Text five: the fall of Toledo and the preservation of the Christian relics and books in Asturias

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And so we come to the final of our five texts from the Estoria de Espanna, which concerns what happened immediately after the conquest of Toledo by the armies of Tariq ibn Ziyad and Musa bin Nusair.

This is the only passage we deal with in transcribeestoria which relates to the period after the fall of the Visigothic kingdom. To a great extent this is because the manuscript we are transcribing, ms. C from the Biblioteca Nacional de España, ends in the reign of Alfonso II (r. 783-842), so there is no account of most of the history of post-Conquest Spain. Remember, though, that the Estoria was designed to be the history of Spain up to the reign of Alfonso el Sabio himself (r. 1252-1284), and some of the other manuscripts do contain these sections – although the Estoria as planned in Alfonso’s scriptorium was never fully completed.  In one sense, then, you could say that the texts we have chosen are not representative of the Estoria as a whole. But it is also true to say that most medieval manuscripts are fragmentary, and this is no exception. It is also true that the readers of this manuscript may have regarded it as complete, so we should be wary of thinking of medieval books as somehow defective because they do not fulfil the wishes of the modern reader. There are important questions about the nature of manuscript culture here, which we will take up in future posts.

The translation of the passage is as follows (and bear in mind that you can find the Spanish in a variety of guises, in chapter 582 of the Estoria de Espanna Digital):

582 Of how Urbera, archbishop of Toledo, took to Asturias the holy relics and the books and the holy garment that Saint Mary gave to Saint Alfonso. 

1The story tells that when Urbera, who was archbishop of Toledo after Sinderedo, saw the destruction of the churches of God and of Christianity, took the ark with the relics and the writings of Saint Alfonso and Julian Pomer and the holy vestment that Saint Mary gave to Saint Alfonso, and took it all to Asturias as it is told. 2 And the Christians took all of these holy things from place to place, fleeing from the moors. 3 After the city of Toledo fell to the power of the moors, through a bargain that they made with the Jews -for otherwise they would not have been able to take the city by force, though they later broke this bargain- the clergy and the Christians who wished to remain in the city under the lordship of the moors and pay their taxes were permitted by the moors to have their own law which they could use and by which they could live according to the customs of their faith, and they were allowed to have their own bishops and clergy and all the other orders. 4 And these Christians had the office and customs of Saint Isidore and Saint Leandro, and to this day six parish churches in Toledo keep these customs. 5 These Christians lived alongside the moors as we said, with their own law and keeping their faith in peace and harmony until the time of the Almohads, who appeared in the time of the emperor don Alfonso. 6 And in the time that Urbera was archbishop of Toledo, there was an archdeacon called Evancio, who was a man of great wisdom, and great sense and lived a very good life, and according to the writings of God he was a good man, of great hope and charity. 7 Also in that time, Frondoario, a very holy and wise man, was bishop of Acitana. 8 In that time too, Joan was the holy bishop of Seville, he was a man of great sanctity who lived a good and holy life, and he was given the name Çaeyt almatran by the Arabs in their Arabic, and he was very wise in the Arabic language 9 And God did many miracles for him, and he translated the holy scriptures into Arabic and expounded upon these according to the holy scriptures, and so after his death he left these for those would would come after him. 10 There was also another bishop, called Clemeynt, who fled to Talavera from the Almohads and he lived there a long time until his death. 11 “And remember me” says at this point in his chronicle archbishop Rodrigo, “for I knew men from his times”. 12 In the same way, three bishops came to Toledo: one from Assidonna, another from Niebla and the other from Marchena, along with a holy archdeacon through whom God made miracles and who was called in Arabic Archiquez; and they all lived there until they died and they carried out the role of bishops 13 and one of them is buried in Saint Mary, the principal church of Toledo. 14 But what some people say, that Archbishop Julian and King Pelayo took the ark of the relics and the books of the saints of Toledo to Asturias – this cannot be true. 15 For Julian Pomer was the third archbishop after Saint Alfonsso, 16 and Sinderedo, in whose time Spain was lost, was the fourth archbishop after Julian. So understand it all in this way: 17 after Saint Alfonsso, Quirigo was archbishop, after him Julian Pomer, then Sisberto, afterwards Felizes, then Gunderedo and after him Sinderedo, in whose time the moors took Toledo. 18 Similarly, some people say that the primacy of Spain was first in Seville, 19 and then was moved from there to the church of Toledo. This too cannot be true, for in the 16th council of Toledo, when Sisiberto archbishop of that place was rightly deposed, all of the archbishops, and bishops and clergy of Spain and Gallia Gothica ordered in the general council that nothing should be spoken about or decided in that council until there was an archbishop in the primatial seat in Toledo. 20 And at that time, Felizes, archbishop of Seville, was made archbishop of Toledo; and at that council also, don Faustino archbishop of Braga was made archbishop of Seville, and Felizes, bishop of Porto in Portugal was made archbishop of Braga. 21 After this, they dealt wisely with the ordering of the churches. 22 And from all of this, we can see that if the archbishopric of Sevilla was more important than the archbishopric of Toledo, the archbishop would not have been moved from the more important one to the lesser one. 23 But the books are many and they tell all of this in many different ways because the truth of history is often doubtful, 24 and so whoever should read should make sure that he takes note of and reads from the best books. 25 And we know that Saint Isidore had the primacy of Spain and was the vicar of the pope, just as we have recounted in this history. 26 But now we will leave this and we will return to the story where we left it.

We chose this passage because it represents a range of important issues in the history of Spain. The moment of conquest, which is here represented as the beginnings of a return to (rightful) Christian dominance of the Peninsula, is clearly a key event in the chronicle. The emphasis on relics and (especially) books is also intriguing – that these had to be preserved in Asturias in order to guarantee the future of Christian Spain is a central point in the narrative. There are also other key points. You might wonder why the chronicler is so insistent on the importance of Toledo here. The answer is that the source of this passage is De Rebus Hispaniae, by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, who was himself Archbishop of Toledo. The reconquest of Seville in 1248 placed a question mark over which of the two sees would be the primatial see in Spain. The Estoria de Espanna is in no doubt, but the fact that the assertion is made reveals that the question was being asked. There is also interesting comment related to the present day of the speaker, about the mozarabic parishes in Toledo, and about historical figures that were known to Archbishop Rodrigo. These comments help to give the narrative an extra level of “eyewitness” authority.

But perhaps most interesting of all is the following comment:

Mas los escriptos son muchos τ cuentan lo de muchas guisas. por que la uerdad de la estoria a las uezes es dubdosa.

If nothing else, this tells us that the compilers of Alfonso’s history were very aware of the necessity of exercising critical judgement when weighing up the value of sources. It is a clear indication that (some) medieval historians were not as naive as the stereotype would suggest, and that historical method is not the invention of the modern world.

We will discuss the physical features of the manuscript, and other related matters tomorrow and in the guest posts. In the meantime, does anything strike you about the way the text is laid out on the page? We have already mentioned (Module 1) the different colour of the pages depending on which side of the animal skin you are looking at, and there is an especially fine example here as you turn the page from the recto (which is the right hand page) to the verso (the left hand page, which is, therefore on the other side of the recto). There is also a short section of text (at the end of the chapter in question) in which the ink has faded, so reading these lines is problematic. You might like to think about that, and the fact that each manuscript is unique. Sometimes, the possibility we have to understand what a text says depends on its physical state. Parchment is very resilient, but books did get damaged and destroyed (especially by fire) and this undoubtedly affects our access to the past.

We’ll come back to this, but for now, enjoy transcribing! And remember, if you finish quickly and want a further challenge, you can help us by transcribing more of this manuscript. We haven’t transcribed any of this manuscript apart from the sections we have looked at in these 10 weeks, so anything additional you do will add to the research we are carrying out on the Estoria de Espanna.

Aengus Ward

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