Madrid almost three centuries too late. Catholic friends shrugged shoulder at mention of the Corpus procession, ” Vale poco.” And as for the famous autos sacramentales, which used to be celebrated at various times during the eight days of the Corpus solemnity, they may be read in musty volumes, but can be seen in the city squares no more. Calderon is said to have written the trifling number of seventy-two, and Lope de Vega, whose fingers must have been tipped with pens, some four hundred.
If only our train, which then would not have been a train, had brought us, who then would not have come, to Madrid in season for a Corpus celebration under the Austrian dynasty, we could have attended an open-air theatre of a very curious sort. All the way to the Plaza, we would have seen festivity at its height, pantomimic dances, merry music, struttings of giants and antics of dwarfs, and perhaps groups of boys insulting cheap effigies of snakes, modelled after the monstrous Tarasca, carried in the Corpus parade in token of Christ’s victory over the Devil. At intervals along the route, adorned with flowers and draperies, and reserved for the procession and the dramatic cars, would have been altars hung with rich stuffs from the Alcazar and the aristocratic palaces; silks and cloth of gold, brocades, velvets, and shimmering wefts of the Indies. The one-act play itself might be after the general fashion of the mediaeval Miracles, verse dialogue, tuned to piety with chords of fun, for the setting forth of Biblical stories. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Moses feeding the Israelites with manna, the patience of Job, the trials of Joseph, David, and Daniel, were thus represented.
More frequently, the auto sacramental belonged to the so-called Morality type of early Christian drama, being an allegorical presentation of human experience or exposition of church doctrine. Such were ” The Fountain of Grace,” ” The Journey of the Soul,” “The Dance of Death,” “The Pilgrim.” Sometimes a Gospel parable, as the ” Lost Sheep or the “Prodigal Son,” gave the dramatic suggestion. But these Spanish spectacles sought to associate themselves, as closely as might be, with the Corpus worship, and many of them bear directly, in one way or another, upon this sacrament.
If, for instance, we had chanced on the Madrid festival in 1681, we could have witnessed in the decorated Plaza, with its thronged balconies, the entrance of four scenic platforms or cars. The first, painted over with battles, bears a Gothic castle; the second, with pictures of the sea, a gallant ship ; the third, a starry globe; the fourth, a grove and garden, whose central fountain is so shaped as to form, above, the semblance of an altar. In the complicated action of the play, when the Soul, besieged in her fortress by the Devil, whose allies are the World and the Flesh, calls upon Christ for succor, the hollow sphere of the third car opens, revealing the Lord enthroned in glory amid cherubim and seraphim; but the climax of the triumph is not yet. That stout old general, the Devil, rallies fresh forces to the attack, such subtle foes as Atheism, Judaism, and Apostasy, and whereas, before, the Senses bore the brunt of the conflict, it is the Understanding that girds on armor now. Yet in the final outcome not the Understanding, but Faith draws the veil from before the altar of the fourth car, and there, in the consecrated vessel for the holding of the Wafer, appears the ” Passion Child,” the white bread from Heaven, “very flesh and very blood that are the price of the soul’s salvation.”
That is the way Spain kept her Corpus fiesta in the good old times of Charles the Bewitched; but not now. After the procession, the bullfight ; and after the bullfight, the latest vaudeville or ballet. Last year it rained on Corpus Thursday, which fell on the first of June, and Madrid gave up the procession altogether. Some of the Opposition papers started the cry that this was shockingly irreligious in Silvela, but when the Government organs haughtily explained that it was the decision of the archbishop and Senor Silvela was not even consulted, the righteous indignation of the Liberals straightway subsided. The procession, which was to have been a matter of kettledrums and clarionets, soldiery, “coaches of respect ” from the palace and the city corporation, and a full showing of the parochial clergy, did not seem to be missed by the people. Corpus has long ceased to be a chief event in the Capital.
There are a few cities in Spain, however, where the Corpus fete is maintained with something of the old gayety and splendor. Bustling Barcelona, never too busy for a frolic, keeps it merrily with an elaborate parade from the cathedral all about the city, and delightful feature ! the distribution of flowers and sweetmeats among the ladies. The procession in Valencia resembles those of Holy Week in Seville. On litters strewn with flowers and thick-set with candle-lights are borne carved groups of sacred figures and richly attired images of Christ and the Virgin. But it is in lyric Andalusia that these pageantries are most at home. Among her popular coplas is one that runs :
” Thursdays three in the year there be, That shine more bright than the sun’s own ray Holy Thursday, Corpus Christi, And our Lord’s Ascension Day.”
Cadiz, like Valencia, carries the pasos in the Corpus pro-cession. In Seville, where the street displays of Holy Week are under the charge of the religious brotherhoods, or cofradias, Corpus Christi gives opportunity for the clergy and aristocracy to present a rival exhibition of sanctified luxury and magnificence.
But it is in beautiful belated Granada that the Corpus fete is now at its best. A brilliantly illustrated programme, whose many-hued cover significantly groups a gamboge cathedral very much in the background, and a flower-crowned Andalusian maiden, draped in a Manila shawl, with a prodigious guitar at her feet, very much in the foreground, announces a medley of festivities extending over eleven days. This cheerful booklet promises, together with a constant supply of military music, balcony decorations, and city illuminations, an assortment of pleasures warranted to suit every taste infantry reviews, cavalry reviews, cadet reviews, masses under roof and masses in the open, claustral processions, parades of giants, dwarfs, and La Tarasca, a charity raffle in the park under the patronage of Granada’s most distinguished ladies, the erection of out-of-door altars, the dispensing of six thou-sand loaves of bread among the poor (from my experience of Granada beggars I should say the supply was insufficient), a solemn Corpus procession passing along white-canopied streets under a rain of flowers, three regular bull-fights with the grand masters Guerrita, Lagartijillo, and Fuentes, followed by a gloriously brutal corrida, with young beasts and inexperienced fighters, cattle fair, booths, puppet shows, climbing of greased poles, exhibition of fine arts and industries, horse racing, polo, pigeon shoot, trapeze, balloon ascensions, gypsy dances, and fireworks galore.
But even faithful Granada shared in the strange catalogue of misfortunes which attended Corpus last year. The rains descended on her Chinese lanterns, and the winds beat against her Arabic arches with their thousands of gas-lights. On the sacred Thursday itself, the Andalusian weather made a most unusual demonstration of hurricane and cloudburst, with interludes of thunder and lightning. Great was the damage in field, vineyard, and orchard, and as for processions, they were in many places out of the question. Even Seville and Cordova had to postpone both parades and bull-fights. But this was not the worst. In Ecija, one of the quaintest cities of Andalusia, an image of the Virgin as the Divine Shepherdess, lovingly arrayed and adorned with no little outlay by the nuns of the Conception, caught fire in the procession from a taper, like Seville’s Virgin of Montserrat in the last Semana Santa. The Divina Pastora barely escaped with her jewels. Her elaborate garments, the herbage and foliage of her pasture, and one of her woolly sheep were burned to ashes. In Palma de Mallorca, a romantic town of the Balearic Isles, a balcony, whose occupants were leaning out to watch the procession, broke away, and crashed down into the midst of the throng. A young girl fell upon the bayonet of a soldier marching beneath, and was grievously hurt. Others suffered wounds which, in one case at least, proved fatal. The Opposition journals did not fail to make capital out of these untoward events, serving them up in satiric verse with the irreverent suggestion that, if this was all the favor a reactionary and ultra-Catholic government could secure from Heaven, it was time to go back to Sagasta.
The ecclesiastical Toledo, seat of the Primate of all Spain, is one of the Spanish cities which still observe Corpus Christi as a high solemnity, and Toledo is within easy pilgrimage distance of Madrid. I had already passed two days in that ancient capital of the Visigoths, ridding my conscience of the sightseers’ burden, and I both longed and dreaded to return. The longing overcame the dread, and I dropped in at the Estacion del Mediodia for preliminary inquiries. I could discover no bureau of information and no official authorized to instruct the public, but in this lotus-eating land what is no-body’s business is everybody’s business. There could not be a better-humored people. The keeper of the bookstand abandoned his counter, his would-be customers lighting cigarettes and leaning up against trucks and stacks of luggage to wait for his return, and escorted me the length of the station to find a big yellow poster, which gave the special time-table for Corpus Thursday. The poster was so high upon the wall that our combined efforts could not make it out ; whereupon a nimble little porter dropped the trunk he was carrying, and climbed on top of it for a better view. In that commanding position he could see clearly enough, but just when my hopes were at the brightest, he regretfully explained that he had never learned to read. As he clambered down the proprietor of the trunk, who had been looking on with as much serenity as if trains never went and starting bells never rang, mounted in turn. This gentleman, all smiles and bows and tobacco smoke, read off the desired items, which the keeper of the bookstand copied for me in a leisurely, conversational manner, with a pencil lent by one bystander on a card donated by another.
There is really something to be said for the Spanish way of doing business. It takes time, but if time is filled with human kindliness and social courtesies, why not ? What is time for ? Whenever I observed that I was the only person in a hurry on a Madrid street, I revised my opinion as to the importance of my errand.
As I entered the station again on the first of June at the penitential hour of quarter past six in the morning, I was reflecting complacently on my sagacity as a traveller. Had I not bethought me that, even in the ecclesiastical centre of Spain and on this solemn festival, there might be peril for a stranger’s purse ? What financial acumen I had shown in calculating that, since my round-trip ticket to Toledo before had cost three dollars, second class, I could probably go first class on this excursion for the same sum, while two dollars more would be ample allowance for balcony hire and extras ! And yet how prudent in me to have tucked away a reserve fund in a secret pocket inaccessible even to myself! But why was the station so jammed and crammed with broad-hatted Spaniards ? And what was the meaning of that long line of roughs, stretching far out from the third-class ticket office ? Bull-fight explained it all. Even reverend Toledo must keep the Corpus holy by the public slaughter of six choice bulls and as many hapless horses as their blind rage might rend. Worse than the pagan altars that reeked with the blood of beasts, Spain’s Christian festivals demand torture in addition to butchery.
There were no first-class carriages, it appeared, upon the Corpus train, and my round-trip ticket, second class, cost only a dollar, leaving me with an embarrassment of riches. Pursing the slip of pasteboard which, to my disgust, was stamped in vermilion letters Corrida de Toros, I sped me to the train, where every seat appeared to be taken, although it lacked twenty minutes of the advertised time for departure; but a bald-headed philanthropist called out from a carriage window that they still had room for one. Gratefully climbing up, I found myself in the society of a family party, off for Toledo to celebrate the saint-day of their hazel-eyed eight-year-old by that treat of treats, a child’s first bull-fight. When they learned that I was tamely proposing to keep Corpus Christi by seeing the procession and not by ” assisting at the function of bulls,” their faces clouded ; but they decided to make allowance for my foreign idiosyncrasies.
The train, besieged by a multitude of ticket-holders for whom there were no places, was nearly an hour late in getting off. The ladies dozed and chattered ; the gentlemen smoked and dozed; little Hazel-eyes constantly drew pictures of bulls with a wet finger on the window glass. Reminded again by my handbag literature that Toledo is a nest of thieves, I would gladly have put away my extra money, but there was never a moment when all the gentlemen were asleep at once.
It was after ten when we reached our destination, the boy wild with rapture because we had actually seen a pasture of grazing bulls. A swarm of noisy, scrambling, savage-looking humanity hailed the arrival of the train, and I had hardly made my way even to the platform before I felt an ominous twitch at my pocket. The light-fingered art must have degenerated in Toledo since the day of that clever cutpurse of the ” Exemplary Tales.” Turning sharply, I confronted a group of my fellow-worshippers, who, shawled and sashed and daggered, looked as if they had been expressly gotten up for stage bandits. From the shaggy pates, topped by gaudy, twisted handkerchiefs a headdress not so strange in a city whose stone walls looked for centuries on Moorish turbans to the bright-edged, stealthy hemp sandals, these were pick-pockets to rejoice a kodak. Their black eyes twinkled at me with wicked triumph, while it flashed across my mind that my old hero, the Cid, was probably much of their aspect, and certainly gained his living in very similar ways. There were a full score of these picturesque plunderers, and not a person of the nineteenth century in sight. Since there was nothing to do, I did it, and giving them a parting glance of moral disapproval, to which several of the sauciest responded by blithely touching their forelocks, I pursued my pilgrim course, purged of vainglory. At all events, I was delivered from temptation as to a questionable peseta in my purse my pretty Paris purse ! and I should not be obliged to travel again on that odious bull-fight ticket.
We were having ” fool weather,” blowing now hot, now cold, but as at this moment the air was cool, and every possible vehicle seemed packed, thatched, fringed with clinging passengers, I decided, not seeking further reasons, to walk up to the town. And what a town it is! Who could remember dollars ? So far from being decently depressed, I was almost glad to have lost something in this colossal monument of losses. It seemed to make connection.
Between deep, rocky, precipitous banks, strongly flows the golden ” king of rivers, the venerable Tajo,” almost encircling the granite pedestal of the city and spanned by ancient bridges of massy stone, with battlemented, Virgin-niched, fierce old gates. And above, upon its rugged height, crumbling hourly into the gritty dust that stings the eye and scrapes beneath the foot, lies in swirls on floor and pavement, blows on every breeze and sifts through hair and clothing, is the proud, sullen, forsaken fortress of ” imperial Toledo.” Still it is a vision of turrets, domes, and spires, fretwork, buttresses, facades, but all so desolate, so dreary, isolated in that parched landscape as it is isolated in the living world, that one approaches with strangely blended feelings of awe, repugnance, and delight.
On we go over the Bridge of Alcantara, wrought aeons since by a gang of angry Titans the guidebooks erroneously attribute it to the Moors and Alfonso the Learned with a shuddering glance out toward the ruins of feudal castles, here a battlemented keep set with mighty towers, there a great, squat, frowning mass of stone, the very sight of which might have crushed a prisoner’s heart. Up, straight up, into the grim, gray, labyrinthine city, whose zigzag streets, often narrowing until two laden donkeys, meeting, cannot pass, so twist and turn that it is impossible on entering one to guess at what point of the compass we will come out. These crooked ways, paved with ” agony stones,” are lined with tall, dark, inhospitable house fronts, whose few windows are heavily grated, and whose huge doors, bristling with iron bosses, are furnished with fantastic knockers and a whole arsenal of bolts and chains.
Gloomy as these ponderous structures are, every step discloses a novelty of beauty, a chiselled angel, poised for flight, chased escutcheons, bas-reliefs, toothed arches, medal-lions, weather-eaten groups of saints and apostles gossiping in their scalloped niches about the degeneracy of the times. The Moors, whose architecture, says Becquer, seems the dream of a Moslem warrior sleeping after battle in the shadow of a palm, have left their mark throughout Toledo in the airy elegance of the traceries magically copied from cobwebs and the Milky Way. That tragic race, the Jews, have stamped on the walls of long-desecrated synagogues their own mysterious emblems. And Goths and Christian knights have wrought their very likenesses into the stern, helmeted heads that peer out from the capitals of marvellous columns amid the stone grapes and pomegranates most fit for their heroic nourishment. But all is in decay. Here stands a broken-sceptred statue turning its royal back on a ragged vender of toasted garbanzos. Even the image of Wamba has lost its royal nose.
You may traverse whispering cloisters heaped with fallen crosses, with truant tombstones, and severed heads and limbs of august prophets. Cast aside in dusky vaults lie broken shafts of rose-tinted marbles and fragments of rare carving in whose hollows the birds of the air once built their nests. Through the tangle of flowers and shrubbery that chokes the patios gleam the rims of alabaster urns and basins of jasper fountains. Such radiant wings and faces as still flash out from frieze and arch and column, such laughing looks, fresh with a dewy brightness, as if youth and springtime were enchanted in the stone ! And what supreme grace and truth of artistry in all this bewildering detail ! On some far-off day of the golden age, when ivory and agate were as wax, when cedar and larch wood yielded like their own soft leaves, the magician must have pressed upon them the olive leaf, the acacia spray, the baby’s foot, that have left these perfect traces.
And how did mortal hand ever achieve the intricate, culling, unfolding, blossoming marvel of those capitals ? And who save kings, Wambas and Rodericks, Sanchos, Alfonsos, and Fernandos, should mount these magnificent stairways ? And what have those staring stone faces above that antique doorway looked upon to turn them haggard with horror? City of ghosts ! The flesh begins to creep. But here, happily, we are arrived in the Plaza de Zocodover, where Lazarillo de Tormes used to display his talents as town crier, and in this long-memoried market-place, with its arcaded ‘sides and trampled green, may pause to take our bearings.
Evidently the procession is to pass here, for the balconies, still displaying the yellow fronds of Palm Sunday, are hung with all manner of draperiesclear blue, orange with silver fringes, red with violet bars, white with saffron scallops. Freed from sordid cares about my pocket, I give myself for a little to the spell of that strange scene. Beyond rise the rich-hued towers of the Alcazar, on the site where Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, the Cid, and an illustrious line of Spanish monarchs have fortified themselves in turn ; but Time at last is conqueror, and one visits the dismantled castle only to for-get all about it in the grandeur of the view. From the east side of the Zocodover soars the arch on whose summit used to stand the Santisimo Cristo del Sangre, before whom the Corpus train did reverence. And here in the centre blazed that momentous bonfire which was to settle the strife between the old Toledan liturgy and the new ritual of Rome; but the impartial elements honored both the Prayer Books placed upon the fagots, the wind wafting to a place of safety the Roman breviary, while the flames drew back from the other, with the result that the primitive rite is still preserved in an especial chapel of the cathedral.
A glorious plaza, famed by Cervantes, loved by Lope de Vega, but now how dim and shabby ! On the house-fronts once so gayly colored, the greens have faded to yellows, the reds to pinks, and the pinks to browns. The awning spread along the route of the procession is fairly checkered with a miscellany of patches. I pass the compliments of the day with a smiling peasant woman, whose husband, a striking color-scheme in maroon blanket, azure trousers, russet stockings, and soiled gray sandals, offers me his seat on the stone bench beside her. But I am bound on my errand, and they bid me ” Go with God.” I select a trusty face in a shop doorway and ask if I can rent standing room in the balcony above. Mine honest friend puts his price a trifle high to give him a margin for the expected bargaining, but I scorn to haggle on a day when I am short of money, and merely stipulate, with true Spanish propriety, that no gentlemen shall be admitted. This makes an excellent impression on the proprietor, who shows me up a winding stair with almost oppressive politeness. A little company of ladies, with lace mantillas drooping from their graceful heads, welcome me with that courteous cordiality which imparts to the slightest intercourse with the Spanish people (barring pickpockets) a flavor of fine pleasure. Because I am the last arrival and have the least claim, they insist on giving me the best place on the best balcony and are untiring in their explanations of all there is to be seen.
The procession is already passing civil guards, buglers, drummers, flower wreaths borne aloft, crosses of silver and crosses of gold, silken standards wrought with cunning embroideries. But now there come a sudden darkness, a gust of wind, and dash of rain. The ranks of cofradias try in vain to keep their candles burning, the pupils from the colleges of the friars, with shining medals hung by green cords about their necks, peep roguishly back at the purple-stoled dignitary in a white wig, over whom an anxious friend from the street is trying to hold an umbrella. The Jesuit seminaristas bear themselves more decorously, the tonsures gleaming like silver coins on their young heads. The canons lift their red robes from the wet, and even bishops make some furtive efforts to protect their gold-threaded chasubles. Meanwhile the people, that spectral throng of witches, serfs, feudal retainers, and left-overs from the Arabian Nights, press closer and closer, audaciously wrapping themselves from the rain in the rich old tapestries of France and Flanders, which have been hung along both sides of the route from a queer framework of emerald-bright poles and bars. The dark, wild, superstitious faces, massed and huddled together, peer out more uncannywise than ever from under these precious stuffs which brisk soldiers, with green feather brushes in their caps, as if to enable them to dust themselves off at short notice, are already taking down.
All the church bells of the city are chiming solemnly, and the splendid custodia, ” the most beautiful piece of plate in the world,” a treasure of filigree gold and jewels, enshrining the Host, draws near. It is preceded by a bevy of lovely children, not dressed, as at Granada, to represent angels, but as knights of chivalry. Their dainty suits of red and blue, slashed and puffed and trimmed with lace, flash through the silvery mist of rain. Motherly voices from the balconies call to them to carry their creamy caps upside down to shield the clustered plumes. Their little white sandals and gaiters splash merrily through the mud.
A flamingo gleam across the slanting rain announces Cardinal Sancha, behind whom acolytes uplift a thronelike chair of crimson velvet and gold. Then follow ranks of taper-bearing soldiers, and my friends in the balcony call proudly down to different officers, a son, a husband, a blushing novio, whom they present to me then and there. The officers bow up and I bow down, while at this very moment comes that tinkling of silver bells which would, I had supposed, strike all Catholic Spaniards to their knees. It is perhaps too much to expect the people below to kneel in the puddles, but the vivacious chatter in the balconies never ceases, and the ladies beside me do not even cross themselves.
The parade proceeds, a gorgeous group in wine-colored costume carrying great silver maces before the civic representation. The governor of the province is pointed out to me as a count of high degree, but in the instant when my awed glance falls upon him he gives a monstrous gape unbecoming even to nobility. The last of the spruce cadets, who close the line, have hardly passed when the thrifty housewife beseeches our aid in taking in out of the rain her scarlet balcony hanging, which proves to be the canopy of her best bed. But the sun is shining forth again when I return to the street to follow the procession into the cathedral.
Already this gleam of fair weather has filled the Calle de Comercio with festive senoritas, arrayed in white mantillas and Manila shawls in honor of the bullfight. Shops have been promptly opened for a holiday sale of the Toledo specialties arabesqued swords and daggers, every variety of Damascened wares, and marchpane in form of mimic hams, fish, and serpents. The Toledo steel was famous in Shakespeare’s day, even in the mouths of rustic dandies, whose geographical education had been neglected. When the clever rogue, Brainworm, in one of Jonson’s comedies, would sell Stephen, the ” country gull,” a cheap rapier, he urges, “‘Tis a most pure Toledo,” and Stephen replies according to his folly, ” I had rather it were a Spaniard.” But onward is the glorious church, with its symmetric tower, whose spire wears a three-fold crown of thorns. The exterior walls are hung, on this one day of the year, with wondrous tapestries that Queen Isabella knew. An army of beggars obstructs the crowd, which presses in, wave upon wave, through the deep, rich portals in whose ornamentation whole lifetimes have carved themselves away.
Within this sublime temple, unsurpassed in Gothic art, where every pavement slab is worn by knees more than by footsteps, where every starry window has thrown its jewel lights on generations of believers, one would almost choose to dwell forever. One looks half enviously at recumbent alabaster bishops and kneeling marble knights, even at dim grotesques, who have rested in the heart of that grave beauty, in that atmosphere of prayer and chant, so long. Let these stone figures troop out into the troubled streets and toil awhile, and give the rest of us a chance to dream. But the multitude, which has knelt devoutly while Su Majestad was being borne into the Capilla Mayor, comes pouring down the nave to salute the stone on which ah me ! on which the Virgin set her blessed foot December i8, 666, when she alighted in Toledo cathedral to present the champion of the Immaculate Conception, St. Ildefonso, with a chasuble of celestial tissue. The gilded, turreted shrine containing that consecrated block towers almost to the height of the nave. A grating guards it from the devout, who can only touch it with their finger tips, which then they kiss. Hundreds, with reverend looks, stand waiting their turn children, peasants, bull-fighters, decorated officers, refined ladies, men of cultured faces. The sound of kissing comes thick and fast. Heresy begins to beat in my blood.
Not all that heavenward reach of columns and arches, not that multitudinous charm of art, can rid the imagination of a granite weight. I escape for a while to the purer church without, with its window-gold of sunshine and lapis-lazuli roof. When the mighty magnet draws me back again, those majestic aisles are empty, save for a tired sacristan or two, and the silence is broken only by a monotone of alternate chanting, from where, in the Capilla Mayor, two priests keep watch with El Senor.
” He will be here all the afternoon,” says the sacristan, ” and nothing can be shown ; but if you will come back to-morrow I will arrange for you to see even Our Lady’s robes and gems.”
Come back ! I felt myself graying to a shadow already. Of course I longed to see again that marvellous woodwork of the choir stalls, with all the conquest of Granada carved amid columns of jasper and under alabaster canopies, but I was smothered in a multitude of ghosts. They crowded from everyside, nuns, monks, soldiers, tyrants, magnificent archbishops, the martyred Leocadia, passionate Roderick, weeping Florinda, grim Count Julian, “my Cid,” Pedro the Cruel, those five thousand Christian nobles and burghers of Toledo, slain, one by one, at the treacherous feast of Abderrahman, those hordes of flaming Jews writhing amid the Inquisition fagots. I had kept my Corpus. I had seen the greatest of all autos sacramentales, Calderon’s masterpiece, “Life is a Dream.”
” On a single one of the Virgin’s gold-wrought mantles,” coaxed the sacristan, ” are eighty-five thousand large pearls and as many sapphires, amethysts, and diamonds. I will arrange for you to see everything, when Our Lord is gone away.”
But no. I am a little particular about treasures. Since Toledo has lost the emerald table of King Solomon and that wondrous copy of the Psalms written upon gold leaf in a fluid made of melted rubies, I will not trouble the seven canons to unlock the seven doors of the cathedral sacristy. Let the Madonna enjoy her wealth alone. I have pesetas enough for my ticket to Madrid.