TWO midnight hours at Medina del Campo may be relied upon to afford a somewhat weird experience. There is a sense of depression bred by the silent and gloomy caverns of the vast station, which even the porcelain stove of the fonda will not entirely relieve. There are but few people about, and these are invariably sleepy and probably morose. In the waiting-rooms the lofty black benches may be depended upon to shelter a scattered squad of snoring porters. Such, at any rate, we found the circumstances of our stay in the full tide of a career toward Visigothic Burgos.
The night express stole into the station almost unperceived, so silently did it come. It consisted of nothing but sleeping-cars, and the cost of traveling by these conveyances in Spain is always enormous ; in fact, it seems to make no difference whether you are going five miles or five hundred. This I elicited from a sleepy mozo on the platform, when, in a moment of extravagance, I inquired the cost of a ” supplemento” for passage on the train de luxe.
” Fifty pesetas, senor.”
” Madre de dios ! Fifty pesetas? From here to Burgos? ”
” Si, senor. It is the truth.”
” But if it costs fifty pesetas to go only to Burgos, what does it cost to go from Madrid through to lam?”
” The same, senor.”
We concluded to permit the “rapide” to steal silently away without us, which presently it did. After all, it would only have landed us in Burgos at a more unearthly hour than the regular express which was following just behind, and the privilege of being turned out on the bleak northern world at half-past four was hardly worth paying ten dollars apiece to obtain. So we returned to that tall pillar of a stove in the fonda, drank more coffee, and snuggled disconsolately around the fire for yet another hour.
I have never regretted that we waited and did not take the ” rapide.” The regular express was comfortable, clean, and roomy, brilliant with electric lights, and possessed of soft cushions which one might pull up over the arm of the seat and make into a very passable bed provided the train were not too full. We managed to get a compartment to ourselves, turned off the lights, and lay down to snatch such rest as we might. Wrapped in over-coats and lulled by the drumming wheels, it was not long before a fitful slumber possessed us, a slumber which endured for what seemed barely a quarter-hour before it was rudely interrupted by a flood of light and a series of energetic thumps. Voices outside up and down the train were chanting ” Val-ya-do-leeeeth ! ” The door of the compartment stood open. A ghostly figure was pulling out the great cylinder of iron which had contained hot water, and another, equally ghostly, substituted a second, steaming hot, all this with more solicitude for speed than silence, which accounted for the thumps. Inspectors were loudly hammering the wheels to make sure they would ring for this antiquated method of testing the tires continues in undiminished favor in Spain, and the sound of the metal is as important a matter in car-wheels as it is in the case of pesetas. To add to the commotion, a shrill-voiced and wakeful lad was wandering up and down the platform crying his doleful ” Quien quiere agua? ”
This was all we were destined to see or to hear of Valladolid, once the capital of Castile, the home of Gil Blas, the scene of the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella ! We had time only to discover that the curious name of the city was a direct inheritance from the Moors, as had so often been the case before, it being the natural corruption of the old name Medinat-al-Walid (Governorsville or, perhaps better, Kingston!). Then the compartment door was slammed shut again, and the train glided on into the night.
In passing by Valladolid, however, we missed nothing of value, as-later visits to that city have convinced me. It is probably as little rewarding as any city of Spain could well be, despite its large place in the country’s history. Its situation is flat; and its features are stale and unprofitable. Commercially it is beginning to brighten up a bit; but as an attraction to visitors it has nothing beyond its fragmentary and austere cathedral, a façade or two of rather good plateresque, and some court-yards which one must seek out with trouble that comes dangerously near overbalancing their worth. Added to this lack of charm is the unusual poverty of suitable hotel accommodation, which I recall quite as vividly as the cathedral. On the whole, Valladolid is not a spot to be desired,’ and had we realized it then we should have watched the receding lights with far less regret.
The warmth of the fresh caloriferos speedily decreased, and the chill of the northern highlands grew more and more insupportable as the dawn drew on. What little sleep we obtained was not productive of rest, and the cold soon made any sleep at all impossible. It was a welcome discovery that daylight was beginning to brighten the east, and more welcome still to discover that the train was speeding down a river valley through the morning freshness toward two spectral Gothic spires which heralded Burgos and its grand cathedral. With a prolonged whistle the train came to a halt in a splendid station, and in a trice we, the only passengers to alight, were bundled into a capacious omnibus, to be whirled away, with chattering teeth and rattling carriage-windows, to the Hotel del Norte y de Londres.
Nobody was yet astir, although it was now broad day. The twin spires of the mighty church reared themselves airily above a sea of intervening roofs. A fine stone bridge over the waters of the Arlanzôn gave a fleeting prospect down that pleasant stream. It might almost have been France. The trees were no longer bare, and the waters of the river rippled along with pleasant melody. It was a more promising introduction than we had hoped for to the bleakness of Burgos, with her climate ” nine months invierno, three months inferno.” It was cold, to be sure, and if the wind had stirred it would doubt-less have been bitter. But fortunately the breezes slumbered, as did all the inhabitants, and the sharp air, after the exhausted, thrice-breathed air of the train, seemed bracing and delightful.
But the hotel of the North and of London was a sombre, dingy, depressing place, deserted save for a sleepy boy who dug his fists into his eyes and conducted us up dark stairways and through mouldy halls to cold and unaired rooms. It was not good,’ but it was the best that Burgos afforded ; and later we were told that the prospect of speedily moving to another site was all that prevented the furbishing up of this chief hotel in a tourist-ridden town. We flung up the curtains and opened the sash, and in a few moments were soundly asleep, grateful for a few hours’ repose after that nightmare of a ride.
Our rooms faced on an open square, well paved and lined with tall houses, all of which displayed narrow balconies, or rather bay-windows, which were glassed like conservatories. Thus does Burgos eke out the comforts of the brasero by turning to account the kindly offices of the sun. The effect of this arrangement is to make the view up the street much like a vista between rows of vertical green-houses, and in fact most of the casements were gay with plants and trailing vines.
Our first casual glance through the main thoroughfares and along the river front of Burgos had created the impression that the town was rather a thriving and cleanly one. Later acquaintance, however, with certain back streets and byways led us to abandon that idea, for some of them were quite as unkempt and dirty as any Sicilian slum. It was the main street and the well-shaded paseos along the stream that produced the Pharisaical appearance of neatness, and if one does not probe Burgos too deeply, it will be found a very attractive place, even apart from its cathedral, which is the one great claim of the modern town to celebrity.
As to the cathedral, opinions differ sadly in according it rank among the world’s great Gothic churches. Some admire it unreservedly, as I found myself most willingly led to do. Others affect to regard it as hopelessly unworthy of its fame. I confess I cannot understand this belittling sentiment. From our first view of those skeleton spires far across the Arlanzon to our last fleeting glimpse of them as the train sped northward on our departure, it seemed a church thoroughly satisfying both within and without. It shared with the cathedral of Salamanca the common fate of being a long time in building, but suffered little or nothing from the circumstance. Despite the three centuries occupied in bringing it to completion, it has escaped the mar-ring and irritating intrusion of transitory phases of taste, and to-day it comes much nearer meeting northern ideals of French Gothic than do most great Spanish fanes. Street, the famous British commentator, attributes this success to the fact that Spanish influence had almost nothing to do with the building, which was started by Bishop Maurice an English cleric and finished under the general direction of German priests. In any event, Burgos is far more North-French in tone than Spanish, which, I suspect, is more than half its secret. It is so different from the cathedrals of the south, both in coloring and in spirit, and so much more like our preconceived ideas of what a Gothic church should be ! Accounts differ as to whether its material is a limestone or white marble ; but in any case the general effect of it today is that of grayness, due to the mellowing effect of long years and trying weather.
To see the cathedral at its best, climb the steep hill behind it toward the little church of San Nicolas, and then look back upon its prodigious bulk. It rises close at hand, half submerged, so to speak, in the hillside, its façade and towers rising gloriously out of the huddle of roofs. The enormous but graceful rose window above the main portal, the admirable Gothic windows of the towers, the slender ” crocketed” spires, the grand lantern over the crossing, one of the finest of all the features of the building, all are seen from this point to the greatest advantage. Still higher up the lofty hill one will find a grass-grown fort, whence is a magnificent view over the surrounding country well worth the climb. But the best view of the cathedral is from much lower down, and after all is said and done, it is the one great sight in the ancient city, whose population has dwindled to barely thirty thousand and whose estate is far beneath what it was in the days of old Castile.
The interior of the cathedral is slightly less magnificent. It is, as usual, enormous in extent, being three hundred feet long and eighty-two feet broad, exclusive of the side-chapels, which are almost a series of separate buildings, and tend to give the transepts the appearance of projecting to a degree quite uncommon in Spanish cathedrals. This multiplication of adjacent buildings, including not only the chapels, but the cloisters and the residence of the archbishop, gives the usual amorphous appearance to the exterior. The apse, as a matter of course, is semicircular, but even this effect is broken by the appendage of the Capilla del Condestable and the Capilla de Santiago. The cloisters are spacious and lofty and include in their quadrangle a species of basement, a curious feature due to the slope of the hill in the side of which the cathedral is set. The whole is a confusing mass of churchly buildings clustering around the great body of the cathedral as a nucleus. The side-chapels, instead of being mere alcoves in the aisles, are practically spacious buildings, as stated above, and it has been said that mass could be celebrated at a dozen different places at the same time within the church and still not cause the slightest interference. The width of the crossing, the splendor of the iron grills which serve as open screens for choir and altar, the grandiose effect produced by the admirable cimborio above, and the breadth of the aisles, unite to make the interior views especially impressive midway of the church, the point selected by Haigh in making his celebrated etching. Everywhere the light is abundant and the natural tone of the limestone adds to the cheerful effect, although with a different note from that struck at Segovia and Salamanca with their golden-browns. Indeed, I have heard it stoutly maintained by those who recalled vividly the lightness of the interior of Burgos that its walls had been whitewashed, which is not the fact, fortunately, today.
It is one of the rare cases in which it may fairly be said that the church possesses a greater charm than do the cloisters, spacious as these are. For the latter are difficult to see well, owing to their glazed arches, and the configuration of the land prevents any attempt to make the central court into a shady garden. The tracery in the arches, nevertheless, is exceedingly beautiful, and the tombs and statues of these vaulted corridors are unquestionably interesting.
Our visit, by rare good fortune, fell on the morning of Good Friday, and the freedom of the cloister was restricted by the paraphernalia of the inevitable procession. And the church, huge as it was, seemed fairly full as we came into it from its south transept, climbing the long flights of steps where sat beggars innumerable. A mass was being celebrated in the presence of a large and reverent congregation which pressed close against the great iron grillwork and the railings that preserved a passage for the priests.
Three of the latter in robes of white occupied three lofty pulpits above the heads of the throng, and from these high places intoned the immortal story of the hearing before Pontius Pilate. One apparently took for his part the reading of the narrative, somewhat in the character of a Greek chorus, while the other two took respectively the parts of Pilate and Jesus. They brought to the task magnificent voices and impressive faces, and when there was need of melody it was supplied by a pure-voiced choir of boys aided by moaning viols and a softly mellifluous flute. The great organs were mute, their flaring trumpets radiating high above the carved stalls. It was frigid, despite the beams of the morning sun streaming down from that lofty lantern overhead, but we could not tear ourselves away from that majestical roll of the Latin sung with such clearness and feeling by the priests.
The round of the chapels, which ordinarily would have been easily made, proved difficult because of the pressure of religious ceremony. Nevertheless I think we were not sorry, for while they are uncommonly vast and contain many interesting and beautiful things, they cannot compare with the immensity and grace of the main body of the church. The great Chapel of the Constable (the viceroy of Castile) with its carved tombs was easily the most impressive of them all.
Apart from the chapels, the most unusual feature was the ” golden stairway” of the northern transept, an imposing flight of steps which led up from the pavement of the aisle to a door well up in the side of the church, calling attention to the fact that the building was deeply set in the side of the hill. At the moment that staircase had been dressed like a shrine with innumerable candles, and was a blaze of glory.
In my later Spanish travels it has fallen to my lot to become rather more familiar with the cathedral of Burgos than with most other celebrated Spanish churches, and as a result I am now confirmed in my first impression that after all Burgos makes its chief appeal to the lover of Gothic from without. Within it is infinitely less fine than the magnificent but little visited cathedral of Leon, comparison with which is inevitable when one knows both these ancient structures. The glory of being a national capital has departed from each city in equal measure, to be sure ; but the situation of Burgos on the highroad to the north has saved it from decay, while Leon is but a dwindling shadow of her former self, lying far to one side of the frequented paths and reached with so much hardship as to make her splendid church far less well known than it deserves. If the cathedral of Burgos is finer to outward view, it is only so in a very slight degree. Inwardly, the Leon cathedral, though much smaller, is infinitely more splendid, doubtless because of the magnificence and extent of its glass. There are, I believe, few better examples of ancient windows, the arrangement of which so insistently recalls Sainte-Chapelle. One standing in the nave of Leon is impressed with wonder at the lightness of it. The stone columns and traceries are so wonderfully airy and slender as to seem more fragile than the windows they inclose. The whole effect is that of a fairy palace of glass, and so good an authority as Street unhesitatingly rated Leon as “among the noblest churches of Europe.” Even those who built it, or their immediate successors, seem to have feared that the seeming fragility of it might prove only too real, and as a result they incontinently bricked up some of the apertures. But these fears have been outgrown, and to-day Leon is being carefully restored to its original shape, stone by stone, window by window. The work, which has been going on for many years, bids fair to go on for many more ; and it is probable that every visitor to that city during the next half-century will find its great church marred somewhere by scaffolding. The cloisters, which easily surpass those of Burgos, were under the restorer’s hand when we visited it in 1909, and the graceful court was sadly blocked with marble fragments and pieces of stone. In the end, however, the work will be fully justified, for the cathedral is a masterpiece worthy of preservation for all time, incongruous as so splendid a building may seem in a town so thoroughly decadent as Leon has now become.
Street’s encomium of the cathedral at Leon was by no means confined to its interior, and indeed from afar the effect of the building is quite as satisfactory as is the case at Burgos. Even the nearer views of it are vastly improved by the gradual removal of Renaissance blemishes which Spanish taste had seen fit to add in the cathedral’s early days. But to my mind the unquestioned superiority of Leon lies in its mellow windows and its lofty nave, with Burgos still slightly the grander as a matter of exteriors. Nevertheless, Leon is as warm and graceful as Burgos is dignified and cold, and if one were forced to choose between the two, it seems to me that the choice would unhesitatingly fall upon the cathedral of poor, old, half-deserted Leon. As it is, the world knows Burgos better and always will, no doubt, as long as sight-seers so generally follow the lines of least resistance.
It was the cold, as usual, that drove us out of Burgos cathedral into the open, and in the sunlight it proved to be much milder than within, despite heavy showers that seemed to hover in the west. We braved the portent of these by setting off on a brisk walk along the river to get up a glow, having for our ultimate goal the monastery of Las Huelgas, which lay a mile or more away through a beautiful avenue of trees. Las Huelgas really signifies “pleasure grounds,” and would seem a curiously inappropriate name for a conventual institution ; but the name is due to the former uses of the spot, which was once the park of a royal château. In the days of Alfonso VIII, a monastery was created here for the Cistercian nuns, and the place has remained dedicated to pious uses ever since. Its privileges are not what they were in ancient days, however. Time was when the revenues of the order were enormous, and the inmates of this convent were the noblest ladies of Spain. Their number was rigidly fixed at one hundred, and their abbess is said to have possessed the power of life and death over her subjects.
But whatever its fall from this extraordinary greatness, we found it still most picturesque, and its stalwart tower was pierced by a cavernous gate leading to the court of the convent. All that we were permitted to see there was the men’s part of the church, which included only its eastern end. The nave was protected against male intrusion by a most formidable grillwork of iron through which one might look but might not hope to pass. There were numerous relics of interest to be seen, chief of them a great banner which was captured from the Almohades in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. Also there were several important tombs, including that of Eleanor, daughter of Henry II of England and wife of Alfonso VIII of Castile. Here also Alfonso el Sabio conferred the distinction of knightly orders on Edward I of England. Such, at any rate, was the tale of the thrifty cleric who escorted us through the church, adding to his religious labors that worldly occupation of vending postcards, and very good ones they were !
Of the Cid, who was a true son of Burgos, we saw little, – not even his few bones that now lie in the Casa Consistorial. That mighty hero, like Columbus, has had a migratory career since his death in 1099 ; and while there may exist some doubt as to the present location of all his members, it is pleasant to believe that most of his mortal frame is buried here, a few miles from the little village of Bivar, where he was born, and from which he took his name. His soul, however, is most in-fallibly marching on, in song, story, and tradition. His name and fame we had met repeatedly as we journeyed up from the south, crossing and recrossing the trail of this remarkable soldier of fortune ; but here we were in his very home.
Don Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, to give him his full name, having on one hard-fought field caused seven haughty Moors to acknowledge him their ” Cid,” or lord, seems to have preempted that title for himself, or had it conferred upon him ; and it is by this that the world knows him today, sometimes adding the equally proud title ” campeador,” or champion, which marked him as a successful man-at-arms of the king. It may be well to sketch hastily here the career of this national hero, even at the risk of incorporating a good deal that has no better basis than the tales of ballad-singers, for he is surely one of the most interesting of all Spaniards.
When Alfonso VI finally succeeded to the throne of Castile, at the death of his brother Sancho, it was the Cid for let us accept all the legends we may who forced the new king to swear with a triple oath that he had borne no part in his predecessor’s taking off. They show you to this day the little church of Sant’ Agueda, in Burgos, where this oath was administered. No other noble dared force the king to swear, save only the Cid, and it seems likely that he paid for this temerity with a heavy loss of popularity, so far as Alfonso was concerned. At any rate, after alternately dismissing him from service and restoring him to favor, the monarch eventually dispatched him from his kingdoms altogether, and the Cid Campeador went forth into the world with no weapon but his sword wherewith to carve himself a name and fortune. In this, however, he succeeded, and the panoply of his celebrity, magnified in a score of legends and ballads, has served to obscure the fact that in all probability he was but a cruel and unscrupulous adventurer in the main. The reputation of a preux chevalier is capable of covering a multitude of sins. Space would fail to enumerate his famous exploits in a hundred different battles and in a score of difficult missions throughout the kingdom, and one must be content to say that he achieved great fame as the defender of Saragossa, and later conquered Valencia, of which city he remained suzerain and dictator until his death. His last moments were passed in sadness, with a powerful enemy encamped before his gates. As soon as he had died his corpse was dressed in full armor and hoisted to the saddle on the back of his faithful Bavieca ; and sup-ported by his confessor, the valiant Bishop Geronimo, he rode tottering forth from the city, with livid face and bristling beard, the frightful spectacle terrifying the foe and scattering them in utter panic ! He was not buried in Burgos until long years after, and of course the story is told that the bones now interred there are not the Cid’s at all. Indeed, they tell the same tale of the ashes of Columbus at Seville !
The Cid was married in Burgos, and what pur-ports to be his marriage contract is still preserved. Also there is an aged chest which the hero is said to have filled with sand and pledged to the Jews of the city as worth 600 marks, in order to raise money for a campaign. This unworthy subterfuge, however, was duly atoned for by redeeming the value-less pawn to the uttermost farthing. Too many stories exist to the effect that the Cid was really a rapacious warrior, to permit this possibility to be ignored. But whatever his faults, Spain has for-given and forgotten them, and trusts that his soul is with the saints. His earthly relics are scattered, and there is more than a little doubt of the authenticity of those that do remain. The so-called ” Cristo de las battallas,” the Cid’s crucifix, is still to be seen at Salamanca, and is said to be the actual one, although in Hare’s time it was hidden or lost, and nobody would confess to knowing where it was.
There is one short excursion in the neighborhood of Burgos which well repays the effort, and the distance, as we discovered, is by no means too great to walk if one likes walking at all. This is to the monastery of Miraflores, which stands on a bare hill to the eastward something less than two miles away. To reach it, one crosses the river by any one of its several bridges and follows the southern bank by a long and well-shaded path beside which flows for a considerable portion of the way a rill of water in a sort of tiny canal. After a time the highway crosses the railroad and begins a leisurely climb to the left, passing under a mossy arch. It is from about this point that the buildings of the monastery begin to appear across the ascending fields, their effect being rather English from afar. The structure thus seen is in fact the church, adjoining which is the monastic establishment with the usual double cloister, to which senoras are not admitted, as a matter of course. The ladies, however, do not miss a great deal in this case, for the cloisters are not interesting nor especially beautiful, and their intervening quadrangles are laid out as kitchen-gardens and cemeteries. The church, which is open to every one, is easily the more interesting sight. It is a simple structure, devoid of side aisles, but possessing a long and broad nave which is divided into three sections, one for the people, one for the lay brothers, and one for the monks. It was a silent and devout Carthusian who led us into it and who explained a few of its features ; but in the main he was too much occupied with his devotions to be an ideal guide, and said almost nothing in words. One other monk was there, prostrate in adoration before the altar. Both men were bearded and uncanny.
The most interesting object in the church was the great and over-elaborate tomb, or monument, erected by Isabella the Catholic to the memory of her royal parents, King John and Queen Isabella of Portugal. It was a prodigious affair, of white marble marvelously carved with a great profusion of tracery ; and like the tombs of the Infantes at the Escorial, it suggested nothing so much as a gigantic fancy cake. In shape it was a double octagon, high enough to force one to crane one’s neck to see the effigies of the monarchs on its top. The king and queen, also in white marble, were shown stretched at full length, a low marble partition between them. The whole thing, although Baedeker had seen fit to bestow on it the distinction of his double asterisks, seemed tawdry and disappointing, however much it may reveal the skill of its sculptors. I could not but marvel at the restraint exhibited in the much finer tomb of Prince Juan at Avila, which was erected by the order of the same monarch. This tomb at Miraflores is said to resemble a crown, and it does so. But it is too ornate, even for royalty, and the plain simplicity of its surroundings emphasizes its grotesque and excessive pomp.
There is one more tomb in the same church, close by, and also erected by order of Isabella, a monument to the young Prince Alonzo, her brother, through whose untimely death the great queen came to the throne of Castile. It does not inspire the same distaste as that aroused by the greater sepulchre, but even it cannot be compared with the simpler monument in San Tomas of Avila. The Italian artist who made that to my mind far surpassed the work of Gil de Siloe at Miraflores, al-though the latter gave a wonderful exhibition of loading a marble tomb with superfluous and florid adornment.
In a little chapel hard by there was one other celebrated thing which seemed less over-praised than the tombs had been, and that was the ancient statue in wood of San Bruno, the saint to whom the chapel is sacred. Philip IV, on seeing this marvelously lifelike image, is said to have started in surprise and murmured, ” If he does not speak it is because he is a Carthusian.” To-day, while very like unto life, it would hardly impose upon any one; and it has had the good fortune to escape the rather ghastly reputation acquired by an effigy in the great cathedral below, that it is made of a human corpse, stuffed by the taxidermist’s art !
I can recall but one other building in Burgos apart from the cathedral itself which still affords a lively recollection, and that is the Casa Miranda, so called. It lies in a very dirty street parallel with the south bank of the stream ; and although it is badly worn and sorely dilapidated, it still gives an admirable idea of the appearance of the great ancient palaces. Owing to the narrowness of the highway, there is much difficulty in seeing its exterior; but the effects within and especially from its patio are uncommonly fine. It is domed and towered, and there is a most fascinating staircase leading from one side of the court to an arcade above, as in the Casa de Conchas. But this ancient house we found to be in a sorry state of filth and decay, without any prospect of such restoration as the Salamantine structure was enjoying, and the centuries of wear had made such ruts in the stairs that climbing them was difficult and descent more difficult still. It was only by keeping close to the wall and walking with great caution that we went up and down in safety over their slippery treads. The vaulting of the roofs and the sculptured friezes were still wonderful, even in their semi-ruined state, and I suspect that the evidences of age-long occupancy tended to enhance the charm of the spot.
It remains only to describe the churchly procession of Good Friday evening, a procession which we witnessed from our balcony. No doubt it was but a poor thing compared with the famous displays and pageants of Seville, but in its way it was excellent, and I presume typically Spanish. The preparations for this event we had noted in several cathedrals, for we had seen many an image standing in cloisters and dark chapter rooms waiting the proper time to be lifted to the shoulders of patient bearers and borne through the streets. For example, in a gloomy antechamber at Segovia we had seen a wax figure of the Mater Dolorosa, very modern-looking indeed, robed in mourning of the deepest and bearing on her sallow cheek a very real tear of glass ! Another of these we had seen that same morning in Burgos, and in line with it a dozen other floats, for that is what we should call them, sometimes individual figures and sometimes groups, representing scenes on the way to Calvary and after. These were all excruciatingly real if not inspected at too close hand.
And now had come the hour of the procession. It was toward dusk, and yet it was not time to light the numberless candles that decked the bal-conies around the square. From the windows leaned a curious and expectant throng, and the street below was lined as far as the eye could reach.
By and by, as the shades of night were falling, the procession appeared. It moved slowly and impressively, not alone because of the tremendous solemnity of what it portrayed, but because the progress of those heavy floats, borne on the shoulders of men, must of necessity be painfully toilsome. The halts were frequent, doubtless to afford the bearers needed rest. The head of the pageant, partly on foot and partly mounted, moved in silence down the street, and the crowd awaited in eager reverence the approach of the tableau re-presenting the condemnation, torture, crucifixion, and burial of Christ.
If the latter had seemed excruciatingly real in the broad light of day when viewed from close quarters, they were a hundred times more so now as we looked down upon them in the gathering darkness from our lofty balcony. I do not now recall them all, but there was a most lifelike figure of Christ praying in the garden, a terrible flagellation, a favorite scene with the Spanish race, an agonizing figure of the Saviour fainting beneath his cross, a wonderfully effective crucifixion with Longinus about to thrust his spear into the side of the Lord, and finally the glass coffin containing the ghastly body, followed by the mourning Mary, the latter heralded by the only music of the day, for music in Passion Week is always the sign of the Virgin’s approach. The musicians had selected the stately funeral march by Chopin, and the deep strains echoed solemnly from the lofty buildings along the way. All was reverence, and over all a hush. The swaying tableaux lifted high on the shoulders of their hidden bearers moved very slowly down the street and finally out of sight. The crowd broke from its alignment and flooded the street, chattering again as gayly as if it had not been silent and awe-stricken the moment before in the presence of the awful story of Calvary. Some said that purses were often stolen in the crowd, and even at the Miserere !
All the world went cheerfully home to its supper, and we discovered in a trice that, as at Salamanca, fish would be the staple fare. But inasmuch as the tourist population of Burgos was much greater than at Salamanca, the Hotel del Norte y de Londres had devised a comfortable plan for dealing with the non-Catholic stranger within its gates. If one desired meat he must sit on the right-hand side of the table. Otherwise fish would be served. Now even if the monks no longer maintain their mule-express over the hills to Santander in order to keep their Friday larders well replenished, one must not assume that fish is to be despised as far inland as Burgos, or even at Salamanca. Have no fear for the excellence of the table, even in Holy Week, for if custom dictates fish, fasting is, at any rate, not essential. As for the desserts, the Spaniard willingly makes up for his insistence on the fish by redoubling their variety. I believe we counted after our last dinner in Salamanca twelve different kinds of desserts arranged in impressive phalanges around our table, including natillas and fruits and cheeses as well as cakes and a wonderful assortment of cookies. The array was less imposing in Burgos, but it was considerably more than enough, including the white curd-cheese that forms a proud specialty of the place. This we later found on sale at the station, in little wooden boxes, offered with the same pride that elsewhere attends the Banbury tart and the Shrewsbury cake.
On the whole, I incline to rate both the climate and the beggars of Burgos to be exaggerated evils. Neither gave us much concern, although we had been led to expect trouble from the latter and discomfort from the former. In the weather we were presumably lucky, but in the matter of the mendicant I could not see that he was any worse than his brother of Salamanca, or nearly as bad as the beggars of Ronda and Toledo. Certainly neither importunity nor bitter sky dimmed the pleasure of our stay in Burgos ; and not the least pleasant of our memories is that last glimpse of the slender, skeleton spires that we got from the window of the train which next morning bore us northward toward Miranda of the Ebro.