THE road to Avila lies over the mountains and through forests of pine. Beyond the Escorial the railway climbs steadily, and for long distances without passing any station. Finally it reaches the top of the divide and plunges, or rather glides by long and sweeping curves, to the plain, a bare, deserted country not unlike that which surrounds Madrid. The crossing of the mountain range, however, gives a delightful interlude between these broad tracts of treelessness, and all the way from the Escorial to the summit and beyond, our train toiled slowly through great groves of resinous trees, their trunks gashed with the axe and provided with taps, from which the native juices of the wood oozed slowly into rude receptacles much as one sees it done on the pine-clad slopes of AEgina. The Spaniards, however, do not use the resin for their wine as do the Greeks.
Inasmuch as the way over the desert had become excessively familiar to us, we beguiled the time by reading the accounts of, the life of Santa Teresa, toward whose birthplace and long-time residence we were bound. For it is to this good saint that Avila owes her lasting fame, although even without this she would possess a commanding charm in her magnificent cincture of walls and towers, her cathedral, and various surviving vestiges of a picturesque antiquity. As a consequence, most of the books that we had brought with us told much of Teresa and very little of the city itself, a failing which I hope I am about to avoid. Nevertheless, one may not ignore Santa Teresa, who proved herself a most unusual personage even in her earliest youth.
Born of an eminently respectable parentage, she came early under the spell of that fanaticism that dominated Spain ; and her career serves to furnish a remarkable illustration of achievement along a most unusual line. For Teresa’s aim in life from her very youngest years was to become a saint, a laudable ideal, but one that to most children apparently seems so hopeless of attainment as to warrant dismissing the thought at once. Possibly if every child were to set out with the deliberate purpose of being canonized, the world would be a lugubrious place indeed. Teresa, moreover, was not alone in this remarkable wish. Her small brother shared the desire with her, but unfortunately did not attain the same degree of success. The sister, however, not only obtained the high churchly distinction she prayed and worked so hard to secure, but became a saint of national reputation, second in celebrity to Santiago himself, thanks to a royal decree of Philip III.
In her infancy Teresa was obsessed by the religious spirit to a degree that to-day would be set down at once as mania and would cause parents very serious concern. She was by no means a normal child, even in Spain, where normal children often seem so hopelessly abnormal. She spent hours in meditation. Hand in hand with her brother she would wander through the ancestral gardens, the two looking into each other’s eyes and solemnly repeating the word ” Forever,” thus revealing the deep impression which the awful thought of eternity had made upon their childish minds. The girl was not ten years old when it occurred to her to seek martyrdom among the Moors; and she wandered out of the city with her tiny brother, entertaining the deliberate intention that both should be slain for their faith and thus attain at once the martyr’s crown and the security of eternal blessedness !
This expeditious road to glory was denied them, for kindly hands led the children back before they had traveled far. Possibly they had not wandered many steps beyond the gate which is standing yet and which today bears Teresa’s name, for we all know how most children “runaway.” But the exploit was no passing childish whim, at any rate on the part of Teresa. Closely guarded from throwing herself on the spears of Islam, she now deter-mined to become a hermit, and her father, at last thoroughly alarmed, was kept busy destroying hermitages that she and little Rodrigo, her brother, kept erecting in the orchard. It was at about this time, however, that Teresa’s mother died and she came into possession of the family library, which was rich in romances. It was this naturally enough which produced a reaction to the opposite extreme. The girl read inordinately, and her religious enthusiasm was for the time eclipsed. She grew worldly-minded, especially being anxious for the body, what she should put on. Her regard for personal adornment finally became so great that her father rashly placed her in a convent near by.
It was not long before the old sentiment began to revive. Teresa still loved the world ; but her sense of duty toward God, which had lain dormant for a season, sprang up afresh. Duty triumphed, as of course it should ; and at the age of twenty Teresa took the veil, this time against the wish of her father, who began to regret that he had not left her to her novels and romances, after all.
Within the convent, Teresa felt her doubts and fears redoubled, and the situation which she found existing in her new abode was far from reassuring. Discipline among the nuns was sadly in abeyance, and a stream of worldly visitors constantly diverted the minds of the inmates. This it was that revealed to Teresa her life work ; she would set about accomplishing the needful reform. Fired to enthusiasm by the teachings of St. Augustine, she resolved to found a new order, from whose cloisters the world should be forever banished. And the order came into being in obedience to her wish, the Descalzas Carmelitas, or unshod Carmelite nuns. It was not long before sixteen branches of their convent sprang into existence in various parts of Spain, and the order still endures, the nuns fired to-day by the same holy ardor that animated their founder and prototype, although the good saint has been three centuries in her grave. Teresa’s staff and crucifix, as well as her rosary, remain the cherished relics of Avila, and are venerated as they deserve.
So Teresa became a saint after all, though she was denied the death of a martyr. She died peacefully in 1582 while on a pilgrimage among her nuns, and in 1622 was canonized, in the pontificate of Gregory XV. It was better so, and indeed one doubts that she would have become the second saint in the Spanish calendar had her youthful project of self-immolation been carried out. Her fame rests on a lifetime of indefatigable work instead of on some briefly glorious sacrifice, and few of all the fellowship of saints and martyrs have a clearer title to churchly honor than the patient and holy maid of Avila.
While our minds were thus full of Teresa’s story, her city came into view from afar, rising on a low eminence in the midst of a bleak and rocky upland which sloped in its immensity from the snowy mountains to the distant west. The train glided in huge spirals down the slope, and at high noon halted in the station of Avila, which name, as I have sought elsewhere to indicate, is pronounced with the accent on its first syllable.
The usual array of platform idlers assisted in bearing away the luggage to the street outside, and a solitary omnibus, which dashed up a few moments later at a furious pace, received us into its midst and dashed away again as madly as before, rattling along a bare paseo which led toward the distant town, and raising a suffocating cloud of dust, to settle in a fine powder on the wayside trees. As at Segovia, the avenue of approach was not in itself prepossessing. It was only when the coach emerged from the scanty shade of the embryo boulevard and jolted its way under a frowning and battlemented portal in the city wall that we got our first inkling of the city’s peculiar charm.
Through the echoing depths of the gate, for it was a tower of astonishing thickness, and thence over a pavement of immense, but woefully uneven, slabs, we lurched our way to the hotel, passing under the very shadow of the cathedral which faced our inn across a sunlit square.
The hostelry we entered with some misgiving. It was apparent from the first that it was far from ornate and luxurious, and to expect it to be so would have been highly unreasonable. It was bound to be primitive, and it turned out to be decidedly more so than the hotel at Segovia. It smelled strongly of bare, newly washed boards and other things not as pleasant, giving the general effect to our senses commonly produced at home by an “institution.” It was innocent of carpets, for which fact we were truly thankful, and a hasty inspection of its rooms reassured us as to its cleanliness, whatever else might be said of its conception of modern convenience and scientific sanitation. For a title it boasted the name of Inglés, but as we were off the beaten path we found that this did not imply that English was spoken there, and as at Segovia we were thrown entirely upon our fragmentary Spanish.
Even at noonday, Avila proved a chilly place. Cut off by a snowy mountain chain from the balmy south, and lying on a rocky plateau something like four thousand feet above the sea, she could hardly be otherwise. The proprietor’s wife assured us that even in midsummer it was never very warm, and at this spring season, especially at night, we found it absolutely and uncompromisingly cold and bitter. No facilities at all existed for heating the upper rooms of the hotel, but in the great, barnlike dining-room there was the usual tiny stove, about the size and shape of an umbrella stand, from which the inevitable ribbon of pipe led away into illimitable distances in search of a remote chimney. It served, as such utensils so often had served before, to create a pleasant illusion of warmth during lunch, — but subsequent inspection proved that there was no fire in it.
Naturally, since it stood directly opposite our windows and was the most obvious feature of the city, the cathedral demanded and received our first attention. It was very quaint and altogether fine externally, with its brave square tower and general air of a mediæval stronghold, a fitting epitome of the Church Militant. Its façade was severely plain, the chief attempt at ornament being no more than rows of cobble-stones affixed to the edges of the sturdy tower, like stony drops. The sides were somewhat less bare, but still preserved the effect of uncommon massiveness. There was no airy lightness to the flying buttresses, and it was only in the framework inclosing the great doors that the architects seemed to have permitted themselves to indulge in any semblance of carved adornment. I think we found it a welcome relief from the florid style so generally employed by the designers of churches in Spain. One felt that it made no pretensions. It was simple square-toed dignity embodied in a cathedral that seemed almost English. In its rear, the great semicircular apse thrust itself boldly through the city wall and braved the outer country, forming in effect a part of the fortifications, and justifying the military aspect its builders saw fit to give it. It was a gloomy pile, blackened by nearly six centuries of Spanish bleakness.
Within, it was dark and bitterly cold. Nor was it of impressive size. More than ever one felt hampered by the intrusion of the walled choir, which took away so generous a slice of the dusky nave and robbed one of the dim vista which would so enhance the dignity of the church. But it could not be said to have stolen it all. There was a decided impressiveness in the dark, damp aisles that led one down through the twilight to the ambulatory in the apse, a twilight produced by dim and lofty windows of evident antiquity, through whose colored and dingy glass a little light managed to struggle. Inwardly and outwardly it was thoroughly consistent in its simplicity, little effort being lavished on adornment even in the small chapels.
The apse, protruding through the city wall and making the church a part thereof, is the oldest part of the present building, we were told. It was the apse of an older cathedral on this same site, dating from 1091. The greater part of the edifice to-day is of the fourteenth century, but by the happiest of chances the little that survives of the ancient work remains perfectly consistent with the later building. Recessed chapels, seemingly hewn out of the massiveness of the apse, form a feature of incomparable grace, and the later work above, mellowed by only a trifle less time, harmonizes admirably with the eleventh-century fragments that now remain. It is in the dusky recesses of the apse with their tall, colored windows that the cathedral of Avila reaches its culminating charm. There is one notable tomb there that of Bishop Tostado which amply repays inspection by being a superior work to most of the tombs that Spanish bishops have ordered from time to time to grace their memory. Tostado, carved in marble and life size, is represented writing at a desk. In view of the common tendency among sculptors of his day toward super-adornment, this tomb reveals admirable restraint, and one may pause to examine it without being vexed with one’s self for so doing.
I have since regretted that the penetrating chill drove us in untimely haste from the cathedral. It was so different from anything we had seen, and the Spartan simplicity of it all, inside and out, was so altogether satisfying ! We later found other churches in northern Spain that compared favor-ably with it, such as the Seo in Saragossa and more especially the cathedral of Tarragona ; but Avila was the first of the simple, direct, unpretending churches that we had seen, which from first to last offered no jarring note. Its cloister, to be sure, has been thoroughly and forever spoiled, and one wastes one’s time in seeking it to-day, although in the fourteenth century it must have been a charming spot.
We left the cathedral, as I say, in short order, because its cold speedily pierced us to the marrow. How the aged women kneeling at its altars endured it I could not understand ; but they did so, wrapped in their shawls and mantillas, and despite the distressing prevalence of coughs and catarrh there was plentiful evidence at almost every turn that people live to a green old age in Avila. There was one jarring note, however, immediately upon emerging from the gloom of the church, as we struck off into the heart of the city a coffin borne aloft on the shoulders of six men, and followed by a body of mourners all in sombre black. It was not the first funeral we had witnessed in Spain, but this proved less heartless than some of the others had been. Frequently we had seen a rude pine box being carried to the cemetery, unattended save by the roughly clad men who had been hired to bear it away, perhaps to a nameless grave, or perhaps to one of those curious pigeonholed cemeteries one soon grows to know so well in Spain. The graves in such a case are above ground, and consist of nothing more than niches in a hollow quadrangle several feet high, suggesting vividly either a dove-cote or the cells in a honeycomb.’ And travelers are asked to believe that these cells are rented by the year, the body being laid away in its allotted niche, there to remain only so long as rent be well and truly paid. Should there be default, out comes the body, to be tumbled into a nameless trench, and the cell it occupied is offered for rent anew ! Often, it would seem, the family regard the body as of no further account once the final prayers are mumbled over it at home ; for we had repeatedly seen these gruesome burdens carried nonchalantly about by mozos as any other parcel might be. But here in Avila it was a welcome relief to see evidences of deeper respect.
Of course there was a public square with the inevitable arcade, and we discovered it, strangely enough, outside the ancient limits of the city, which the walls serve to mark in such unmistakable clearness. It was a pleasant spot, with many people trafficking in the shadow of its arches, and just across its broad expanse we could see a handsome Romanesque church with an admirable recessed arch framing its deep door and a splendid rose window above. It was, as it proved, the church of San Pedro. Two carved lions set just before its entrance were evidently trying to climb some decorative stone pillars, and the whole effect was remarkably satisfactory from the architectural standpoint, with a dash of quaintness such as one finds at almost every turn in Avila. Even the sober cathedral, with all its dignity, consented to be guarded by stone lions and by two grotesque wild men, primitively carved. San Pedro, however, we found much better outside than in. It required a squad of anxious boys, all hopeful of fees, to fetch the sacristan, and despite the general beauty of the Romanesque interior, we inclined to wish we had left him undisturbed to his siesta. The rose window, so beautiful from the street, was not so charming from within, and proved to be filled with plain glass. To minimize the cold, a board flooring had been laid over the stone, and the walls seemed to have been but lately whitewashed. If I go to Avila again, which Heaven send, – I shall spend many a satisfying moment in contemplation of the façade of Saint Peter’s church; but I shall hardly go to the trouble of entering there a second time. Its front is enough and to spare.
Quite different is the case with San Tomas, which lies outside the town on a lane leading to the south across the less bleak portion of the plain. It is not the exterior of this shrine that holds you, but the interior and the adjacent cloisters, and most of all the incomparable tomb of the young Prince Juan, the only son of Ferdinand and Isabella. If there were nothing in the church but this simple sepulchre, San Tomas could on no account be ignored. As it is, the tomb is not the only glory of the church, which possesses a fine interior with the Coro alto brought to a degree of perfection seldom equaled. Most of all, however, we admired the tomb, which I still believe to be the finest sculpture of this kind in all Spain. It is a very simple work, merely a recumbent figure of the young prince, carved in marble by Fancelli, a gifted Florentine. But in the face and figure of the lad there is much kingly grace and charm. His death was most untimely, and was, of course, a terrible blow to his wide-ruling parents, who never recovered from it, and who made this church and convent of San Tomas from that time forward one of the most cherished spots in all their domains.
Few princes ever started in life with more brilliant promise. Juan was, if we may believe the testimony of this tomb, a youth of surpassing grace of body and beauty of feature ; and the evidence of Peter Martyr, who had charge of his early instruction, leaves no doubt as to his qualities of mind and heart. It is related that he was given a residence in the splendid courts of San Tomas, already a favorite churchly foundation of the Catholic Kings, and was surrounded there by the noblest and finest youth of the kingdom, that he might grow to manhood under unexceptionable auspices. He was apparently a boy to be proud of, and universally loved. At an early age he was wedded at Burgos to Margaret, daughter of the Emperor Maximilian, and every prospect of happiness and wise rule lay before him. He was adored alike by his parents and his prospective subjects. But within a brief month after his marriage he sickened, and Ferdinand, hurrying from a distant city, reached his bedside only in time to see him die. Isabella, traveling more slowly, came too late.
Robed in sackcloth, the two monarchs often at-tended mass in San Tomas, from whose lofty choir they could look down upon the tomb of their lost prince, his body, admirably portrayed in the purest marble, stretched before the high altar as if in peaceful sleep. The chairs in which the kingly parents sat are still to be seen in the high choir.
It is impossible to imagine any comparison between this tomb and other celebrated ones in Spain which shall not be to the advantage of Prince Juan’s. Compare it, if you will, with the canopied burial-place of San Vicente in his church not far away, or with the monument which Isabella erected to her royal parents in the convent of Miraflores just outside Burgos, and you will do no injury to the last resting-place of the young Prince Juan. I cannot but wonder whether, if this beautiful youth had lived, and if young Baltasar Carlos had survived to succeed Philip IV, the history of Spain might not have been more glorious than it was.
We were fortunate to see the tomb at all, as it happened, for workmen were rapidly obscuring it with a temporary Easter monument, one of those unpardonable pavilions which so disfigure the churches of Spain during the season of the Passion. A few hours later, and this admirable bit of grave sculpture would have disappeared under a mass of tawdry gray and gold. Of course the process of erecting such a flimsy thing over the marble of the tomb endangers it seriously, and the monument already bears evidence of having been sadly nicked and chipped. Indeed, it is said that boys of the town used freely to deface it, and the wonder is that it has come off so well.
The señoras were precluded, as they generally were, from visiting the adjoining cloisters, where once Prince Juan had his being; but the señor was graciously allowed to enter there, and will boldly reveal the secret that they were very fine. There is no defacement of these graceful arcades with brick or glass, as in the mouldy old courts of the cathedral up in the town. Instead, there is a great airy double court, with an upper and lower cloister running all around each, and much greenery within. That women may not enter here is really too bad, for the courts are certainly lovely and the invasion of these precincts by femininity could do no serious harm. But the fanciful rule still obtains in many a monastic close, and will not be abrogated, even for a fee.
I was not shown the tomb of the Inquisitor Torquemada, if he still lies in this church, as he did in Hutton’s day. Neither does Baedeker mention his tomb. Those who have been shown it are said to. have defiled it on occasion in a way that genuinely Christian people should be thoroughly ashamed of. Hutton relates that an American tourist boasted in his presence of having spit upon the grave, so possibly the sacristans have learned to beware all Protestants. It seems to be the verdict of history at present that Torquemada was not so much worse than other people of his time, although his memory persists in remaining a bloody one in the popular estimation. He did not originate, but merely reorganized the Inquisition ; and it is coming to be a generally held opinion that his administration of the office was no worse than that of other inquisitors. Still it is true that especial opprobrium attaches to his name, and it is probable that many haters of bigotry and cruelty exist who would gladly vent a senseless spite on an unfeeling slab of mossy marble. Wherefore it is just as well that not much is made of Torquemada’s grave. His memory, at the best, is far from pleasant, and there are many much gentler and holier ones clustering around Avila rich in saints. Why emphasize the fact that it was in the secluded courts of San Tomas that Isabella was induced to sign the warrant of the Inquisition, that most cruel of all Spain’s fanatic blunders? For myself, I much prefer to remember Santa Teresa, who helped women to be better, or even San Segundo, who pushed a Moor off the walls. And since Avila is discreetly silent over her Inquisitional relics and traditions, let us, also, forbear to speak o’er much of them.
The overpowering charm of Avila today, however, lies not in her many churches, beautiful as some of them are, nor yet in the memory of her most famous and exemplary saint. It is to be found rather in the stupendous cincture of ancient walls which encircle the town now as of old, almost perfectly preserved, and buttressed as of yore by four score of mighty towers. To see these at their best one must go outside the city, preferably toward the west, and ascend the slight grade of the highroad to Salamanca. One crosses the river, a rather inconsiderable stream, but boasting two parallel bridges for all that, and climbs up to a grassy knoll near by. It is a sort of second Golgotha, marked from afar by a great stone cross; and from the little platform on which the cross is set the view back upon the walls and towers of Avila is unsurpassed. We climbed to the level of the cross, and feasted our eyes on that incomparable city of the past. If the alcazar crowning the steeps of Segovia had been the castle of our childhood dreams, this comprehensive view of well-walled Avila realized to the full the story-book notions of what a walled city should be. There lay the whole northern and western flanks of the town, protected by massive bulwarks of stone, the towers, huge and semicircular, breaking the outline at regular intervals, the whole crowned with battlements. Here and there yawning gates pierced the fortifications, and we should not have been in the least astonished to have seen a cavalcade of knights with glancing helms come sallying forth.
The practical completeness of the whole structure to-day is the only surprising thing. But complete it is, and one will do very well to walk along the northern side of the city just under the shadow of the mighty bulwark to get an adequate idea of its massiveness. Here and there on the tops of towers that thrust themselves above the crenellations of the wall one will inevitably see, as we saw, immense nests of storks ; and if one is fortunate there will be seen the storks themselves returning, no doubt from beneficent visits to the fecund families of Avila, to bring food to their own young.
These walls were here when Teresa and her little brother toddled out to get the Moors to martyr them ; in fact, at that distant day they were already five hundred years old, dating as they do from 1090. Nine years was this stupendous upland fortress in building ; and the work was so well laid that it seems amply able to endure for yet another millennium, perhaps Macaulay’s New Zealander, after he is done with the broken arches of London Bridge, may find the walls of Avila as sound and intact as the Church of Rome herself !
Avila is far less obviously Moorish to-day than Segovia, although she once felt the Moorish yoke. Her streets, while narrow, are not notable for that characteristic to the degree that we saw them to be in Toledo. As a matter of fact, Moorish occupancy of Avila was brief, and the city fell an easy prey to Alfonso of Castile, under whose reign it developed into a place of much prosperity. It remained a considerable city down to the seventeenth century, and then fell into a decline from which it seems discouragingly slow to recuperate. It has no commercial glory now. Most of its business is done well out-side the girth of those tremendous walls, and they keep but an empty guard over a population that does not begin to fill the space within them. I sup-pose this overflow of the town to the outer country is a relic of its palmy days ; but it is a curious fact that the older churches, built much longer ago than other structures, were set outside the walls. Out-side the walls also is the convent of the Discalced Carmelites which Teresa founded, and whose ad-joining orchard is to this day regarded as planted by her gentle hands. In short, Avila, like Carcassonne, has seen fit to leave her outgrown shell and yet cherish with a sedulous care that heroic monument of her tempestuous past.
When we left the knoll of the cross and set out for the city again, we were diverted by a fascinating glimpse of a tiny church not far from the river’s brim. It was the isolated church of San Segundo, another of Avila’s noted and saintly bishops. Three rude crosses in its foreground made the site look even more like a Golgotha than the knoll across the river. A peasant woman and her little girl came gladly at our call and opened the great door with a fittingly enormous key. It was no proud shrine, but simple and quaint, both within and without, almost without interior adornment save for the monument of San Segundo himself in a corner near the altar. His celebrity, we learned, was achieved, not by a lifetime of pious works as Teresa’s had been, but simply because he had tumbled an unsuspecting Moorish infidel down to his death from one of the city towers, for which deed of grace he was duly and devoutly canonized. His tomb, while notable, is not to be compared in beauty with Prince Juan’s. Nevertheless it has become a spot of much sanctity, and a hole in its pedestal serves the reverent believer as a place into which to thrust hands and rosaries in hope of blessing.
The altar of this diminutive and beautiful church was not without its interest, not because of any intrinsic merit, but because of the votive offerings which adorned it. They were mostly miniature representations of human eyes, and recalled the common custom of the modern Greeks, who so load their altars or what serves as an altar in their religion with metal limbs and models of other bodily organs in thanks for healing. These eyes, however, were offerings to Santa Lucia, the patroness of those who suffer with ocular diseases, an honor conferred on her because she is claimed to have sacrificed her own eyes rather than yield her person to a pagan suitor. Apart from these notable decorations of the altar and the tomb, the church of San Segundo made no pretensions to glory, save by the possession of a splendid Romanesque portal.
Later in the afternoon, while wandering along the open plaza just east of the city wall, we came upon the handsome church of San Vicente adjacent to the imposing city gate that also bears that name. It proved to be a notably fine example of the Romanesque, with an external loggia in a somewhat different manner from those of the Segovia churches, which adds immensely to the general attractiveness of the building. Indeed, the church has been taken over by the government, and is now sure of preservation as a national monument, as it well deserves to be. By tradition and association this church has a triple sanctity, for the bones of three saints repose there in an ornate and canopied tomb. These are San Vicente and his two sisters, Santa Sabina and Santa Cristeta, whose sainthood is based on a martyrdom and incidental miracle.
Needless to say, this martyrdom occurred a long time ago, in the year of grace 303, so that the addition of a miracle is not surprising. It is related that San Vicente and his sisters, being far in advance of the age, and steadfastly embracing a faith which the pagan inhabitants of “Avela” abhorred and feared, were cruelly put to death upon a rock standing on this very site. Their specific crime was defiling an altar of Jupiter. A Jew passing by and viewing the slaughter of these gentle souls made some despiteful remark; ” whereat a serpent flew from a hole under the rock and stung him with the deadly venom of its fangs.” The miracle has the redeeming feature in this case of being a very possible one ; but the really significant thing about it would seem to be its revelation of the hatred of the Spaniard for the Hebrew within his gates. Nevertheless, the Spanish legend goes on to say that the Jew did not die, but recovered of his bite ; and in consequence of his escape became a good Catholic and erected this church as a votive offering. For centuries after the hole in the rock where the sacred serpent dwelt was used as a place of solemn adjuration, the maker of an oath thrusting his hand into the snake’s den in order that, if he swore falsely, the reptile might sting him. It is further stated that one person thus falsely swearing actually suffered the penalty and was bitten, being no less a personage than a bishop of Avila.
I suppose we may safely take the opinion of competent critics that the terra-cotta statues in the south doorway of San Vicente are among the finest examples of their kind in Europe. Several, at any rate, have said so. But I suspect that the taste for statuettes of this kind may be an acquired one. Nobody, however, will miss the appeal which the church as a whole makes, and it is to be hoped that; the three saints were worthy of so imposing a monument. As for their actual tomb, a gloomy sarcophagus with a late-Gothic canopy, it is curious with-out being really beautiful. Down in the depths of the vaults below they still show you the rock on which the saints suffered death, and no doubt the hole of the serpent. But these, like the miracle, we were content to take on faith, and did not go to see them.
We did go, however, to the office of a local diligence to inquire about taking passage across country to Salamanca, which we knew lay about thirty-five miles to the westward. Indeed, we had begun to feel that to emerge from Spain without riding in a diligence by night would be little short of shameful ; and as posters were everywhere announcing that a coche correo, or mail coach, plied regularly between Avila and Pefiaranda, we deter-mined to investigate it, knowing that from Penaranda there was a short railroad to the university city. Besides, Pefiaranda was one of the cities of Spain where George Borrow admitted he actually managed to dispose of a few Bibles during his industrious and diverting service as a colporteur, and we were not averse to seeing it ourselves in transit. The diligence, however, proved to be a contrary creature that was scheduled to crawl out of Avila at three in the morning, reaching Pefiaranda next day some hours too late for the only train. And so we gave up our one chance for a diligence ride, and drowned our disappointment in cups of uncommonly pasty chocolate at a tiny inn close by.
With the night came the usual coldness, several times intensified. The bare floors of the Hotel Inglés, relieved only by diminutive islands of rag matting, gave us cause to hasten to our beds, which happily were soft and well spread with thick blankets. Caloriferos such as we had enjoyed at Segovia were apparently unknown in Avila, but the maid improvised some, old champagne bottles, filled with hot water and tightly corked ! All night the sereno broke the stillness at half-hour intervals, and at three o’clock we heard without envy the coche correo rumble out of town across the tumultuous pavement of the cathedral square. Doubtless it would have been a diverting experience and might have lifted this chapter to undreamed-of heights, had we essayed the ride ; but I am still glad we lay supinely abed at the Inglés. Gentle reader, when you are traveling in Spain take what good gifts the thoughtful gods provide, and be thankful ! Let superior travelers like the admirable Hutton tell you how much better it is to come to Avila on mule-back across the cheerless desert than it is to ride thither in the train de luxe, but, as you are wise, stick to the de luxe none the less ! You will miss traversing a rocky upland of surpassing barrenness, and you will see less of the dreary wilderness of boulders which the peasants still insist are the “tears of Christ.” But you will, I am sure, see quite enough of it after all. Doubtless it seems a long farewell to romance, but who can say that some future voyager will not look back with infinite regret for the good old days when mankind journeyed so romantically over Spain in the ” rapide” ?
Had we hurried off incontinently through the moonless night to Salamanca, we should have missed our morning ramble through the older parts of Avila, the part within the city walls where the streets were narrow and crooked and uncommonly uneven. They were cobble-paved, and here and there we found a bit of ancient architecture that was fascinating in the extreme. Most of this was to be found only in the inward parts of the houses, in unsuspected courts, patios, and narrow byways. We ventured with timorous feet into many a forbidding old building, clambering up to narrow windows that we might get hasty glimpses into tightly closed courtyards where stairways of surpassing grace led upward to double colonnades. Now and then there was a bit of architecture that was positively baronial to outward view, and in such a case its interior patio was certain to be magnificent even in its decay. Here and there also we found specimens of those absurd stone pigs which seem to have come down from. a very remote past, and which flourish chiefly in Avila. I had, I recollect, seen one at Segovia a few days before, but at the time without due inspection had set it down as probably a battered lion. Now we found them everywhere, and there was no mistaking them ; they were unmistakably pigs, from their snouts to their curly tails.
These ancient swine have remained a mystery to us ever since. The natives, when interrogated, opened their lips and poured out such torrents of explanatory Spanish that we were instantly swept off our feet and mentally drowned in its rush. All that we could learn with certainty was that they were pigs, pigs of heroic mould, and dating back to a distantly bygone day. But were they idols? Were they a bid of defiance to the despised Hebrews?
Did they grace the housetops of nobility? The peasants apparently did not know, but in saying so they invariably employed words enough for a treatise. The best pig of all was the one whose picture I took and who is reproduced here. He stood in a shady little park in front of an imposing old castle, with snout admirably carved, a tail in low relief curled tightly astern, and legs that were convincing in their piggishness. Indeed, one could almost hear him grunt. I imagine the explanation that Hare gives is as good as any ; to wit, that these pigs were the venerated idols of the primitive inhabitants.
One other feature of the local architecture might well be spoken of here, although it is by no means confined to Avila. And that is the common employment of the royal escutcheon as a mural decoration in the façades of royal and noble residences. In Avila this was especially notable, and the most striking of all was the device of Ferdinand and Isabella with its much-discussed motto, which we had seen in various other places frequented by the Catholic Kings. It consisted of the coupled shields of each monarch, bearing respectively a yoke and a bundle of arrows, and above or below these the motto “Tanto Monta” generally taken as meaning ” One is as good as (tantamount to) the other.” Some claim that Ferdinand added this enigmatic device in a spirit of regal jealousy ; others that it was, on the contrary, a very pretty compliment to his queenly spouse, and who shall say it was not the latter? As for the carved yoke and the arrows, they were simply intended to represent the initials of the royal pair, the arrows (flechas) for Ferdinand and the yoke (iugo) for Isabella.
One other famous escutcheon used as a mural decoration is the celebrated ” Nodo” shield of Seville, which embodies an ingenious pun. It consists of the word ” Nodo” divided into its two syllables with a skein of yarn between them in the shape of a figure 8. The explanation of this is that when Alfonso the Wise was deserted by all his other cities he bestowed this device upon Seville in recognition of her abiding loyalty, the significance of the rebus being ” No m’ha dejado,” ”she has not forsaken me.” The word for ” skein” in Spanish is ” madeja,” and its inclusion between the two syllables sufficed to spell out the sentence. One other punning escutcheon, by the way, is the pomegranate of Granada, granada being the Spanish word for that well-known fruit. But the one most commonly seen throughout Spain is the Tanto Monta of the Catholic Kings, which they stamped industriously on everything they possessed, not buildings alone, but on furniture and books. So much, then, for the general subject of escutcheons in Spanish architecture, a topic which doubtless furnishes forth a considerable volume of literature.
We finally took leave of Avila in a noonday train, — anything but a luxe, and had a splendid view of her receding walls and towers as the train sped across the treeless desert, a land of little herbage and notable only for its litter of enormous rocks. It is a pretty fancy that calls them the “tears of Jesus” let fall by the passing Saviour in pity for the city’s sterile situation. Gradually Avila sank into that mass of scattered stones, and steadily the train jogged down into the limitless plains, while clouds came up and speedily sent down torrents of rain and icy hail. In lofty Avila, as we learned by the papers next day, it snowed !