THE ancient and honorable city of Toledo lies to the southward of Madrid, somewhat to one side of the main highway of travel, on the very verges of Castile. It is near enough to be made the object of a day’s excursion from Madrid as a base, and many find this amply sufficient to satisfy them. It boasts hotels of every grade of price, however, from outrageous extortion to moderate reasonableness, so that it is possible to remain there for some days in tolerable comfort if one desires. As is the case with nearly all adjacent towns to which the tourist travel is extensive, the railroads offer tickets for the round trip (ida y vuelta) at generously low rates, though these are generally limited as to time.
It was with the idea of spending no more than that day in Toledo that we presented ourselves at the Atocha station the southern terminal of Madrid one misty, moisty morning. A quite needless interpreter of the predatory sort vainly endeavored to assist in the purchase of tickets at the second-class window, but we laughed him to scorn. One rapidly learns to depend on one’s self for such things in Spain, where the unbiquitous Cook has established but few outposts ; and by this time we had lost all fear of the Spanish ticket agent and could by due diligence protect ourselves even against the false change for which these gentry are notorious. For this the safest method is to calculate the fare in advance from the printed tariffs and approach the office with the exact price in hand, so that there may be no change, bad or otherwise, to reckon with.
The day promised little in the way of weather save showers and gloom. The clouds hung low over the deserted steppes through which the railway led southward, and withal it was damp and cold. The second-class coach, with its usual quota of four small wheels, jolted tediously along with windows tightly closed against the outer bleakness, while the occupants smoked, read their morning papers, and stared intermittently at the foreigners. The scenery was of little interest for many miles, being a mere open moor, or prairie of slight undulations, across which solitary figures here and there, huddled on the backs of patient burros, wended a leisurely way along the scarcely discernible trails. They looked wet and miserable. Nevertheless, despite the fact that there was no great amount of life visible, the stations were by no means few, and the train was continually halting at them, the hyphenated names indicating that different settlements lay concealed in the hollows at some distance on either side and used the station in common. Now and then we could catch sight of one of these distant towns nestling under a bare, brown knoll in the prairie, its buildings closely set and gloomy in color, the red-brown tiles invariably dominated by a single, dark church tower. Rarely indeed did the sun send down a ray as we puffed and whistled our way across this barren desert, but everywhere was a sky that seemed about to weep. Decidedly it was a cheer-less and depressing prospect ; and we wrapped the drapery of our raincoats about us and sat down to return the stares of the passengers with interest.
It was a run of about two hours to Toledo, and as the train made fair progress this meant that the distance was about fifty miles. As we began to draw near the city the scenery visibly brightened, and even the sky grew a trifle more promising. The train clattered across the infant Tagus on an iron trestle and proceeded down its narrow valley, which broadened gradually and grew greener as an earnest of the broad and fertile vega which lies be-hind Toledo’s rocky heights. Occasional breaks in the pall of cloud permitted long, slanting bars of golden light to touch here and there on the landscape, and at length as we swept around a bend in the river one of these fell upon the lofty towers and spires of Toledo and gilded all with its cheerful beam.
As usual the station was an outlying one, unkempt and poor. Its platform was alive with a tatterdemalion horde clamoring for pence, for employment, for a limosnita, for the patronage of decrepit carriages, for the high privilege of guiding the señor and señoras to the city and through it, for anything, in short, which would tend to relieve the general poverty. We steeled our hearts, scorned the carriages that filled the roadway outside, and set off up the road for the city at a brisk walk that soon discouraged the native peasantry and left them well in the rear. Toledo had mysteriously disappeared again, but we knew it could not be far away, and soon we came upon it towering on the steeps of a river bluff, a huge square alcazar with its corner steeples at the summit of it all. Below, in a deep and narrow gorge, brawled the greenish-yellow Tagus, no inconsiderable river even at this early stage of its career.
The city of Toledo, like many another in Spain, occupies a site that nature plainly intended for defense. The stream, forcing its way through a ravine in the granite hills, has worn a great horseshoe, shaped almost like a capital ” C, ” inclosed in which is the prodigious rock on which the city stands. The river thus makes an admirable moat on every side, save where the narrow opening in the “C” permits an isthmus of meadow to connect it with the vega. Everywhere the river-banks are precipitous and rocky and, though not lofty, are no mean bulwark, even now. In the ancient days, when this was the proud capital of Castile, it was a site difficult to take and easy to hold. Once it boasted a population of two hundred thousand. To-day it has but an eighth of that number, and we speedily concluded that the great majority of these were in the begging business, which achieves its greatest activity in this ruined stronghold of the past.
As the road wound around the shoulder of the rugged heights opposite the city, we came upon the lofty and imposing bridge which now affords the chief access to the town. It is a Moorish work, as its name Alcantarawould imply; for any name having an “al” about it may be set down at once as Moorish in origin, and this particular word signifies merely “the bridge.” It is probable, how-ever, that the upper portions of the structure are of a later date, and possibly are the work of Alfonso the Wise. To-day it consists of a great, bold arch springing over the main part of the river at a bound, followed on the city side by a second and much lower arch. These serve to bear up a very narrow roadway high above the river ; and the whole is protected, as is the case in all such bridges, by stalwart towers of stone at either end. Over this narrow highway we found a great concourse of people passing, mostly in the direction of the city. The morning train had come, its meagre harvest had been gathered, and the citizens of Toledo were hastening back to town to dispose themselves in points of vantage for a fresh assault on invading visitors.
Directly behind us and towering well overhead rose the rocky height that fronts Toledo just across the gorge, a lofty river bluff topped by a ruined castle, or what looks like one. As a matter of fact, it was originally a well-fortified convent, sacred to “San Cervantes,” who, it need scarcely be added, had nothing to do with Don Quixote, although the creator of that worthy knight did at one time inhabit Toledo. San Cervantes possesses no especial interest today, but its ruined walls certainly make a picturesque environ for the city, and are admirably suited to the wildness of the ravine whose sides they overhang.
The major part of the invading procession that thus filed across the Alcantara wound its way along the gradual highroad leading by wide détours and windings up to the city on the side toward the plain. We, however, took a leaf out of the book of the local peasantry and scrambled up a long flight of stone steps that gave immediate access to the height facing the river, and speedily had the tall, thin structure of the Alcantara at our feet, looking more like a child’s toy than a bridge of imposing magnitude. To one approaching Toledo on foot this is decidedly the best way to come, both for directness and for the view. From the summit one looks back on the bridge with its tawny gates, the winding road, the green rapids of the river two hundred feet below, the ruggedness of San Cervantes, and the broadening vega stretching off to the north and losing itself around the shoulder of the range of hills. To the right the river hastens on, and soon vanishes in the winding depths of the precipitous glen.
The way grew less abrupt now, and we turned toward the nearer buildings of the city. The alcazar still towered high above and far away on the very crest of the hill, but Toledo proper lay much lower down. On the way we passed what was once the Hospital of Santa Cruz, now, I believe, a part of a military school. It was a building just then in the throes of vigorous restoration, but even the masses of scaffolding could not conceal its charm, which resides chiefly in lofty halls, spacious corridors, and splendid arcades, the second stories of which are reached by a thoroughly satisfactory and eminently beautiful staircase. Outwardly, the Santa Cruz would not merit one’s pausing, and its over-ornate portal is to my mind grossly over-praised. Within, however, it is delightful, and it is to be hoped that the restoration now going on will not mar what even in decay was so perfect.
We came into the chief square of the city before we were aware, entering it abruptly through an arch that pierced the surrounding rows of houses. It was a delightful square, for one may surely call a triangle a square in Spain as well as in Boston, almost completely surrounded and inclosed by a cincture of balconied buildings, old and weather-stained and highly picturesque. There could be no doubt that it was a city once Moorish in character, and even the name of this great central plaza the Zocodover was a direct inheritance of the Mohammedan days. Zocodover, indeed, was an old friend, etymologically; for its primal syllables were nothing more nor less than another form of the “Soko” which Tangier so long before had made familiar to us. A few booths were scattered about in the open space, which comprised not far from an acre of ground ; but there was evidently no market that day, and the greater proportion of the square’s occupants were idlers. They afforded little interest in themselves, compared with the quaint structures that hemmed them in, almost every house adorned with an overhanging balcony which was neither Moorish, nor yet Spanish, in appearance. The whole effect was more that of a stage-setting than of reality, and to this illusion both design and coloring contributed.
The obviously Moorish character of the city came more strongly to our attention when we plunged into the devious and gloomy streets that lead one down from the Zocodover to the vicinity of the cathedral. The latter is most unfortunately placed, and one gets no idea even of its presence from afar. Lofty as its graceful spire is, it cannot make itself prominent because of the deep hollow in which this famous old church is set. As a con-sequence, we got our first view of it in a vista down a gloomy street, its fine top and graceful belfry silhouetted against a sodden sky ; but from every other point it remained either wholly concealed or hopelessly dwarfed. It is unfortunate, for the cathedral of Toledo is a magnificent one, as well befits the primate church of the realm. This one glory, little as it means nowadays, has at least remained to Toledo, that of being the chief archiepiscopal see of Spain, which honor was conferred upon the city in the days of Alfonso VI, of Castile, because of a certain remarkable miracle with which we shall later have more to do.
We plunged down the steep and slimy pavement toward the distant spire, avoiding donkeys and pedestrians as best we could, and soon discovered that to obtain any broad general view of the cathedral as a whole was hopeless. The adjacent buildings encroach too closely upon it at either side, and it is only by ascending a hill opposite its main en-trances that one gets any proper idea of its façade. It is one of the finest Gothic churches in Spain, spared somewhat of that painful excess of elaboration one learns to dislike so much in such churches as that at Salamanca. In style it is North-French Gothic of the earlier period, entirely devoid of projecting transepts, as is quite the usual order of things in Spain, and possessed of the common semi-circular apse.
We hastened at once into the broad cloisters, easily one of the cathedral’s greatest charms, and thence down a flight of steps into the great building itself. It is a cathedral falling into the light-and-cheerful class, striking one with some little surprise on that account as one enters. I believe it was once rather proud of being lamentably white-washed, but that outrage apparently had been out-grown when we were there, and the building-stones were merely light yellow, as in their native state. The loftiness and lightness of the nave and the great sweep of the double aisles prevented the intrusion of the choir-screen from being especially troublesome ; and the impression was commend-ably free from that sense of being cramped and fettered that one feels in so many Spanish cathedrals.
This was not, however, the proper time for seeing the cathedral’s glories, as a persistent boy soon made us aware. It was one more of those churches where the sight-seeing is regulated by ticket ; and at all other than the stated times the visitor is barred inexorably from a full inspection. We gathered from the guidebooks that the necessary “permissions” were to be had in the claustro alto, or upper cloisters, wherever those might be ; but if it had not been for the before-mentioned persistent boy, I doubt if I should ever have found them. He towed me across the churchyard by the hem of my garment, and thence across the narrow street to a narrow and forbidding doorway that gave no promise whatever of leading toward the cathedral. However, a flight of breakneck stairs led up into the darkness, and I followed the sound of the lad’s heels as he scrambled upward. When we had attained a height that seemed only less than half that of Bunker Hill’s justly celebrated monument, we came upon a Bridge of Sighs spanning the highway, which had escaped my notice from below ; and on this we crossed to the upper cloisters, lying directly above the others, but not nearly so picturesque. The lad evidently knew where he was going, and led me unresisting down a long and echoing corridor to a door which stood ajar, this giving access to a tiny room in which two corpulent priests in long black gowns were lolling in easy chairs, luxuriously consuming what Pepys would have called a “morning draught.” With much voluble explanation and dickering, the boy finally made them understand what was wanted, and I departed a few moments later, bearing an array of tickets that promised admittance to everything interesting and otherwise, at half-past two that afternoon, not one second before.
Armed with these passports to clerical consideration, and assured that nothing churchly would be visible until the appointed hour, we managed to get rid of the boy by making a definite appointment with him for the afternoon tour. And thus, set free from all guidance save that of an open map, we plunged gayly into the labyrinthine streets that help to make Toledo famous. It is a maze that offers a sufficiency of hindrances to navigation, and the traveler without a serviceable “bump of locality” will do well to surrender at the start to the army of guides. So able an investigator as the British architect, Street, whose writings form so inexhaustible a mine of information on all Gothic subjects, confesses with some shame that he was completely balked by the windings of Toledo, and was forced to hire a boy to show him the way about. The sense of direction and a good map, such as any guidebook offers, should serve sufficiently well to-day ; but even with these we made many a wrong turning, and often berated the Toledan government for not affixing more street signs to the in-numerable corners. It is not that one can possibly get lost for very long in the byways of the city that makes a guide so desirable to a bewildered visitor ; it is simply that if one’s time is brief a great deal is likely to be wasted in wandering.
This we proved in trying to find the little church of Cristo de la Luz, after we had eluded the last of the urchins that infested the immediate vicinage of the cathedral. We speedily lost ourselves in the deep Moorish alleys and side streets, and made several fruitless explorations of deep hollows among the buildings before we came upon it. It was during one of these expeditions to the end of an obscure cul de sac that we heard a concealed minstrel singing a wild ditty to the tune of a guitar, or, better, singing and playing interludes between the snatches of his song. It was altogether such a song as one hears in Tangier, every line trailing off into a softly melodious wail, for the common music of the Spanish peasant possesses an indescribably barbaric quality that must be of Moorish descent.
At last we found Cristo de la Luz at the foot of a terrifically steep hill which instantly dispelled any lurking doubt of the miracle to which the little church owes its name. Tradition says that the re-doubtable Cid, coming to Toledo in the train of the triumphant Alfonso VI, rode down this incline on his celebrated horse Bavieca ; and that when the sagacious animal came to the church of Cristo de la Luz she knelt devoutly on the pavement and refused to move. Any ordinary cavalier would have berated his steed in like circumstances for a balky beast, no doubt, but not so the Cid. He knew the intelligence and above all the religiosity of his horse far too well for that; and, knowing that Bavieca could make no mistakes, he ordered the wall of the shrine to be opened. There was speedily revealed a sacred image of Jesus which had been walled up in its niche for many years during the Moorish domination, but with its candle miraculously burning as if it were never neglected ! Hence “El Cristo de la Luz,” the Christ of the Light. In view of the steepness and slipperiness of the way to the church we did not in the least wonder at the original genuflection of the horse ; but the miraculously burning lamp one has to take on faith, as indeed one must take most legends of the Cid, and particularly such as relate to his residence or presence in Toledo. Much that is told of him in that city it is impossible to get any basis for in the way of recorded history.
The sanctity of this tiny church has sadly faded. It is no longer consecrated ground, and the sacristan who admitted us through its low door bade me remain covered as we inspected it. It was damp and gloomy, but charming still as a specimen of old Moorish architecture ; and the horseshoe arches seemed like old friends now that we had been so long away from the south with its wearisome repetition of the Mudejar style. Although this diminutive mosque had still many evidences clinging about it of its later uses as a Christian church, it was quite unspoiled, and many have regarded it as among the very best examples of Moorish work in Spain. Its celebrity, at any rate, is out of all pro-portion to its size, for it is astonishingly small, and evidently very old.
Behind it we found a fascinating little garden adjoining the custodian’s house, and through it a narrow pathway led to the steep stairs that give access to the top of Toledo’s main gate, the Puerta del Sol. This we ascended and looked down into the winding highways that lead up from the vega so far below on this, the one gradual and approach-able side of the city. The puerta was a grand gate in the Moorish manner, a broad and solid tower of impressive height, rather fresher and more rejuvenated in appearance than had been the case with the Alhambra walls, and doubtless constantly re-touched and restored. From its top the view was less ruggedly impressive than from the bluffs over-hanging the river, but the lower course of the Tagus could still be seen, winding in a placid ribbon through a more peaceful country, now that it had freed itself from the bonds of those granite ledges and cavernous glens.
The rain still threatened without actually falling, and we hastened back through the devious streets of the city to find an inn. One appeared soon enough, boasting the haughty name of Castilla ; and the corps of waiters, hastily donning the full evening dress of their trade at seeing our invasion of their domain, informed us of the hour of luncheon and its price. The latter was sufficiently high to have commanded, in Spain at least, a meal fit to dazzle Lucullus in his most fastidious mood. And as a result we shook the dust of the place hurriedly from our feet, just as that omnipresent and persistent boy from the cathedral happened to come caroling along, with all the unconscious appropriateness of a male Pippa ! He it was who led us off through another tangle of streets to a resort of less pretension, yet of excellent repute, where for a modest stipend one might command meat and wine and good cheer, I think it was at this point that we first began to value that boy at his true worth. His name, he told us, was Pepe, anglué Joe.
Needless to say, Joe was waiting for us when we emerged, and we found it wholly impossible to get rid of him again. He was a bright lad, gaining an education at the cathedral school, and already possessed the rudiments of one or two languages beside his own. He was fitting himself, of course, to be a more useful citizen of Toledo, a city where, if you do not make “white arms” (Toledo blades) or inlaid jewelry, or sell comestibles, you are either a guide or a beggar.
Even with our long delay over the luncheon table it was still too early to be shown the cathedral, and we lingered for some time in the shady cloisters, which at any rate would have been shady and altogether delightful in a damp and gloomy way if the day had been bright, and which even on this dubious afternoon possessed a certain charm. It was not the efflorescence of the Gothic arches so much as the greenery and the trees that grew in the shadow of the mighty church, a perfect dell of cypresses and shrubs; a fountain playing as a matter of course in its midst, and vines and flowers clambering over the mossy dampness of the stones.
At last the clock far overhead clanked an un-melodious half-past two, and in common with a clattering herd of visitors from all nations, we started on what turned out to be an all but inter-minable investigation of the points of interest in the church, beginning with the magnificent choir stalls and continuing through a bewildering succession of chapels, sacristies, vestuarios, treasuries, and chapter-halls. Of these, I regret to say, we soon tired. The cathedral seemed much more rewarding in the mass than in matters of such infinite detail. There was more joy in one view of its grand nave and aisles than over the ninety-and-nine minor elaborations that adorned it. The famous chapels, each presenting claims of its own to interest, the oval chapter-hall with its portraits of all the arch-bishops from the earliest to the very last, the gorgeous treasury filled with silver and gilt, the vestry with its splendid robes, and the long, cool hallways lined with ancient paintings, could not after all compare with the stupendous whole for attractiveness and charm. Even those chapels which the writers of guidebooks had seen fit to dignify with stars and double-stars failed to make any such appeal as the mighty body of the church with its lofty airiness and its magnificent windows, richly dight. It was to our lasting regret that the sun remained persistently veiled and did not vouchsafe us a thorough illumination of the incomparable rose-windows, which sight is said to be easily the finest in all this great church.
Two of the chapels, at least, deserve more than a passing glance, because of the legendary or historical interest attaching to them. The one held sacred to St. Ildefonso recalls the miracle before referred to, whereby Toledo won her enduring primacy in the church in Spain. It is related that Bishop Ildefonso served the episcopal see of Toledo and was an extremely devout and godly man, zealous beyond most others to do something definite for the Godhead ; wherefore he penned an able treatise on the Blessed Mary’s perpetual virginity. His reward was most unexampled, for the Blessed Virgin herself came to Toledo to see him and to hear him celebrate the mass ! She was, apparently, as much pleased with the zealous prelate as she had been with his valiant literary labors in her behalf, and at the conclusion of the mass presented him with a fine new chasuble, made from the “cloth of heaven” which, alas, is a stuff so fine as to be invisible ! The bishop’s chair, in which she sat during the mass, was never again permitted to be used, as a matter of course ; and the stone on which her feet alighted when she descended to earth is preserved by the church as one of its most priceless relics. It has been kissed by untold generations of reverent Toledans, and countless others from abroad. It is further related that the Virgin was no stranger in the city, having come thither many times before with such saints as Peter, Paul, and, of course, Iago. But this sudden and much later apparition to a mere mortal priest was a signal honor, insuring his canonization and furnishing a favorite subject for the remainder of all recorded time to the religious painters of Spain. Murillo, of course, portrayed the scene, and his picture of it hangs in Madrid. As for the chasuble which the Virgin bestowed on Ildefonso because she saw that his own was getting badly worn, they preserved it for many centuries in a chest in Asturias. ” If they open the chest for you,” remarks the skeptical John Hay, “you will not see the robe, which was always invisible, but that only proves the miracle ! ”
The Virgin also bestowed her divine approval on the sacred image of herself at the high altar, ” pronouncing it a wonderful likeness.” But the greater celebrity, nevertheless, persistently attaches to quite another statue, one of those black dolls so common in Spain and universally attributed wherever they occur to the workmanship of St. Luke. It is alleged to have the power of working miracles, and, like the much more famous Madonna of the Pillar at Saragossa, is always gorgeously arrayed, the priests changing its clothes on every high feast but with piously averted eye, lest they behold vanity !
The other chapel does not make such heavy draughts on one’s credulity, being well authenticated as to its claims to celebrity by recorded history. It is still known as the “Mozarabic” chapel, that is to say, the chapel of the Mozarabes, or half-Arabs, who were permitted to practice their curious Christian liturgy during the Moorish occupation, and for long years thereafter when Toledo was once again under the dominion of the more intolerant kings of Castile. That the chapel was used for such worship is undoubted, and even to-day there is said still to be a survival of the Mozarabic rite. But the chapel at Toledo cannot let you escape without presenting its claims to a miracle, this time touching the events which led to the survival of the mixed religion. When the Visigothic inhabitants of Toledo were vanquished by the Moors, says the story, they naturally made the best terms they could ; and many of them remained in Toledo, content with the new order of things, and accepting the speech and customs of their conquerors, but reserving certain rights as to the form of their worship. And all through the Moorish period of the city’s history they kept alive the faith of their fathers, albeit in a somewhat modified form, thanks to the tolerance of the Moslems which contrasts so glaringly with the bigotry and cruelty of the Christians who succeeded them in power.
When finally the Moors were expelled and Alfonso VI came in, the Mozarabes demanded the right to continue worship after their custom, which, as it happened, differed in thirteen points from the established liturgy of Rome. This was denied them at first, but the people insisted with such vehemence that it was finally decreed the issue should abide the arbitrament of single combat. The Catholic faction presented a doughty man-at-arms as their champion and the Mozarabes another, the Mozarabic knight winning the day ! This unexpected result was not pleasing to the Castilian monarch, who speedily found means to avoid it, discovering conveniently that the trial at arms was “barbarous and against the will of God.” So a fresh appeal was made, this time direct to Providence, by placing the rival breviaries on a common pyre and watching to see which of the two would successfully defy the flames. But when the fire was lighted the Mozarabic book stubbornly refused to burn, and a gust of wind took the Roman breviary off the blazing pile and deposited it at a safe distance. Neither having burned, this plainly indicated the desire of the Almighty that each liturgy should continue; and thus the Mozarabes got their chapel, which is to this day a distinct portion of the cathedral in Toledo as it is at Salamanca.
After enduring for a season the endless succession of cold and cheerless side-chapels and anterooms, we succeeded at last in getting away from the throng, much to the disgust of the sacristans, who had looked upon our growing impatience as some-thing barbaric, which very probably it was ; and, having thus escaped, we made our way, thoroughly benumbed, to the warmer air of the streets. Few people were abroad at the moment, but from a near-by shop came the tap-tapping which betokened a manufactory of Toledo ware, steel or gun-metal articles adorned with incredibly elaborate tracery inlaid with fine gold wire. At a long and narrow bench we found a corps of young boys patiently hammering away, ornamenting a great variety of articles, such as brooches, match-boxes, cigarette-cases, buckles, knives, and daggers. The workshop was a fascinating one, but extremely difficult to get out of, once we were in, a peculiarity which I have observed always attends any emporium invitingly marked “Entrée libre.” Doubtless the place to buy Toledo ware is in Toledo ; but it is so for sentimental reasons only, for I could not dis-cover that prices there were a whit more advantageous than they were in Madrid or Barcelona.
Wandering southward through the tortuous ways of the city, we sought the banks of the Tagus once more, passing on the way innumerable fascinating doorways, richly carved and evidently very old. But it is commonly true of Toledo, as of so many other old Spanish cities, that the houses are forbid-ding to outward view, and apart from these admirable portals we found them as a rule severely plain and gloomy, with patios far inside for which they reserved all their artistry. These, however, instead of standing in full view of the passing multitude, as at Cordova, were generally shut tight behind massive doors, wooden, with great bronze bosses, blackened with age and well suited to their carved posts and lintels.
When finally we emerged in the broad but bare Paseo del Transito, which is a sort of open promenade or park near the river, a troop of mercenary children who were romping there ceased their game and fastened upon us like leeches, demanding perritas in shrill and insistent voices. Even while we were marveling at the Moorish arches and carved ceilings of the neighboring Synagogue of the Transito, their strident voices came drifting through the half-open door, and one or two more venturesome than the rest penetrated with extended palms to the very heart of the shrine, only to be shooed out again by the habitually indignant young woman who guards the place. With equal pertinacity they pursued us up the street to the little church of Santa Maria Blanca, but this one fortunately possessed an outer court and a door which would lock, and the keepers resolutely barred them out. This artifice could not, however, subdue the din of their shouts, nor prevent their hammering incessantly on the outer walls. It sadly marred our pleasure in these two churches, which are both very old and afford quaint instances of the survival of Mudejar architecture, that is, a mixture of the Moorish and Christian styles. Despite the ravages of time, the scaffoldings of the restorer, and the alterations made in the past between Jew and Gentile, the synagogue and the Santa Maria Blanca are charming still, and especially the little fore-court of the latter, with its mossy’ marbles, its old fonts, its sombre trees, and its paths lined with masses of white iris. We found it a peaceful spot, despite the noise of the black-eyed banditti who stormed the wall, thundered at the wooden gate, and redoubled their wails for largess. There was apparently no-thing to do but to face them, so once again we steeled our hearts and plunged into their midst.
We had a tempestuous passage of it to the ancient church of San Juan de los Reyes. All known remedies were tried in vain. ” Where is thy house, chico ?” failed dismally to work its usual amaze-ment, and at last in sheer despair we threw our caution to the winds and openly threatened violence if the begging party were not instantly disbanded. A portion fled in fear, but a remnant still remained and followed us around to the door of the church, well realizing that a penny must reward the summons of the custodian.
San Juan de los Reyes stands on the steep bluff above the Tagus, a rather plain but still a dignified pile, far more interesting without than within, and bearing little outward evidence of its kingly design. Although it was originally planned as a votive church in gratitude for a victory against the Portuguese, Isabella the Catholic is said to have intended it for a present to her valiant consort Ferdinand on his return from subsequent wars, and a cheerful gift it was to be, nothing less than a mausoleum to be buried in ! When a Spanish monarch of that distant age wished to be especially kind and thoughtful it seems to have been felt that the best manifestation of that sentiment was to make some one a present of a tomb ; and most of them took a morbid pleasure also in building tombs for themselves, as we saw later at the Escorial, even lying down in them on occasion to see how it was going to feel ! Such was the wifely purpose of Isabella when she began this church as a pleasant surprise to Ferdinand, but fate willed otherwise, and the Reyes Catolicos were finally buried, as we have seen, in the cathedral of Granada. St. John of the Kings, thus cheated of its promised celebrity, lagged for centuries in getting finished.
We found its chief portal beset by two cruelly maimed and unsightly beggars, the first of the sort we had been unfortunate enough to see in Spain. We could not be rid of them save by giving them of our store of coppers, and gladly took this means of banishing them from sight ; and we were greatly relieved to be ushered into the interior of the church. It was a small affair, one long, narrow room, very lofty and devoid of the intruding choir, for the latter was raised on a balcony at the farther end. Some overwrought medallions disfigured the chancel. Altogether it seemed a highly uninteresting parish church, much marred by a scaffolding that was being used by workmen engaged on the roof so that its fine vaulting could not be seen, not to be compared for attraction with its own brown exterior, the high walls of which were hung with ancient iron fetters, recalling the long captivity of the Christians under Moorish domination.
Better than all, however, were the Gothic cloisters behind the church, which, while somewhat painfully trim and perfect in their recent careful restoration, were very nearly the finest we found in Spain. The tracery of the foliated arches was remarkably delicate and satisfying, and the cloister had happily been spared that final depth of Spanish desecration, the filling of the colonnades with window glass. Instead it was all open to the day and inclosed the usual garden, a green paradise contrasting agreeably with the gray gracefulness of the stone. The sun granted us a brief moment of his brightness to add to the charm of the scene, and for the time everything was warm and fragrant and delightful. Not every Spanish cloister fares so well. For in this austere and chilly climate the Church has often felt herself compelled not only to use the glazed windows in her cloister arches, but, what is vastly worse, to close them entirely with brick until often the original arcade is but a faint reminiscence, barely discernible in an ugly wall. One must not, therefore, ignore the cloisters of San Juan, for they far surpass those of the cathedral, a place of tawdry frescoes, and dampness, and sunken aisles.
Down the steep hill from the main portals of San Juan there is an abrupt path leading across an unkempt open lot to the river and the imposing bridge of San Martin, a finer bridge by far than that by which we had earlier crossed and entered the city, and I believe one of the very finest bridges to be seen anywhere. To cross the Tagus here requires five immense arches, and the great central one is a full hundred feet in height. Of course it is extremely narrow in proportion to its altitude, which adds to its grace; and, as always, it is defended at either end by massive towers. Tradition has been busy with this giant structure, and insists that when the builder of it had nearly finished his work he dis-covered to his dismay that there had been some error in his calculations, and that the whole massive fabric was absolutely certain to fall when the sustaining scaffolds should be removed ! He confided this melancholy discovery to his wife, a pearl among engineers’ wives, it would appear; for she promptly stole out in the dead of night and set fire to the framework and centrings of the unfinished arches, ruining the work as far as it had gone and enabling her husband to begin anew. His next effort was so successful that the bridge is still standing. As for the wife, her part in the matter was subsequently confessed ; but the authorities, in-stead of rebuking her or censuring the husband for his mistake, gave her great honor; and every one of course lived happily ever after.
Go down, by all means, to this stupendous Puente de San Martin, as we did, and cross to the opposite bank. For thus does one obtain what is probably the finest view of Toledo, even finer than the view of it from across the Alcantara. If there is still time, you may walk back to the other bridge by the hill paths along the river bluff ; but be not deceived into thinking that this is as simple a mat-ter as it looks, for there are many ravines and gullies and cross paths which may easily cause delay and some wandering, and the distance is further than one is likely to realize. For ourselves, we voted the time too short to make any dangerous experiments, the declining sun and the clocks of Toledo announcing that we had a bare forty minutes to get to the railway, and we hastened our steps back over the great bridge, past San Juan, down into the mazes of streets and finally across the Zocodover. Rain, after threatening to fall all day, began to descend in a fine mist, making the pavements slippery and treacherous. All the world turned again toward the station, save only the goatherds who began to move down from the opposite hills with their flocks to congest the narrow roadway of the Alcantara.
Looking back upon it now, I incline to think that the common practice of making Toledo a day’s excursion from Madrid is little short of shameful. One is too hurried to be comfortable, and it is question-able if even an agile and alert traveler can derive the proper amount of benefit from so cursory a glance. To be sure, the city is no longer great, but it can at least be said that she is hopefully resisting the decay that forty years ago threatened her ruin. Her ancient limits are now a world too wide for her shrunk population, no doubt, and poverty cries aloud in her streets despite the undimmed popularity of her blades and knives. Her lofty alcâzar said once to have harbored the Cid is now a military post, and the Hospital of the Holy Cross is, as we saw, a military academy. A tablet still commemorates the residence of Cervantes in a little house near the Zocodover, where it is said much of his writing was done ; and it is not to be forgotten that Lope de Vega wrote many of his more elaborate works in Toledo. But of present-day celebrity there is none, save such as may flow from the titular honor of being the chief ecclesiastical city of the kingdom and from the possession of the cathedral, – these elements, curiously enough, serving now to keep alive a city that the haughty archbishops have done so much to destroy. For it was clerical arrogance that really ruined Toledo, and the high-handed rule of militant churchmen like Cardinal Ximenes is irreconcilable with the ideas of haughty and jealous secular monarchs. Even the fanatical Philip II, bigoted Catholic that he was, could not brook the increasing dominance of the Toledo cardinals, and it was this which probably induced him to remove his court to Madrid and declare his capital to be henceforward in that city. From that day the importance of Toledo waned, though not the celebrity of her past. And as a result she typifies, as no other single city does, the benumbing influence of excessive priestcraft on Spain.