The Calatrava

Today is the anniversary of the death of Erasmus of Rotterdam. After the death of Thomas More who affected him so much, Erasmus returned from Freiburg to Basel, the city he passionately loved and hated: to Basel where in 1521 the printer Frobenius had placed a mansion at his disposal so he could comfortably work; to Basel from where in 1529 the riots and the ultimate takeover of the Protestants forced him to leave. He returned in 1535 just for a short time before dying on a July 12, as today, in 1536.

In his fight against superstition, Erasmus denounced the supposed preventive or apotropaic virtues of images. In  The Praise of Folly he specially mentions that of Saint Christopher as an example for them. According to the tradition widespread in the contemporary Europe, just the sight of a statue or of a painting of the saint was able to preserve someone for the rest of the day from sudden death or, as they called it, “bad death”. Erasmus made fun of this belief:

“…These stories serve not only to pass away time but bring profit, especially to mass priests and pardoners. And next to these are they that have gotten a foolish but pleasant persuasion that if they can but see a wooden or painted Polypheme Christopher, they shall not die that day…” (The Praise of Folly, 40)

In the abundant iconography of Saint Christopher, the most curious portrait – certainly of Eastern Christian origins – is the one representing him with a dog’s head. As Louis Réau informs us in the Iconographie de l’art chrétien, this image is rooted in the 6th-century gnostic Acts of St. Bartholomew, but it might also have a certain contamination with the Egyptian god Anubis

The feast of my neighborhood was celebrated in this weekend, and precisely under the protection of Saint Christopher.

The Calatrava neighborhood of Palma is trying to revive its better times, as were the late 70s and early 80s, when an air of radical freedom, cultural and intellectual variety and a truly joyful street life permeated this corner as intensively as few other places in Spain. Just some months ago Jaume Franquesa published his book Sa Calatrava mon amour. Etnografia d'un barri atrapat en la geografia del capital (Calatrava, my love. Ethnography in a neighborhood trapped in the geography of the capital), a deep X-ray survey of the changes brought about by speculation and the real estate transactions in this ancient heart of Palma. An intelligent book, because the author knew how to get inside the houses, talk to families, seek testimonies from neighbors, reveal their feelings and unravel their contradictions, avoiding any temptation to simplify matters. The people appearing on these pages have lived a complete transformation of their neighborhood, have fought for their ideas, have had discussions among themselves and with the political and economic powers, but, above all, they managed to keep a real tradition of the fiesta and street life alive for many years. Today the neighborhood is quiet and somewhat sad.

One of the traditional rituals of the feast of Saint Christopher is to place his relic, which had stopped a plague, for veneration outside the front door of the church of Santa Fe, at the entrance of the neighborhood.

Almost all cars – there are not many – stop for receiving the blessing and a print representing Saint Christopher and to leave a small donation in return.

Inside the church, San Cristobalón, “Giant Saint Christopher”. He is so gigantic indeed that he uses a palm tree for support. Jesus, to prove that it was Him whom he had taken across the river, told him to nail down his staff which was immediately transformed into a palm tree laden with dates.

Erasmus would probably passionately love and hate La Calatrava.

9 comentarios:

Megkoronáz dijo...

Very interesting, Studiolum. I love the dog-headed St Christopher. With his Egyptian origins, he looks a bit like a crocodile. I think it's the ears.

It's difficult to google "Calatrava" in English without dialing-up the multinational architect-engineer. But it's not impossible, apparently, and I like the crying shield.

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, in fact, a crocodile. How is that I have missed to see it. Like this, it has even much more to do with this neighborhood, once home of “the dragon of Mrs. Coc”.

La Calatrava – or, as they say in the Catalan of Mallorca, Sa Calatrava – is related to the Castilian fortress and knights of Calatrava only in the name. This is one of the most ancient parts of the center of Palma, where the former palace of the Arab kings – Qal'at Rabah – is still standing. Here and here you can see some pictures.

Megkoronáz A.J.P. dijo...

Ah ha, thanks. You're really making me want to go to Mallorca.

Araz dijo...

Interesting post - so is Catalan Calatrava a transliteration of Arabic Qal'at-Rabah? It seems that the symbol of hand is somehow universal - it is being used mainly by Shiite Muslims. We call it "alam" in Azerbaijan, but this is probably a confusion with the ceremonial flag that has a Khamsa on its top.

Studiolum dijo...

Megkoronáz: And why not? ;)

Araz: They say this is from where the name comes. And this is the castle in Palma, well preserved, because it was occupied without any distruction and later it served as a castle for the new Mallorcan kings of Catalan origin.

It is sure that the hand – just like the other main bodily members, the eye, the mouth, the genitalia – has played a great role in the popular belief of every religion. I also know about a number of similar hand-shaped Christian reliquiaries from as early as the 8th century up to the Reformation. Imagine that one of the most important religious relics of Hungary is a medieval golden hand-shaped reliquiary with the miraculously preserved right hand of our first king Holy Stephen inside.

Effe dijo...

"Sa Calatrava"
I notice the use of the article "sa" for "la" (the).
Here in Italy, in Sardegna (Sardinia island) they use the same "sa" instaed of "la" ("su" for masculine nouns)
i.e. sa domu = la casa = the house (domu = domus in latin)

Araz dijo...

Yes, this hand theme is everywhere. The name Palma also sounds related to hand, doesn't it?

Studiolum dijo...

Effe: Yes I remember the “su, sa” sardo: “Nanneddu meu, su mundu ergai”. This “s” only features in the Mallorcan version of Catalan: see for example in the next post, on the 40th image from above, where under the official Catalan street name “Carrer de la Posada de Montserrat” they also inserted an unofficial plaquet in “Mallorcan”: “Carrer de sa Posada de Montserrat” (as well as another unofficial plaquet with the Medieval name of the street, “Carrer de la Sinagoga Vella”). I’m curious how the inhabitants of the Northern Sardinian but Catalan-speaking Alghero use it.

Araz: Yes, the name of Palma in fact means “palm” (of a hand), but as we have mentioned it, this is a quite modern invention. The traditional name of the city was Arabic: “Medina Mayurqa”, and later the translation of this name: “Ciutat de Mallorca”.

Effe dijo...

a seconda delle aree, il sardo presenta prestiti non solo dal catalano, ma anche dal fenicio e dal sumero (almeno così ho letto)
Riporto da wikipedia:
L'articolo determinativo caratteristico della lingua sarda è derivato dal latino ipse/ipsu(m) (mentre nelle altre lingue neolatine l'articolo è originato da ille/illu(m)) e si presenta nella forma su/sa al singolare e sos/sas al plurale (is nel campidanese). Forme di articolo con la medesima etimologia si ritrovano solo nel catalano delle Isole Baleari: es/sa e es/sos/ses.
Il plurale è caratterizzato dal finale in -s, come in tutta la Romània occidentale ((FR, OC, CA, ES, PT)). Es.: sardu/sardos/sardus(sardo, sardi), puddu/puddos-pudda/puddas (gallina, galline).
Il futuro viene costruito con la forma latina habeo ad. Es: apo a istàre, apu a abarrai (io resterò). Il condizionale si forma in modo analogo: nei dialetti meridionali usando il passato del verbo "avere" (ai); nei dialetti centro-settentrionali usando il passato del verbo "dovere" (deper)
Il "perché" interrogativo è diverso dal "perché" responsivo: poita? ca..., così come avviene nell'inglese: (why? because... o nel francese: pourquoi? parce que...)
Il pronome personale di prima e seconda persona se preceduto dalla preposizione cun (con) assume le forme cumegus e cuntegus(cfr. lo spagnolo conmigo e contigo e anche il portoghese comigo e contigo), e questi dal latino cum e mecum/tecum.