Buying a Knighthood?

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Europe » Spain » Castile & León » Ávila
August 17th 2019
Published: August 18th 2019
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We decide to have a quiet morning, so I take the opportunity to read up a bit about the history of Avila. It is thought to have been originally settled sometime around the 5th century BC by the Vettones who lived in this part of the Iberian Peninsula in pre-Roman times. They were apparently particularly notable for leaving large granite statues of pigs scattered around the countryside, and there’s one of these in our hotel’s garden. We also saw one at one end of the Roman bridge in Salamanca without having much idea what it was. Issy said it looked like a beheaded gorilla while I opted for a beheaded bear. It seems that neither of us got any points for those guesses.

Avila was captured by the Moors when they came to Spain, and it then became a front line battleground between the North African invaders and the still-Christian kingdoms of northern Spain. This apparently all became a bit much for the local Avilians. The town eventually became virtually uninhabited, and people only came back to live here again when the Moors were driven out, sometime around 1088. The building of the walls then started soon afterwards in 1090. It’s not all that clear from any of the websites I’ve read whether the walls have ever seen any active service. They don’t seem to have any holes in them, so maybe potential attackers thought they looked a bit impenetrable so when they saw them they went off and plundered somewhere else instead. Lack of attackers might also explain why they’re still the most complete walls in Spain.

My Spanish is really bad, but I thought one of the inscriptions I read when we walked along the tops of the walls last night indicated that Christians, Jews and Muslims all had a hand in their construction. The inscription seemed to suggest that this was a great example of inter-religious cooperation. I’m not all that sure the Muslims would have been particularly willing participants as presumably most of them would have been Moorish prisoners, although with their Moorish mates long gone maybe they were happy to participate in building anything that might protect them from random attackers.

The community here certainly appears to have been multi-religious at various stages. It seems that St Teresa’s grandfather was Jewish, and he had to convert to Christianity to avoid being kicked out of Spain with all the other Jews when the last Moors were finally driven from the country in 1492. He then had to survive a session with the Spanish Inquisition who thought he might have reverted to Judaism. St Teresa’s family seems to have been an interesting lot all round. Her father was very wealthy, and apparently managed to buy himself a knighthood. I hadn’t appreciated that you could buy knighthoods. I wonder if you still can; if so I hope The Donald doesn’t know about this. I’m sure he’d think that Sir Donald of Trumplandia had a very nice ring to it. I think I might need to start being much more careful. We’ll be trying to enter Trumplandia in less than three weeks now and I wouldn’t want to get turned away at the door for having insulted the great leader.

We have lunch, and I leave Issy shopping while I go off to visit the 12th century Basilica de San Vicente. I think we might need to move to Avila. The church noticeboard is plastered with death notices, and most of them seem to be for people who’d managed to live well into their nineties. The long name of the church is The Basilico De Los Santos Hermanos Martires Vicente, Sabina y Cristeta, which translates to something like The Basilica of the the Sibling Saints Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta. I think I can understand now why it‘s usually shortened, although Sabina and Cristeta seem to have got a slightly rough deal out of the process. It’s built on the site of the martyrdom of these three siblings, who were crucified for refusing to renounce their faith during Roman rule here in the third century. A local Jewish man who was observing proceedings apparently thought it was all quite funny, and legend has it that he was then attacked by a snake. He repented and begged God to spare him, and in return he built the original version of the Basilica. This story is all spelt out in colourful carvings on the side of a large cenotaph near the front of the church.

It’s been well over 30 degrees here today, which is probably a bit surprising given I’d read that Avila is up at an altitude of 1,132 metres, which apparently makes it the highest provincial capital in Spain. Salamanca is also up at over 800 metres which probably explains why the restaurants had to bring out blankets one night we were there, and Segovia is also up at over 1,000 metres. Apparently it gets ridiculously cold in these parts in winter. I thought all of Spain was always insanely hot in summer and I hadn’t appreciated that it had this large central plateau at such a high altitude. Issy bought a coat with her thinking that she’d need it for Amsterdam, but the only time she’s had it on since we left home was a couple of nights ago in Salamanca.

We enjoy our final dinner here in Avila in an idyllic setting next to the outside of the wall overlooking the valley below.


20th August 2019
Basilica de San Vicente

Capturing the spirit
As you travel you absorb the people, politics and religion -- past history. Always good to see how far they have come.

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