GOOD fortune attended us at Medina del Campo and we found there a mixed train which was about to depart for Salamanca. Its presence in the spacious railway station seemed to us a matter of course, the time-table having mentioned it without apparent comment ; besides, who ever heard of such a thing as a mixed train that ran only twice a week? That peculiarity might be expected of a de luxe, but surely never of an humble train divided between a few passenger coaches and an interminable string of freight cars! All of which shows how little we knew, even at this late day, of the Spanish railway and its methods ! At any rate, the train was there, and we were thrust into its depths by an obliging mozo, while the downpour of rain and hailstones made pleasant music on the lofty glass roof of the station, a large and creditable station, too, for a point so remote from the haunts of men. Medina is no longer a city of importance, although once it was one of the favorite resorts of Isabella the Catholic, who died there in 1504, bequeathing to Spain a new and, alas, a troublesome world.
The rain proved but a passing shower, which must have rejoiced the enginemen not a little, exposed as they were in their cabless perch behind their antiquated locomotive. And even the neighboring farmers, to whom the downpour must have been thoroughly welcome, seemed forlorn enough as they passed us on the plain, huddled in their voluminous capes on the backs of plodding asses, and looking from a little distance like isolated camels crawling across a level and water-soaked desert.
But it was far from being a particularly arid desert compared with that vale of tears that we had left behind at Avila. Some little attempt at irrigation, doubtless learned from the ancient Moors, had given to the broad vega a sparse and infrequent fertility. Occasional small hamlets of mud-colored houses cowered under the inevitable church, and afforded excuses for stopping the train. But of scenery there was none in the accepted sense. It was mile after mile of unbroken prairie, with barely a knoll to be seen. Now and then, however, the train passed through pleasant groves of trees, not olives merely, but what looked like very ancient oaks. These were but occasional, and when, at last, we neared Salamanca, every vestige of woods had vanished and the road began to ascend a low eminence into the midst of what Baedeker was so fond of calling a ” treeless upland plain.”
It was well toward evening, and the usual chill was abroad. At the top of the grade, when we first caught sight of the many towers of Salamanca, they stood dark and cold in silhouette against the distant whiteness of snow-clad hills. By the road-side close at hand were patches of freshly fallen snow, showing that we were still pretty well up in the world, nearly three thousand feet, in fact. Altogether it was a wintry outlook. The lower hills were benumbed and blue, and in the deep ruts and mud of the station yard dismal puddles testified to the recent violence of the rain. And yet, despite the bleakness and the biting wind that had followed the storm, the first view of the ancient university city was not without its charm.
We were the only passengers who boarded the omnibus of the Fonda del Comercio, for travelers come to Salamanca far less often than they should at any season, and were hardly to be expected in Holy Week. As for the city, we had formed no preconceived notions of its appearance, and as the omnibus jolted down through the gathering dusk, with much splashing in the slough of fresh mud, we began to entertain the customary misgiving as to what we should find, not only in the city, but also in the hotel. Down a long avenue and into a narrower and even less promising street the coach rattled its way, finally coming to a halt in the semi-darkness before the low-browed door of an ancient building, evidently once a private residence, but now converted to the uses of an inn by uniting several adjacent buildings in one. Little did we divine from the first contact that the Fonda del Comercio of Salamanca was destined to pro-vide one of the pleasantest of all our Spanish experiences. It certainly chilled us at our first meeting, but that was only a cautious native reserve. Before a day had passed it had warmed to us, and its staff, from the proprietor down, received us as bosom friends. It was infinitely less primitive than the hostelry at Avila had been ; and for the volume and high excellence of its daily food it left behind in our minds an impression which, shameful as it may be to confess it, almost rivals the recollection of the great cathedral, the university, and the college of the Noble Irish!
Late as it was, and cold, we flung our valises into the rooms allotted us, and with the impetuous enthusiasm of a De Amicis rushed off bareheaded for a glance at the town before dinner. The side-walks, when there were any, were but ribbons of flagging whose worn surfaces were dotted with pools of water. Everything was still dripping. The ineffectual fire of infrequent lamps was reflected in a hundred dancing rivulets flowing through the lately drenched streets. Carriages plashed their way hither and yon, splattering everything and everybody in range. The famous Plaza Mayor was a huge and muddy quadrangle hemmed in by lofty and arcaded buildings, murky and mysterious in the evening mist. Obviously this was no time to see Salamanca, and yet it was very far from being a bad introduction to that ancient and classic town.
I shall not soon forget our hurried flight in the dusk through blind alleys and gloomy streets without map or guide. I make no doubt the few Salamantines abroad at that hour thought us daft. For to them the city was but a bitter reality, a place with a glorious past and a thoroughly barren present.
The night was punctuated, as usual, by the vociferations of the sereno and by the arrival of occasional omnibuses from late trains. For inasmuch as Salamanca lies midway on the line from the north to Lisbon, the trains take thought chiefly for arriving and departing at proper hours at those distant termini ; and it follows that most of them pass through Salamanca at unearthly hours of the dead night. In fact, there were almost no day trains of any sort, and we had, by sheer lucky accident, blundered upon the only one there was, the mixed train that ran but twice a week. Had we come on any other day, we should have spent the night at Medina of the Plain, where Baedeker had stigmatized the inns as ” both indifferent.” By piling up many blankets and calling for three bright brazen caloriferos, we managed to spend the night in comfort on couches of stupendous altitude. And in the morning we were wakened by the unwelcome sound of rain. By some curious good fortune it was the first stormy day we had experienced in Spain.
However, we splashed boldly out into the wet, and found the great plaza more fascinating by day than by night. It was vastly busier than the handsome and quaint old square of Segovia, a perfect quadrangle of oblong shape, and its midst was a lush mass of greenery surrounding the inevitable pavilion for a band. The long and echoing corridors of the surrounding arcade gave shelter from the rain and an opportunity to inspect the shops in comfort ; but the latter were commonplace, and even the buildings were not older than early eighteenth century. All Salamanca, it would seem, was surging a dripping way up and down the arcades on every side of the square.
As a matter of course, our first thought was of the cathedral, the way to which proved extremely easy to find from the map. Nevertheless, we could not go directly thither because of sundry lions in the path. The first was the church of San Martin, a venerable pile close to the plaza, its antique portico adorned with rude reliefs representing the saint in his noble act of bestowing his cloak upon a beggar. Within it was still a notable example of late-Romanesque, although sadly marred by de-cadent Spanish taste ; but aside from a few quaint old marble tombs, it had little to show.
Much more attractive was the Casa de Conchas, which we came upon unexpectedly farther up the street, after a mad dash through the shower. We turned into it for shelter, literally carrying it at the point of our umbrellas, and overwhelming the man at the gate, who turned out to be no more than a peaceable mason in search of more mortar. The house, it appeared, was in process of restoration. Outwardly it needed little, for its walls were still covered with the curious carved scallop-shells of stone which give it its name. I imagine these scallop-shells were originally placed there in honor of Santiago, the patron saint of Spain, for they are his sacred device. The house itself was as strong as a fort, and, aside from these numberless shells and some exceedingly graceful window grills, boasted no external adornment. It was even more fascinating within. Its immense door led into a broad, paved passage, which in turn gave upon a spacious patio, around which stood the great house in a lofty, hollow square. The surrounding colonnade was most graceful, and a magnificent staircase led up to the upper balcony, the roof throughout being adorned with ancient carving. There were no tenants at present save the workmen, for the marquis who now owns it was at the moment disporting him-self in Madrid, and the interval was employed in putting the structure in perfect repair. We were free to wander at will through the rooms, up-stairs, downstairs, and in the lady’s chamber. Everywhere was the evidence of past greatness, chiefly notable in the colonnades of the court and in the blackened wooden ceilings.
There was a tremendous structure just across the narrow street, towering above the Casa de Conchas like a cliff and making it a dark and dismal place on such a day. This was the seminario conciliar, too huge to be overlooked, with its stupid baroque church, and from a distance far from un-pleasing to look upon, but incredibly bad on close inspection. It is much better seen from the outskirts of the town, and its towers are a notable feature of the skyline ; but we could not let it hold us longer from the cathedral, now near at hand. We made for the cathedral hastily in an interval between the showers, as did most of the populace, who seemed, bent on attending the morning mass.
The cathedralmeaning thereby the “new” cathedral is another of those stupendously great churches of which Spain is so fond. It seemed to us, as so many of the others had seemed, grossly over-ornamented to outward view. Like the baroque church of the seminary, it is much better seen from a distance, and yet it cannot be said that even at close range it is not a good example of the later Gothic as it flowered in Spain. Admittedly it was the prototype of the cathedral at Segovia, the architects being the same and probably employing in their later work the same fundamental plans as at Salamanca. As usual, this building required more than the lifetime of any one man, and it is said to have been two hundred years in reaching full completion. To-day the huge detached tower suffers in appearance from the heavy casing of stone which was put around it by cautious hands just after the Lisbon earthquake ; and the entire fabric is marred by the fact that passing generations have left on its walls the marks of the strata of their varying tastes. As a result, there is some lack of unity in the conception as a whole, but it is at least consistent in being over-adorned throughout. The doorways, as usual, boast the inevitable army of statuettes, although many of these have disappeared to leave behind them only empty niches and brackets and tradition says the saints thus portrayed grew weary of the stupid task of standing there, and vanished one by one.
The ordinary entrance of the cathedral is not by the main portals of the façade, but by a smaller door in its northern side. The way toward this we found to lie across a great platform of stone, punctuated with puddles. Once we had attained the door and slipped under its heavy leathern curtain, the garishness of the outside of the church was amply atoned for by the loftiness and dignity within. These elements even triumphed over the baroque atrocities of the crossing and of certain of the chapels, and the long vistas of far-stretching aisles made up in a measure for the inevitable intrusion of the choir. Many people were gathered here, as befitted Holy Week, and despite the gloom of the day, the general effect of the place was one of cheer and airiness, for which the golden-brown of the stone was mainly responsible.
A mercenary sacristan abandoned his labor of building an uncommonly ugly Easter pavilion long enough to show us a few of the chapels and their treasures, including what was alleged to be the crucifix of the Cid. But he speedily relinquished us to the tender mercies of a canon who was about to set out on a tour of the church with a small army of visitors, and returned without reluctance to his hammering, of which it seemed he was not a little proud. We turned our steps toward the ” old” cathedral close at hand.
Unlike other ancient churches, the older cathedral of Salamanca has been allowed to remain under the shadow of the more modern church, instead of being superseded on the identical site. And despite a general flavor of mild decay, it seems strong enough to endure for many generations more. Certainly it is a much more satisfactory building than the new cathedral, and especially so from outside, where one gets a difficult glance at the lantern the cupola that served as a suggestion for the central tower of Trinity in Boston. It is a pity that this feature is so very hard to see satisfactorily, for it is one of the most charming bits of architecture in Spain. Furthermore, it looks rather frail, and liable some day to collapse, which a kindly fate forefend !
It was this older church that was founded by the valiant and militant prelate, Bishop Geronimo, confessor of the Cid and steadfast companion of his campaigns. Indeed, it was Geronimo who sup-ported the lifeless corpse of his hero when it took its last ghastly ride, on horseback and in full panoply of war, out of the gates of Valencia. If we may believe the reports, time has dealt leniently with Geronimo’s buried clay ; for when his tomb in Salamanca was opened, like that of Charles V, after many years of sepulture, the body was found quite uncorrupted, save for the tip of its nose, and, like that of Saint Mark at Venice, emitted a most delicious odor !
The empty nave of the older cathedral was massive and simple, and the walls of the structure were said to be ten feet in thickness, so that one may readily calculate its chances of standing. On the whole, the more ancient church had nothing to be ashamed of in comparison with its successor, with all its bedizened grandeur. It disappointed us only in its mouldy cloisters, the arches of which had been filled with windows and shutters of wood. Apart from these, it was delightfully ancient and quaint, and among the chapels they showed us was one in which, on stated occasions, is still celebrated the Mozarabic rite.
Just across the paved platform outside the cathedral there was visible a rather imposing building which we mistook at first for the celebrated university, and we betook ourselves to it after the cathedral had grown alike too chilly and too impressive longer to be endured at that moment. It inclosed a vast quadrangle, and we were just beginning to become enthusiastic over it and people its grand staircases with thousands of thronging students, when we discovered that it was not a college at all, — at least no longer, — but a sort of military office. The real university which gave Salamanca its ancient celebrity and which is used as a college still, was quite another building, directly opposite the cathedral itself. Even then, however, its entrance was difficult to find, once we had dis-covered its rear windows; but after threading several winding streets in that vicinity we came upon its ornate main portal, facing a very narrow but lengthy and secluded square. Surely nobody would ever have taken it for a world-famous university. Its broad gate was surmounted by a much over-ornamented sandstone structure, carved with numerous reliefs, grotesque and otherwise, including the inevitable escutcheons, busts of Ferdinand and Isabella, various popes and other persons, some al-most half-length, and giving evidence of a curious attempt to correct the effects of diminishing perspective by increasing the sizes of the statues as the building rose. Taken as a whole, the gateway was rather rich and imposing, but I incline to remain convinced that it was altogether too rich. One could not question, however, that it afforded a most striking end for the tiny square, which had for its only other adornment a statue of Fray (Brother) Luis de Leon, poet and erstwhile professor of theology in the university.
Certain now of our ground, we entered the courtyard of the ancient college which once enrolled as many as ten thousand students at a single term. It seemed an incredibly small space for harboring such a multitude of scholars, but of course the original university must have occupied many other buildings, and the students naturally were never all present at any one time, but came to their lectures, no doubt, with that easy nonchalance still characteristic of college students everywhere. Within there was a broad court surrounded by a simple cloister, all silent and deserted save for an intelligent janitor who came jangling his keys and anxious to show us all he could. He led us to various old rooms, but to our unutterable disappointment the library was inexorably closed. It was a sort of Holy Week recess, we were told, and the faculty were not in residence at that moment, so that no proper permission was to be obtained. At other times, I believe, properly accredited persons are freely admitted to see the treasures housed there ; but for us it was not to be, although we used every available argument, begged, pleaded, hinted at the silver key, and claimed kinship with every erudite professor in the well-known universities of the world.
But if we could not see the books, we did at least manage to see the chapel, a very ordinary one of a size which at once dispelled the notion that ten thousand students were ever forced to attend it regularly in a body. Such a crowd would probably far overtax the cathedral itself. Indeed, the chapel, as well as the other rooms we were allowed to see, seemed much better suited to the few hundred students who now matriculate there. The apartment once used as a lecture room by Fray Luis de Leon remained as it was in his own distant day, a dark and gloomy cave of a room, with a lofty black pulpit and rows of hideously uncomfortable benches, carved, of course, with innumerable names. It is quite as it was in Fray Luis’s time, and one might easily imagine it filled with gay young candidates for the bachelor’s degree, eager ” grinds,” poets in embryo, roistering blades, fanatic theologians, cavaliers all. They also showed us a second room, almost as ancient, where it was said the incoming classes were always received by the president, and doubtless he says to them the same flattering things in Spanish that our New England college presidents say in English to their young men every autumn.
From being one of the best and most celebrated universities in the world, Salamanca has become one of the oldest and poorest. The kind of education that is obtained there now is very different from what it was in days when it boasted the finest department of mathematics in the world, and very nearly the ablest classical faculty. The works of Copernicus are no longer used as its text-books. Crowds of enthusiastic students no longer bear famous lecturers on their shoulders to the rostrum, as of old they bore Peter Martyr. Indeed, it is a problem to say just what worth one would attach to a degree from Salamanca today; but it is certain that those who obtain it must undergo a struggle such as would put the poorest student of a New England college to blush. Richard Hutton relates that the ” more fortunate” students live on about five pesetas a day, which is a trifle less than a dollar. Think of that, ye gilded and luxurious sons of Harvard and Yale ! One dollar a day is the riotous living of the wealthy student of old Salamanca ! The students in moderate circumstances spend from one peseta a day to five or ten pesetas a month. The latter, however, are the poorest, and commonly bring a scanty store of provender from home to eke out what their little means can buy. Surely such hardship merits something better than a ” common school” education, and yet that is said to be what they receive at best. Nevertheless, Salamanca has her honor roll of famous alumni, and in her prime she sent out such sons as Cervantes, Ignatius Loyola, Ximenes, and Calderon. Who knows what mute inglorious poets and states-men she may be rearing today?
I referred some time ago to the college of the Noble Irish, the other great educational institution of the city of venerable age, dating as it does to the days of Philip II. It has the advantage over the greater university to-day in being still in full vigor, and we found the exploration of it one of the most agreeable of our Salamantine memories. According to all accounts the Most Catholic Philip founded it to spite Queen Elizabeth of England, by offering an institute for the teaching of her Irish subjects the elements of the Catholic faith. It was not difficult to find, standing as it did on a hill toward the western walls of the city, a handsome old building which inclosed a spacious quadrangle with an extremely graceful colonnade. A trim Irish priest was taking the air in the higher cloister, and in the lower court two gray-eyed lads were walking to and fro. They were delighted to find somebody from outside who could speak English, and told of their life in the ancient Spanish city with much avidity. Six years, they said, was the regular course, and the men undertaking it seldom went home during that time. The total number of students at the moment was twenty-four. Did they like it? Oh, yes; although it grew somewhat monotonous. And it is probable that they were very well aware that much better instruction could have been had at home without so much trouble and inconvenience. Nevertheless, I cannot but feel that six years of study in Salamanca, with all the rich traditions of that mediæval city in the very atmosphere, is an admirable thing. Were I an Irishman and a Catholic, I know I should be made a better one by half a dozen years spent in that cloistered abode, founded by a fanatical monarch with the laudable intention of making an English queen furiously angry !
I think I never was more delighted to meet with two exiles from Erin. Those two serious, clear-eyed novices with their trailing black robes and neat caps were an oasis in a desert. We had been for some time quite out of the zone of English travel, and had been thrown entirely on our Spanish, so that the sound of the brogue, be it never so slightly marked, was music to our ears. Nor was it any the less pleasant to stray into the chapel of the semi-nary and find inscribed in the fly-leaves of the books and breviaries such honest names as John Larkin, written in a good, straightforward Irish hand.
On returning to the hotel we discovered its land-lord, the worthy Senor Don José, in a state of violent perturbation, he having received a letter in English of which he was able to understand not one word. He appealed to us, and in halting phrase we made known to him the unwelcome news that a tourist party of large size, for which accommodations had been duly reserved, was not coming at all. How we managed to convey this intelligence to him I cannot understand, for I am positive that I could not by any possibility do it today. But he understood, and despite the disheartening character of the message, he was grateful to a degree. From that moment we became his honored guests, and he hovered near us at each successive meal to make sure his boys left no want unsupplied. Not that they needed overseeing, for a more obliging set of young men never officered a hotel.
But with all Don José’s good nature, he could not promise to give us better weather, and we spent a long afternoon in his stuffy writing-room. Contrasted with the bleakness of the outer air its atmosphere was geniality itself, and we discovered after a little what had produced this mysterious warmth. It was a brasero, snugly hidden in the bottom shelf of the writing-table, and shut in by the trailing red tablecloth. This naturally kept the heat from straying too freely about the room, but it certainly made it very warm and comfort-able for one’s feet and knees. Also it afforded a cosy resting-place for the family cat, a beast that in Spain is a sort of chartered libertine, making free with every warm spot from the best bed to the top of the kitchen stove. Many a time in Madrid I had sought the servants in the morning only to find them making chocolate under the very nose of a purring Maltese puss that was basking on the warm tiles of the cooking range !
It was only after some little stay in Salamanca that I began to make inquiries about the means of departure. There was in the time-table a mixed train that left about noon for the north, and I announced to the concierge that I thought we should take it on the morrow. He said I could not ; it did not “circulate.”
” But see. Here it is in my time-table.”
” Ah, yes, senor. In the time-table. But see also here in my own time-table, which is a better one than yours. Note this symbol of reference, which is duly explained on page 122 here, ` This mixed train will circulate on Tuesdays and Sundays only !”
And this was neither day ! It was apparent that we were in for yet another day of Salamanca, and that when we did leave it must be in the dead of night, with two hours to wait in the fonda at Medina del Campo ! It was not that we wished to leave Salamanca, for we had come to love her dearly despite her mists and rain ; but with that perversity of nature that manifests itself when one is arbitrarily precluded from following any course of conduct, we inclined to take this news but ill. It was, I suppose, a sentiment of restlessness like that in which Kipling’s tramp royal hastens to turn the leaves of his life’s book, for
Pretty quick it seems that you will die Unless you get the page you’re readin’ done And turn another, likely not so good, But what you’re after is to turn them all !
At the moment nothing seemed more desirable than to leave Salamanca at once, and we could not go. Secretly, however, I imagine we were all delighted. It meant a tedious night ride and an arrival at Burgos at an unearthly hour ; but in compensation it gave us a Holy Thursday in Salamanca, which we should otherwise have missed, and with-out preventing our attendance at the processions of Good Friday in the more northern city. So mote it be ! And we betook ourselves with chastened minds to our tall couches and caloriferos.
Early on the morrow, which dawned bright and clear, there came a tapping at our chamber doors, and the landlady, who spoke French, was discovered, anxiously inquisitive, without. She wished to know if we desired any meat to eat that day. ” Monsieur knows that, according to a Spanish custom, all the world to-day eats fish. To-morrow it will be the same all eat fish. If Monsieur wishes meat, he will kindly command it now, that we may go to the market and buy. Otherwise we shall know that Monsieur will eat as the others fish ! ” After some debate we compromised. For luncheon we would cheerfully eat fish with all the world. For the rest, perhaps a single morsel of meat if Madame would be so kind at dinner? Madame vanished, all smiles. We were, after all, but partial heretics !
Breakfast on Holy Thursday presented no new problem, of course. There was the usual thick paste of chocolate, and, alas, nothing but leche de cabra ! The waiter was desolated, and rushed about to see if he could locate a cow. There was none ; so we drank goat’s milk, likewise with all the world. Also there were the usual dry, white sugar-cakes, azucarillos, which I imagine are meant to be soaked and eaten. These we had never been able to manage successfully, and had decided always to ignore. To attempt the eating of one in its dry state meant to powder the eater and his immediate vicinity with a fine white dust, and the taste was just short of being sweet. Aside from these, a few rolls completed the meal. Passion Week could hardly ask less.
Although all the people went to church that morning, the cathedral hardly showed their presence, and the vast nave was apparently able to hold ten times the number that were there. As always in the season of the Passion, there was no music at all, and we remained only long enough to see the blessing of the sacred chrism, always an interesting bit of churchly ceremony, and doubly so in this instance because of the evident self-consciousness of those who performed it. They were ill at ease, and this feeling was by no means de-creased by the open derision of the fat under-prelate in charge.
We spent the morning, I remember, in searching out the great bridge over the yellow river, a thing we had omitted to do before because of the rain. It was but a step from the cathedral, but a steep and slimy step, the streets, covered with a film of mud, dropping sharply to the base of the bluffs on which the city stands. Swollen by the rains, the Tormes proved itself no mean river ; and if it was shallow it made up by being impressively broad. So broad was it, indeed, that the bridge required an astonishing number of arches, and their number may be calculated from the guidebook’s statement that ” the fifteen nearest the city belong to the original structure, or Roman date ; the other twelve date from the reign of Philip IV.” It was altogether such a bridge as that we had seen at Cordova, similar both in color and construction, but much longer and rather more impressive in consequence. From its farther end was to be had a fine view of Salamanca, perhaps the best general view, — with the cathedrals, new and old, forming the most conspicuous feature.
Also we sought out the highly interesting church of Santo Domingo, or San Esteban, — for the two names are apparently wedded and apply to the church and its adjacent monastery with almost equal force. We had something of a hunt for it, and even when we had located it accurately, our faith in the fact was shaken by the failure of an aged peasant to be absolutely sure of the name of the church. It happened to be closed at the moment, as so many Spanish churches are apt to be at mid-day; but a passing boy, scenting centimos from afar, pulled noisily at a bell in the portico and aroused a monkish brother within and it was he who led us by devious turnings through the cloisters to the heart of the church. It possessed a fine interior, much finer than its overwrought plateresque exterior would have indicated ; and despite the baroque altar it proved a pleasant place, with an admirable example of the raised choir spanning the lower end of the nave. But it was of secondary interest in itself to the cloistered quadrangles close by, from certain parts of which we were excluded because of the ladies. We managed to gain admission to a quaint art gallery, however, which occupied an upper cloister well glazed from the weather, but which proved to be far less interesting than the Titanic stone staircases that led up to it. I have little definite recollection of the pictures, save that they were mainly rude, and religious in tone, possessing no great artistic merit. But there were among them one or two astonishingly worldly paintings, representing wandering minstrels with guitars and pipes, curiously out of place in such an assemblage of saints and martyrs.
It was in this monastery, according to the chronicles, that Columbus received his chief encouragement to embark on his venturesome voyages. The doctors of the neighboring university would have none of him or his schemes, and branded the latter as dangerously heretical. But the brotherhood of Dominicans, whose habitation this cloister was, led by so good a Catholic as the Inquisitor Diego de Deza, overlooked the heresy and lent to the world-seeking Genoese the aid and comfort which heartened him to ask the patronage of the Catholic Kings. In consequence, the story prevails that Columbus brought back with him the gold which now decks the high altar ; but this is such a common tale in Spain that it is presumably quite untrue in any case.
While we were inspecting the quaint art collection, the frayles, robed in their brown cowls, began to clatter past us on their way to service in the high choir, and many a look of frowning distrust was cast at the near presence of women. Presently one brother detached himself from the rest and approached us, and we beat a precipitate retreat down that giant staircase, fearful lest he tell us that the spot whereon we were standing was holy ground. He followed us for a considerable distance, and then, sighting another brown brother, he called to him, ” Fray Martin ! Show the señoras out !” We stood not upon the order of our going, but went at once, although at no time had we ventured into the forbidden precincts.
Even on this more pleasant day there came several showers, one of which prisoned us for nearly an hour in a peasant’s house by the side of a narrow back street. Nobody could have been more courteous than the woman who welcomed us there, and we sat for a long time in her broad stone-flagged vestibule, an object of huge interest to a multitude of curious-eyed children. For a while the alley outside ran rivers of water, and when the storm abated we emerged only to involve ourselves with a most unusual and picturesque procession, nothing more nor less than twelve bedesmen, clean-shaven old men attired in decent black, who were on their way to have their feet laved by the venerable arch-bishop. This symbolic foot-washing, which of course commemorates the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus Christ, is a well-known custom of Maundy Thursday everywhere ; but in Salamanca there is nothing figurative or imaginary about it. The twelve old men with their neat bibs and aprons were marched over to the cathedral behind His Grace, a benevolent old prelate he was, led to the raised seats provided for them beside the screen of the choir, and made to remove their shoes and hose. A silver basin and graceful ewer were brought by priestly attendants, and towels were borne by others, whereat the washing was accomplished with extraordinary dispatch, while all Salamanca looked on in sober reverence, seeing no doubt in their spiritual pastor and the ancient bedesmen Jesus and his followers in their own proper persons ! Such is the power of religious imagery in Spain. But as soon as it was over, the crowd fell a-chatting again, and the children who raced in and out among the pillars became noisier than ever.
I cannot forbear to mention one other incomparable thing we sought out in Salamanca, a thing which was not easy to find, but which repaid the effort of the finding a hundred fold, the ” Conception,” painted by the faithful Ribera, which hangs in the rather obscure church of the Augustinas Recoletas. The picture, hung high above an altar, was covered with the usual purple veil, and in consequence we despaired of seeing it, for the veil is ordinarily quite too sacred to be raised or removed before Easter day. Happily the sacristan was lenient and susceptible to inducement, and after some show of protest he consented to lift the curtain the church being empty save for our-selves and revealed to us one of the most satisfactory paintings of this sacred mystery that I have ever beheld. The picture cannot be adequately described. It must be seen in order to gain a proper idea of the exquisite face and figure of the Virgin, whose whole attitude and expression betoken a most vividly sanctified joy. Mr. Havelock Ellis, in considering Ribera’s work, esteems this ” the crowning proof of Ribera’s artistic strength and his power of rendering ecstatic emotion. The fine blending of modesty and pride in the Virgin’s face and erect figure is here triumphantly attained ; in one effort Ribera has not merely succeeded where Murillo after him so often lavished his labor in vain, but he challenges comparison with Titian.”‘ This is extraordinary praise, surely, but no one who has seen the ” Conception ” in the convent of the Augustinas Recoletas of Salamanca will think of questioning its justice.
It would be futile to attempt any detailed description of the multitude of architectural charms that crowd the byways of the city. The temptation is to catalogue them, but it would after all be but a catalogue. I shall refrain, but the omission seriously impairs the success of expressing the elusive abstract impression the city left upon our minds as the resultant of all its forces. We were conscious then, and are more conscious now, of a certain magic charm which lingers in the nooks and crannies of this ancient seat of learning. Its very name is a potent spell. Salamanca is no city of many saints, like Avila. It has little or no Moorish past. It does not at every turn remind you of the glorious age of Ferdinand and Isabella. Rather is it a splendid old university town, redolent of the ancient culture, the site of a college to which all the world once gladly sent its sons, and a city which seemed to the worthy Peter Martyr fit to be called a ” New Athens.” Let Salamanca be never so difficult of approach, and never so difficult to leave, she is still and forever one of the finest cities of old Spain.
We left her finally with an unfeigned regret, in the stillness of a beautiful moonlit night. The plains stretched far and dim under the brilliant sky, and the groves of trees along the way gained a new beauty as we sped through that vast and silent country. The white station buildings were ghostly in the moonlight, and the only sound abroad in the night was the shrill piping of our engine’s whistle. The wind was asleep, and not one cloud was visible in all that luminous firmament, which had so lately wept.