We left Tarragona early in the morning, driving down from the hotel upon the ramparts to the dirty little railway station. With great deliberation our luggage was weighed, labelled, and placed upon the platform, and then the process of ticket-taking con sumed another quarter of an hour. As the train was to start from Tarragona these processes were only tedious and amusing. Had an express train been coming-but then an express train never is coming in Spain; we “learn to labor, and to wait.”
The scenery was extremely beautiful; hill and plain and distant mountain were robed in the freshness of spring. The air was full of fragrance and melody, and the bright sun shone upon a landscape which, in every direction, greeted the eye with charms.
Not long after leaving Tarragona we came to the lively manufacturing town of Reus. It is said that a great deal of the champagne which is used in the United States is made from New Jersey cider; however this may be, there is no concealment of the fact that Reus is the great manufactory of imitations of French champagne and Burgundy wines.
Rev. Mr. Martinez, a minister of the Free Church of Vaud, has a Protestant church in Reus. The Spanish law forbids that the place in which Protestants meet for worship should by its outward shape or form proclaim the purpose for which it is used, or that there should be on the outside walls any notification of its character. So the Reus building is externally an ordinary dwelling-house. But the ground floor, on the one side, is taken up with a boys’ school, and on the other with a girls’ school and the little chapel. Upstairs, on the first floor, lives the pastor, while on the next floor live the teachers and the caretaker of the premises. In addition to his schools and preaching services at Reus, Mr. Martinez has a little flock of about twenty communicants in Tarragona, with which he meets in an upper back room twice a week.
In Roman days the Apostle Paul is said by local tradition to have preached in Tarragona; and a very tiny and ancient church building, which bears the apostle’s name, occupies today the reputed site of the house in which he is said to have preached. And now, after Goths, and Moors, and Romanists have in turn held the place, there is here a Presbyterian church, a little seed that may grow, by wise culture and the divine blessing, into a tree of life.
As we journeyed on, the scenery became more grand, the railroad running along the foot of the Sierra de Prades as far as Espluga. This is the point from which to drive two miles over a wretched road, or better far to walk, to the once rich and celebrated Cistercian Monastery of Poblet. The story of the foundation of the place runs thus: When the Moors ruled in Catalonia, a holy hermit sought refuge in the Sierra de Prades. But a Mohammedan emir, while hunting in the mountains, came upon him at his prayers. The emir seized the hermit and put him in prison. Angels came to his relief, as they did to Peter in the dungeon; and when the saint had been thus three times miraculously released, the Moor believed the miracle, and gave the hermit not only his liberty, but a choice parcel of land. In due time the hermit Poblet died, and in 1140 the Christians recovered their country from the Moors. The body of Poblet was revealed to the true Church by lights that danced above his grave; and the king, Ramon Berenguer IV., granted to its clergy all that the Moors had originally given to the hermit. This is the legend.
The real history of Poblet is far more wonderful than the monkish tale. The story is best told by Hare in his ” Wanderings in Spain,” though his brilliant periods are also to be found in Gallenga and others. After giving the legend, he continues: “Every succeeding monarch increased the wealth of Poblet, regarding it not only in the light of a famous religious shrine, but as his own future resting-place. As the long lines of royal tombs rose thicker on either side of the choir, the living monarchs came hitherto, for a retreat of penitence and prayer, and lived for a time the conventual life. Five hundred monks of St. Bernard occupied, but did not fill, the magnificent buildings; their domains became almost boundless; their jewelled chalices and gorgeous church furniture could not be reckoned. The library of Poblet became the most famous in Spain, so that it was said that a set of wagons employed for a whole year could not cart away the books. As Poblet became the Westminster Abbey of Spain as regarded its kings and queens, so it gradually also answered the Westminster in becoming the resting-place of all other eminent persons who were brought hither to mingle theirs with the royal dust. Dukes and grandees of the first class occupied each his niche around the principal cloister, where their tombs, less injured than anything else, form a most carious and almost perfect epitome of the history of Spanish sepulchral decoration. Marquises and counts less honored had a cemetery assigned to them in the strip of ground surrounding the apse; famous warriors were buried in the nave and ante-chapel; and the bishops of Lerida and Tarragona, deserting their own cathedrals, had each their appointed portion of the transept; while the abbots of Poblet, far mightier than bishops, occupied the chapter-house. Gradually the monks of Poblet became more exclusive. Their number was reduced to sixty-six, but into that sacred circle no novice was introduced in whose veins ran other than the purest blood of a Spanish grandee. He who became a monk of Poblet had to prove his pedigree, and the chapter sat in solemn deliberation upon his quarterings. Every monk had his two servants, and rode upon a snow-white mule. The mules of the friars were sought through the whole peninsula at an enormous expense. Within the walls every variety of trade was represented; no monk need seek for anything beyond his cloister. The tailors, the shoemakers, the apothecaries, had each their wing or court. Hospitals were raised on one side for sick and ailing pilgrims; on the other, rose a palace appropriated to the sovereigns who sought the cure of their souls. The vast produce of the vineyards of the mountainous region which depended upon Poblet was brought to the great convent’s wine-presses and was stowed away in its avenue of wine-vats. El I’riorato became one of the most reputed wines in the country; the pipes, the presses, and the vats where it was originally prepared still remain almost entire.” The power of the convent increased, and the monks abused it; then rumors of wrong-doing began to float about, peasants disappeared, and tales of secret dungeons and the rack were whispered. The people who had felt oppression were aroused. “Many yet live who remember the scene when the convent doors were broken in by night, and the townsfolk, streaming through court and cloister, reached the room which had been designated, where, against a wall, by which it may still be traced, the dreaded rack was found, and beneath it a dungeon filled with human bones and with instruments of torture. Twenty-four hours were insisted on by the authorities to give the friars a chance of safety; they escaped, but only with their lives. Then the avenging torrents streamed up the mountain side and through the open portals. All gave way before them; nothing was spared. `Destroy! destroy!’ was the universal outcry. Every weapon of destruction was pressed into service. No fatigue, no labor was evaded. Picture and shrine, and tomb and fresco, fell alike under the destroying hammer, till wearied with devastation the frantic mob could work no more, and fire was set to the glorious sacristy, while the inestimable manuscripts of the library, piled heap upon heap, were consumed to ashes.”
At the present time the story of that day of destruction is engraved on every wall. It is the most utterly ruined ruin that can exist. Violence and vengeance are written on every stone. The vast walls, the mighty courts, the endless cloisters, look as if the shock of a terrible earthquake had passed over them. There is no soothing vegetation, no ivy, no flowers; and the very intense beauty and delicacy of the fragments of sculpture which remain in the riven and rifted walls, where they were too high up for the spoiler’s hand to reach them, only make stronger the contrast with the coarse gaps, where the outer coverings of the walls have been torn away, and where the marble pillars and beautiful tracery lie dashed to atoms upon the ground. Such is the story, and such the present appearance of the renowned monastery. The place is now the resort of artists and tourists from a11 parts of Europe and from America, who come to gaze upon its desolation. The natural scenery is grand and beautiful; but if the friars who were hurried from destruction on that eventful night ever revisit their once luxurious home, they must feel like the Jews who wail at the old wall of the temple in Jerusalem over glories and delights departed never more to return.