Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Be bloody, bold, and resolute.
Laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.

Well, that’s not appropriate, is it? Okay, not really, but it’s what naturally popped into my head when I learned about today’s saint and what his name means…

Born in Spain in the 13th century, yet “not born” – the meaning of his nickname, nonnatus. How could that be? Because he was taken from mother, who had died in labor, one month prematurely. The meaning of “born” was via the birth canal, hence emerging via Caesarean section would not come under the strict definition of “born.” (Sorry for the Macbeth spoiler, there.)

Raymond, once an adult, joined the Mercederians:

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is an international community of priests and brothers who live a life of prayer and communal fraternity. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, their members take a special fourth vow to give up their own selves for others whose faith is in danger.

The Order, also called the Mercedarians, or Order of Mercy, was founded in 1218 in Spain by St. Peter Nolasco Raymond Nonnatusto redeem Christian captives from their Muslim captors. The Order exists today in 17 countries, including Spain, Italy, Brazil, India, and the United States. In the U.S., its student house is in Philadelphia, and it also has houses in New York, Florida, and Ohio.

Today, friars of the Order of Mercy continue to rescue others from modern types of captivity, such as social, political, and psychological forms. They work in jails, marginal neighborhoods, among addicts, and in hospitals. In the United States, the Order of Mercy gives special emphasis to educational and parish work.


According to the most reliable Mercedarian tradition, Saint Raymond was born in the town of Portello, situated in the Segarra region of the Province of Lérida at the dawn of the thirteenth century. He was given the surname of Nonnatus or not born because he came into the world through an inspired and urgent incision which the Viscount of Cardona made with a dagger in the abdomen of the dead mother. In his adolescence and early youth, Raymond devoted himself to pasturing a flock of sheep in the vicinity of a Romanesque hermitage dedicated to Saint Nicholas where an image of the Virgin Mary was venerated. His devotion to the Holy Mother of Jesus started there.

He joined the Order of Mercy at a very early age. Father Francisco Zumel relates that young Raymond was a “student of the watchful first brother and Master of the Order, Peter Nolasco.” Therefore, Raymond was a redeemer of captives in Moorish lands. In a redemption which took place in Algiers, they had to stay behind as hostages. It was then that he endured the torment of having his lips sealed with an iron padlock to prevent him from addressing consoling words to Christian captives and from preaching the liberating good news of the Gospel. After he had been rescued by his Mercedarian brothers, Pope Gregory IX appointed him Cardinal of the Church of San Eustaquio. Summoned by the Supreme Pontiff, Raymond was on his way to Rome when he met death in the strong and rocky castle of Cardona in 1240

The image above is from our visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville – a statue of San Ramon Nonato, as it would be in Spanish. 

He is invoked as a patron of childbirth expectant mothers, midwives, the falsely accused and others.

Here’s a pdf  with more detail about his life. 

Some other interesting facts:

A few years ago, Pope Francis declared a “Year of Mercy.”  It might be helpful to consider that this “beating heart of the Gospel”  – the merciful love of God – has been lived out, shared, expressed and embodied in countless ways over the past two thousand years, not least in the ordinary, amazing thing that happens thousands of times every day in every nation, in which Christ meets us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It is helpful to study and reflect on the creative and courageous ways in which the saints have reached out to the peripheries and margins with God’s mercy and freedom, risking their own physical lives for the sake of the souls of others.

So here, we have an entire religious order (not the only one) established to share God’s mercy in a particular apostolate, and today’s saint willingly and joyfully devoted his life to this – mercy.


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It’s what they call them over EWTN way down the road.  Here’s one for you.



(Yes, posted before – from the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville –  but today’s the remembrance – the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.)


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St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?



Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

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Well, let’s get back to SpainBlogging. Even though that’s in Italian up there. You’ll get it in a minute.

(Other posts have finally been collated here)

This, to many, will probably be to oddest aspect of this trip report. The oddest and the most indulgent. I won’t say “self-indulgent” because it wasn’t me who was being indulged. But indulgent, nonetheless.

Of course, everything else about this trip was indulgent, anyway. Freely admitted. A few months back, someone posted a link to one of my travel posts on Facebook, and discussion ensued along the lines of  “Gee, must be nice” and so on. I didn’t get defensive, because I am past that. I’m more at the stage of “You guys post gushing posts about your best-friend- hubbies and great marriages and your wonderful parents  every single freaking day and all of my people in those particular categories are completely dead, so maybe you can handle posts about Spain and trying, in some feeble, undoubtedly misguided way, to fill in…gaps.”

So yeah. When you’re raising boys with a dead father, and all the family news around you is about people dying or being plunged into dementia, you’re like, “What the hell. You like all this Spaghetti Western Stuff? Screw it. Let’s do this.”

For some reason, a couple of years ago, Son #5 became entranced with the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood/Ennio Morricone opus. I really and truly do not know how it happened – if it was the movies or the music that grabbed him first. All I know is that he watched them, and then the soundtracks became a fixture in our home. They came on every time I got in the car. They were on the top of the queue of Spotify when I was cooking dinner. They were learned and played on the piano – constantly.

I’d never watched any of them. Never. But I just endured it and supported it and what have you. And then last summer, the local vintage artsy heritage downtown movie palace offered The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as part of their summer series, and so I took Son #5 –

– and was enraptured.

Okay, not with the lengthy, discursive Civil War section that culminates in the bridge explosion – that could be cut – but with almost everything else, especially the music.

I got it. 

People sometimes wonder – why should I have kids? 

Well, here’s Reason #428. Because whenever you invite other people into your life – and that’s what having kids is all about – your own world expands. It could be something essential, or it could be something trivial. You learn something, you see more, you step out, you move down the road – and it’s all just very, very interesting.

So, let’s go back to this trip. I didn’t design it around spaghetti westerns – if I had, the trip would have looked much different (for all of those movies were filmed in Spain, and there’s even an attraction in southern Spain centered on it).  I settled on Seville as a base and then, for that last week, a possible jaunt up north, ending in Bilbao.

Which is when it dawned on me – Sad Hill Cemetery. 

And I figured – well, yes, this could happen. We’d watched the rather moving (although overlong) documentary about the site’s restoration, and once I studied the map, it was clear , yes, this was possible. We could work in a stop at that iconic site.

So there was that.

And then a few weeks before we left, I was doing some research – unrelated to this trip. I was thinking about M’s and mine future roadschooling future, and poking around, trying to see if there were any interesting concerts coming up to which we could travel. I was thinking, first, of the Michael Giacchino “We Have to Go Back”  Lost concerts, and then I idly thought (maybe because of similar-sounding Italian names)…hmmmm…what about Morricone? 


What I stumbled upon was the fact that the 90-year old maestro was embarking upon his “last tour,” conducting concerts in Spain and Italy during the spring and summer. Unfortunately, the Spain concerts would be in May, but – well, look at this – one of them – in fact – THE LAST  – (as advertised) concert would be in Lucca, Italy – on a date during which we’d be in Europe.

*Checks RyanAir fares from Madrid to Pisa. Cheap. Struggles with guilt. Thinks – well, we’d be paying for housing *somewhere* – why not in Italy, instead of Spain for a couple of nights?*

Thinks – as per usual – about death and mortality – and pushes – BUY.

So there’s your backstory, people. Your backstory as to how we went to Ennio Morricone’s supposed last concert on Saturday, June 29 in Lucca, Italy – and then a couple of days later, were wandering around the Sad Hill Cemetery – the famed round cemetery from the final scene The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. 

A word about the journey to the cemetery – if you go (and you might well have arrived at this post because that’s where you’re headed) – do not go through Santo Domingo de Silos.  It’s what we did, and it was a mistake – I mean, the car survived, but it was dicey – a super steep hilly, incredibly rocky path. The other way – that comes from the north ( the way we exited) – is much safer for your vehicle.


The concert was great. Thousands of people, enraptured with the music, the fantastic, theatrical sopranos giving their super-dramatic all on pieces like The Ecstasy of Gold  – just Italians loving other Italians doing music. The best.

I will say that the bright spot about the rather frightening drive up a very steep hill on rocky paths in a rental car was…this view. Which we would have missed coming the other way. So – there’s that. And no damage to the car anyway, so it’s all good!



Yes, there was much re-creation of the scene. Running, seeking, fake digging, falling into graves and such. I might post some of that on Instagram in a bit. We weren’t alone. When we arrived there were three middle-aged British guys who’d arrived on motorcycles. They left, and we were alone for a good bit, and as we were living, two other small groups came. Plus, you know….


Which is not something I expected! The ground was covered with cow patties, and as we ventured further in, we saw the reason, just up the hill, behind the trees, we heard them – the cowbells, gently sounding. As the minutes wore on, the cows moved closer, past the trees, until they had started, apparently, their late-day claim among the “graves.”



I have one more strange aspect to this whole tale. I purchased the concert tickets via a resale outfit. The way it works is that you still see the original purchaser’s names on the receipt.

I did a double take at the name. The address was given as well. It sort of checked out. This person is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, although his present professional position is elsewhere in Canada.

So. Do you think it’s possible that my weird tickets to go, on a whim, see an elderly, legendary composer in Lucca, Italy, were purchased from the  Jordan Peterson?

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So what age-old question does this discovery answer?



In case you’re also asking the question – Chinchón, Spain is the answer. 

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“Yeah, people are going to be mad at me for going. But I don’t give a f***. I’m in Spain. I’m going to a bullfight.” 

-Young guy to a friend, walking behind me on the way to the bullfight in Seville.

Kind of the way I felt, but without this fellow’s enthusiasm. My feeling was more of an obligation – I wanted to understand.

I’ve seen bullfighting protested in, I think – London. Or maybe Paris. Somewhere where they don’t have bullfights. The only part of Spain they’ve been banned is Catalonia (the area of Spain where Barcelona is located). Elsewhere in the country, bullfighting remains a deeply ingrained part of the culture (they also have bullfighting in southern France, and, of course, in Mexico). Most towns of any size that we drove through had a bullring. One – Chinchon (seen below – they were setting up bleachers for a weekend bullfight) – features bullfights in the town plaza. All of that fascinates me, I knew nothing about it, and I wanted to understand it.


Not everyone went, of course. It was me and the three sons on the trip. Daughter-in-law stayed home with the grandson.

But first, the bullring itself. A few days before we attended the fight, sons 4 & 5 and grandson and I toured the bullring and went to the museum associated with it. Even if you don’t want to go to a bullfight and even if you’re against it – it’s worth visiting the museum. Again, for the sake of understanding – even though the narrative is, of course, very pro-bullfight.

The origins of bullfighting are in military training, which then became ritualized and became, in sense, a sport. The most interesting part of the tour to me was the chapel. It’s the last stop the bullfighter makes before he goes into the ring. He prays to himself and he prays three prayers that are on the walls of the chapel. There’s a jug of water on the floor next to the door – I guess it’s blessed – I don’t know. But before he steps out, he rinses his mouth with this water, so the last “taste” he has before he faces the bull is of sacred, not earthly things.


I’ll also say that it seems – besides sport and spectacle – bullfighting is related to charity, historically and at present. Several of the historic posters on display in the museum were advertisements for bullfighting events that would benefit charities – featuring images of nuns helping poor children and so on. And the notice I saw for the bullfight in Chinchon indicated that it was a benefit for a charity as well.



And now, to the main event.

They called him Ferdinand the Fierce and all of the Banderilleros were afraid of him and the Picadores were afraid of him and the Matador was scared stiff.

Yes, having read Ferdinand to children off and on for thirty years, the text was running on a loop in my head the whole time.

So, what was it like?

It was, first of all, very ritualized. There were three matadors on the ticket, and each fought twice. So six bullfights in all. These were not the major bullfights that take place here – those happen in the spring and then in the fall. The best I could understand, it was like we were seeing AAA matadors.

The stages of the bullfight are exactly the same each time, except one on of the last two fights, when the bull came out, the banderillero (I think) who was to meet him in the ring sort of leaned back – as one does in doing the Limbo – and the bull leaped over him as he raced in.

So yes – the bull comes in. He’s met with a number of men with capes who, I assume are getting the bull situated and perhaps agitated. Then the picador comes in on horseback – the horse is wearing a type of armor, in a way, to protect him from the bull, who gets understandably enraged when the picador lances him in the neck.

Next come the banderilleros – these are the men who have the two colorfully decorated swords (I guess) that they raise up and then stab in the bull’s neck as he is charging them. In the midst of this, the matador himself has come out and begun his work, engaging the bull to come at him, with various passes of the cape. Judging from the crowd’s reaction, there are definitely levels of skill and art by which these actions are judged – by number of passes? Proximity to the matador? I don’t know.


Then, eventually, the bull gets worn out from loss of blood and more or less collapses – at which time the matador takes out his sword and kills the bull – piercing it in the neck.


  • I had the distinct, superficial impression during these fights that the bulls are conditioned to react to the capes and the presence of certain stimuli – the way the animals were looking, almost expectantly, led me to think this, and it struck me as deeply unfair – it seemed as if they had been trained to play a game and then, welp, you’re dead. I’ve researched it a bit, though, and all the information I can find in that quick look tells me that this isn’t so, and that in fact the “wildness” of the bull is a criterion for their value as an opponent.
  • The ring was pretty full, and people were of all ages (including children) and from all over.
  • There was a live band that played the introductory music and the fanfares.
  • After the bull is killed and taken out (more on that in a minute), the matador strides around the ring, receiving the applause of the spectators – one matador had trouble killing the bull, though – he had to stab it, I think four times, before it was killed. He didn’t take that victory lap.
  • The most striking machismo-moment of the ritual occurs in moments when the matador has gotten the bull agitated, pulled it in several passes close to him, the bull has backed off a bit – and the matador turns his back on the bull. 

I guess I wasn’t aware, before I went that the bull dies every time. They say there are rare times in which the bull fights with such vigor that he is “pardoned.” But yeah, the point of the thing is some art and grace and machismo, but mostly – kill the bull.

(Bullfighters do die, too. The two most recent I can find are from 2016 and 2017.)

After the first bullfight, I popped out to get more refreshments. I climbed the steps to get back in, but – like Woody Harrelson at Wimbledon – was stopped by an attendant.

“When the bull dies,” he said, “You can go back in.”


So what happens when the bull dies? I bet you’ve never thought about that before. I hadn’t. Well, it’s pretty startling, but, what else are they going to do?

A team of horses comes out, they hook the bulls body to a chain, and, racing, drag it out of the ring.


It’s very weird to see.

Also weird was the sight that greeted us as we left. We exited the ring with the crowd, and walked a bit around the circumference of it outside to get going in the right direction back to the apartment. There, right outside the doors, a truck was parked, with the stone pavement surrounding in pooled with blood. Lots of blood.

I think what interests me most about the whole spectacle was that it still exists. In a time when people get driven from polite society for posting images of themselves with the game they’ve shot on “safari,” it’s amazing to me that bullfighting hasn’t met the same end. Perhaps it will someday, or not. It obviously plays an important role in Spanish culture and society – I don’t profess to understand it at all – but I’m not sorry I went, even though the whole thing was, I admit, pretty surreal.


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I told you I was going to be random about these Spain posts. 

I’m going to backtrack to Seville for a moment and highlight some of the holdings of the lovely little Museo de Bellas Artes. It was two blocks from our apartment, and I think tickets were 1.50 Euros.

I posted some of these before, but I thought I’d revisit, post some more images and talk a bit more about them.

The boys and I took our grandson/nephew. It was a small enough museum that the five-year old wasn’t overtaxed.

(Remember, you can click on any image for a larger version)

First, St. Jerome:



Yes, this is St. Jerome, according to the signage. Who needs a lion with this build? It’s a great example of artists using the moment to show off their skills, isn’t it? Same with St. Dominic here:


He’s doing penance, gaze fixed on the cross. Clearly, what he’s holding in his right hand would have been attached to a discipline, probably made of leather strips or rope.



More saints. If you click on the images you can see more detail. Left to right: St. Ramon Nonato, who had his lips locked together by those who imprisoned him;  A martyr whose name I didn’t note with a knife in his neck; then in English, St. Louis Bertrand (in Spanish Luis Beltran) painted by the wonderful Zurbaran. Here’s why a dragon is coming out of his cup:

In Christian iconography, St. Louis Bertrand is often portrayed holding a chalice from which serpents are emerging. In the other hand, he displays a crucifix with a pistol at its base. These articles call to mind two stories from the great saint’s life when God miraculously saved him from attempts on his life by vile would-be assassins. The first recalls the story of Brother Louis’ missionary preaching in South America. A native priest, showing his jealous contempt for our saint, gave him a chalice of poison at the Holy Mass. Louis made the sign of the Cross over the toxic potion, and serpents sprang from the chalice, thus revealing its true contents and saving his life.

The second object – the crucifix/pistol – recalls another account of near-martyrdom in the life of St. Louis Bertrand. Set upon by a crazed gunman — we like to think it was one of his novices, but who knows — St. Louis calmly made the conquering sign of the Cross. With this most basic gesture of our faith, the barrel of the gun miraculously turned into a crucifix.

Speaking of dragons:

I loved this fierce, medieval St. Michael:



There was a series of large paintings depicting processions through Seville being held at various times of the year. We noted this detail in one of them. Proof, obviously, that dragons are real:



More saints and their miracles:



I have done some digging, and the best I can see is that the painting represents a miracle in which an artist was painting a portrait (not from life) of St. Francis de Paolo, he collapses (or dies) and an angel comes to finish the painting. The next painting in the series, right next to this one, depicts the angel-finished painting being borne through streets along which buildings are collapsing – it seems as if it is functioning as a protection.



This rendition of the souls in Purgatory was quite beautiful and affecting.


I just am so taken with the look on the little angel’s face: sad, concerned and a little angry.  All emotions appropriate to the moment.


I am not sure why I was moved to take a photo of this – except perhaps that I was struck by Christ’s gaze, directly at us.



We had big discussions about this Last Supper. First, obviously, concerning the naked mole rat “lamb” on the platter there. But – with the apostle on the left – I maintained that the painter had originally had him facing to the right, and then changed his mind. Or couldn’t paint profiles facing the other way. Either way – it’s a mess, it seems to me. It’s almost painful to look at it.


Art is so important as a window into the past. This late 19th century painting gives a glimpse into the devotional life of the period – the spiritual treasures of one elderly woman, held dear.

Now, from the sweet pink-garbed infant to …a more violent spiritual artifact. Prepare yourself:




Gaspar Núñez Delgado. I am trying to think of the setting in a church or chapel that would feature this piece – I am assuming it would have been on a platter, in some larger arrangement.



Random shots of the guys, plus the gorgeous ceiling they’re studying in the last photo. My grandson said he counted thirty-three “pictures” in the ceiling.

And now, two final intriguing pieces.

First – who’s this?


St. Joseph, of course. I’m sure dissertations have been written concerning the age of St. Joseph as portrayed in art, but I did see a few youngish San Jose’s in Spanish galleries and churches. This is by Murillo, whose statue stands in the square outside the museum.

Image result for murillo statue seville


And then – I saw three S. Sebastians in Spain – two pictured here, one from Seville the other from, I think, Burgos. A refreshing change from the writhing half-nude S. Sebastian one sees elsewhere:




I’ll say this for the Spanish: they may like their blood and gore, but they also like their fine garments.

Speaking of gore – I completely forgot that I’ve not written about, yes…the bullfight. Maybe that will come tomorrow.

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