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N the height of the Aloña, 2 in the district of Oñate, rose up a noble edifice of marvellous construction. In that rugged land, far from all human habitation, one day appeared before the astonished gaze of Rodrigo de Balzétegui a beautiful maiden amid the thorny bushes,
to whom the shepherd in surprise asked, "Aránzan, zu?" 1 The first shelter erected for this maiden was a rustic thatch made of leaves. Towards the end of the sixteenth century this rude hut was converted into the building which forms the subject of this ballad.
The convent, as well as the river which has its rise in the neighbourhood, bears for its appellation the simple question of the shepherd to the maiden Aránzanzu. Any one on beholding that convent 2 would say that
it must have been erected in the air by some powerful genius, and when concluded was placed on the sharp points of the rocks on the summit of the mountain. So bold was its construction that it appeared to be the work due to some supernatural agency, and not the work of man. Its immense body sustained by arches, extended from cliff to cliff, and across the aerial foundations, could be seen the firmament from one side, and on the other the fearful chasm known by the name of "Leap of the Devil;" while on its highest and most inaccessible point rose up the august symbol of our holiest religion.
One night I found myself leaning against a rock on the shore of the river Aránzanzu. To the right, and on the opposite side to the small valley, rose up in the distance the mountain and town of Urréjola, like an eagle's nest perched on the sharp point of a rock. Almost in front, in the distance also, and at the base of a deep and fearful precipice, could barely be distinguished across the mist the village of Arraoz imbedded in the crags like the diamond in the mines of Brazil. Throughout space, as far as the eye could reach, no other human habitation could be perceived. Rocks and broken cliffs on all sides, covered with a stunted vegetation, leaving the sharp broken heights bare. Some vulture of heavy flight would pass the night on the mountains to digest in perfect quietude its nauseous food which
perchance it had grasped in the morning on the fertile Andalusian plains. Other birds of prey would conceal themselves screeching in the fearful cavern of St. Elias, which, according to tradition, is so deep that its termination has never been found. The limpid, seething, running waters of Aránzanzu flowed on--that stream which had its rise buried in the abyss and carried along through a wide defile, to come out again at a distance and pay its tribute to the river Deva; an image of frivolous youth which hides itself joyously in the abyss of old age and pays its tribute to death. This rugged landscape was illumined by the beautiful moon of May which, suspended in space like a lamp, diffused its damp silvery beams over the land. The sudden transition from light to shade brought out more vividly in relief the rude points of the cliffs; and on observing so many crevices, such thick brushwood, so deep a silence, such a marvellous calm, one would fain have said that all that space had been a vast sea which, rising up, agitated by the force of an equinoctial hurricane, into huge crested waves, had suddenly become petrified at the signal of the Supreme Creator; or else, some fabulous city peopled by giants which had become instantly ruined by an immense cataclysm. And, in truth, I saw--and let it not be doubted--enormous ruins of fallen walls, half-ruined towers of some unknown architecture, which still preserve ramparts and loopholes,
columns and fantastic arches, in the ruins of which could not be discovered any vestiges of architectural rules either ancient or modern.
What had all this been in the primitive ages? Into what will it be converted when the consummation of ages comes?
I was dwelling on all this, and my restless imagination transported itself back to remote epochs and to other ages. In the darksome depths of those precipices and chasms, I saw, rising up slowly, masses of snow, white and transparent, which by degrees were acquiring vague forms, ending by appearing to my astonished eyes like human forms. Venerable old men with long white beards, and clothed in the rich dalmatics 1 of the primitive Basques, silently passed before me in an orderly procession, and directed towards me sad looks, then continued their aerial march in the direction of the solitary convent of Aránzanzu. Behind these, and in the same order, followed young warriors with naked swords in their right hands, while many of them had
their left hands pierced by nails. These were the legions which, under the command of Hannibal, gained the battle of Cannas. And there were also the soldiers who had died crucified by the Romans, intoning on the cross the hymn of death. There were there those brave warriors who for the space of five years had wrestled alone and without support against the Roman legions when the empire was at its height, and were commanded by the most fortunate general of that epoch. Martyrs of Kuruceta, Iturrioz, and Altobicar! heroes of Cannas, Regil, and St. Adrian! As such did I salute those venerated shadows which passed before me. At their head marched Lara, the famous Guipuzcoan warrior, and more renowned still as a bard. His brow was crowned by the green diadem of yew leaves, and in his hand he carried a musical instrument of an unknown make. The same sad look was directed to me by the second procession as it passed before me, following the march of the ancients who had already disappeared. Then issued a long line of matrons and maidens, the latter distinguished by their long flowing hair; of children of both sexes, who, silent and sad, with eyes bent to the ground, and arms crossed over their breasts, were following the steps of the youthful warriors. At short intervals succeeded other processions, in which were seen the heroes of Covadonga, Navas, and Salado: the Canos, the Urbietas, the Oquendos, the
[paragraph continues] Churrucas, and many more. Behind, and as though closing the march, came a dense black cloud, in the centre of which could be discovered a wide empty space which was radiant with light.
That procession was a magnificent living epic poem. Those who walked in it were men of bygone ages. Within the empty luminous space in the centre of the dark cloud which enveloped the huge procession, was there perchance any place for the men of future ages? Where did these shadows proceed to? What signified that marvellous silence and those sad looks? Do they perhaps see looming in the future the ruin of the country?
I rose up as soon as they were lost to view and continued my journey. The same peacefulness, the same silence in nature. From time to time there reached my ears, amid the breezes, the noise of running water, or the sad echo of the cry of agony of a gull, surprised in its nest by some bird of prey.
On reaching one of the angles of the path I followed, and from whence can be discovered the convent of Aránzanzu, I noticed with surprise that the shadows which I had seen passing before me, now occupied the summits of the pointed rocks which on every side surround the building. The white robes and rich dalmatics in which some were robed, the brilliant corselets and the coats of mail with which others were covered
the flowing garments of the women and children, imparted to that numerous assembly which, motionless mustered together, had taken possession of the pointed heights, a fantastic appearance impossible to describe, I stood there in presence of that strange spectacle. The silence of nature was unbroken, the immobility of the shadows suffered no change.
Suddenly, he who stood on the cliff called the "leap of the devil," raised his hand, and a soft melody spread through space.
All the shadows knelt down. It was a novel scene. The scenery was the primitive landscape; the musicians and singers were invisible; the auditory was composed of the venerated shadows of our ancestors. The music which reached my ears was solemn, without ceasing to be melodious; the torrent of harmony which, beating against the rocks, became lost in distant echoes, was not similar to that which is usually heard in the temples. It was a strange harmony, a singular music executed with instruments hitherto unknown, sung by voices which had nothing human in them.
Wailings were heard which made one shudder, plaints that deeply moved the soul, sighs which rent asunder the heart; and then succeeded soft airs, melodious hymns that seemed to distil into the spirit a comfort such as no doubt is reserved for the just. And all this joined together, united, interlaced with each other,
in harmony like to an enormous concerted piece accompanied by vigorous instrumental power of sound, while at times it vibrated in tender modulations and became sweetly sentimental.
The eolian harps of northern countries, accompanying the canticles of Ossian, did not possess the charm with which I listened enraptured. At the moment when the moon was hiding behind the top of Aitzgorri, and simultaneously as the shadows of the ancient Guipuzcoans were disappearing, the melodies which had ravished my spirit also began to lose their vigour. And by slow degrees these sounds died away, until the moon became completely hidden, and the fantastic shadows disappeared also, and the music ceased in a prolonged sweet chord.
Suddenly the magnificent scene was changed: the light succeeded to the darkness, and to the melodies followed the screech of the nocturnal birds. At that very instant I felt an icy cold hand placed on my head. I raised my eyes in terror, and I saw Lara the warrior prophet, the Basque bard, who was gazing on me with melancholy looks. A nimbus of soft light surrounded the manly head, crowned with a circlet of yew leaves. Over his tunic of finest white wool glistened a splendid dalmatic, the symbol of authority. In his left hand rested a stringed instrument of a make unknown to me. A sad smile hovered around the pale lips of the bard.
[paragraph continues] After looking at me for some time in silence, he said, in a very sweet voice:
"Sit down and listen, my son."
I mechanically obeyed, and had hardly sat down when the wasted fingers of the prophet began to strike the chords of his singular instrument, producing plaintive sounds similar to the sighing of a dying child. Then, fixing his eyes on the firmament, commenced to issue from his lips murmurs which at first were unintelligible, but which later on made themselves clear to my attentive ear.
"The time flies, the torrents descend, the waters of the river flow on, following their course," said the prophet.
When listening to this allegory and simple exordium I imagined I perceived in the shadow of the bard the image of Aitor, the ancient of ancients, the patriarch, the father of the Indu-Atlantic race, the first and most perfect of Basques.
"The men of my race," he continued, "populated Hispana covered with a parasite vegetation; and that virgin soil was cleared of those plants by means of fire. The immense flames were reflected on the ice of the north, and their wide columns of smoke obscured the clear sky on the margins of the Ganges."
"Then we were happy and free."
* * * * * *
Innumerable hordes of strange people, attracted by
the gold which we despised, overran Hispana. We abandoned the plains to those avaricious merchants, and we retired to the mountains to follow our pure and holy customs.
"We were then still happy and free."
* * * * * *
The sons of Romulus arrive; the masters of the world invade the plains. The Basque chief ascends the top of the mountain, and his 'irrinzi' of war moved the waters of the Tiber, which takes refuge in the Betica to hide its confusion,
"We were even then happy; we were still free, while all the countries of the world were following fettered to the triumphal car of a Roman Cæsar."
* * * * * *
"What rumours are those which come from all the points of the horizon? What savage cries are those which thus disturb the peace of the Basque home? Does perchance the icy wind of the north bring in its wings the sombre and malevolent genii of the snowy regions?
"Populous and magnificent cities become a prey to the flames, lofty towers are hurled down, strong rampart walls fall to the earth. Whole nations disappear like sparks which the wind carries away, when passing through them, that multitude of people dressed in skins,
of ferocious countries, who came uttering vociferous cries of death and extermination.
"Nevertheless we were still happy and free, because the swaying of that multitude becomes broken up and dashed to pieces against our haughty mountains."
* * * * * *
"This time is heard the sound of clarions and Moorish drums, the half-moon glistens on green standards, dark faces populate the plains, the call of the Muezzin takes the place of the sonorous tinkle of the bells.
"Alas for Spain! Her inhabitants bend their necks beneath the yoke of the Agareni!
"The tempest came from the south on this sad day.
"However, on this occasion also the African tribes retreat their invading march on beholding the Basque flag floating from the heights of Amboto.
"And even then we were still happy, because we were free."
* * * * * *
"But since that day many years and ages have passed away."
* * * * * *
The bard hushed his voice. His eyes suddenly acquired an extraordinary light; over his countenance was spread an expression of undefined wrath; the chords of his instrument vibrated with greater power, and the voice of the prophet, sonorous, terrible, clove the air
extinguishing the sighing of the night wind, and increasing like the moaning of the river.
"Still more dangers for the country!" he cried. "Yes, see there the castles and the lions! see them disposed to oppress this ancient and free home with their threats! Numerous hordes are formed beyond the Ebro.
"Yes, hear them proclaiming a false liberty--they wish to deprive us of ours!"
* * * * * *
"Eia! sons of Aitor, ye who have sustained thirty ages of combats for your liberty and independence!
"Eia! unearth your arms, and utter the ancient formidable war cry!
"Eia! The shadows of our brothers are also joined on the camps of Arriaga, Guernica, and Guerekiz, to ask the God of battles help and protection as we now meet together to implore assistance from the holiest virgin of Aránzanzu!"
After saying this the eyes of the prophet lost their light; his brow grew sad, and he remained silently bending down to the ground. And from his pale lips issued these words:
"What force cannot obtain, craftiness and bad faith will effect. Farewell, my son; the country is perishing and to my noble race nothing remains but bitter weeping."
He placed his icy hand on my head, and, gradually vanishing away, disappeared mingled with the shadows of the night.
* * * * * *
Four months later the Basque provinces had risen up, and all its sons were hastening to the war. This war lasted seven years, and was ended by an embrace. The great Basque chieftain died in front of his army. Peace be to his soul! The sanctuary of Aránzanzu fell a prey to the flames.
Should any one attain to behold the grand scene which I have roughly depicted, he will most certainly see, in the luminous centre of the dense cloud which closed up the march of the procession of shadows, surrounded by a brilliant aureole, and with hands joined--Jáuregui, 1 the shepherd-hero of the war against Napoleon, and Zumalacarregui, 2 the hero of the seven years' war. In the temple of glory there is no entrance for political passions. Beyond the camp there is bliss and peace for the good alone.
233:1 Lara. A young bard and Basque chief of the period when the wars were raging against the Empire of Rome. The poet, Silio Italico, in the sixteenth book of his Epic Poem, assigned a whole page to describe the personal combat of Lara against Scipio, in which the Basque chief lost his right hand.
233:2 Aloña. A mountain of Guipuzcoa, at whose southerly base is situated the magnificent town of Oñate, where, for a long period during the seven years' civil war, the Infante Don Carlos de Bourbon, uncle of Isabella II., held his court.
234:1 Aránzan, zu. Literally, "You, in a thorn?"
234:2 Convent of Aránzanzu. Situated on the south-west skirt of the Monte Aloña. The convent was under the invocation of Our Lady of Aránzanzu, and was inhabited by the friars of the Order of St. Francis. The situation of this convent was very remarkable. It was perched, so to say, on the highest point and most rugged and bare of the mountain, on the height of a steep declivity, and from this may be inferred the boldness and solidity of that capricious construction. Throughout the three Basque provinces the holy image of Our Lady of Aránzanzu was very famous, and the devotion of the people to it, even in our days, very general. During the month of May it is visited by numerous pilgrimages, and nothing more fantastic can be imagined than the effect produced by the glare of the fires at night, which are lit by the multitudes encamped on the mountain, as they are unable to find accommodation for all in the spacious inns close to the convent, and to hear the echoes of the magnificent organ, harmonious orchestra, and large choir of voices, with which they celebrate the praises of the Virgin and intoned the prayers. The convent was only visible at the distance of about fifty metres. I am sorry to add, that this singular construction was set fire to by orders of General Rodil during the civil war against Don Carlos--a deed of barbarism which will always merit reprehension and condemnation.
237:1 Dalmatic. A very rich robe embroidered with gold spangles, worn over tunics of white wool on great festivals by the ancient Euscaros in olden times. This dalmatic was used as a sign of authority. The shape of this robe is exactly as the vestments worn during High Mass by the officiating deacon and sub-deacon, with the sole difference that the dalmatic has a hood. The "capusay" of the shepherds and country people of our time, worn in the Basque country, is an exact copy of that very ancient robe.
246:1 Jáuregui (Gaspar). Field-marshal in the service of the Queen D. Isabella II. He was a native of Villa-real, of Guipuzcoa. He had been a shepherd, and during the war against Napoleon was an untiring guerilla chief.
246:2 Zumalacarregui (Thomas). A native of Ormaiztegui, in Guipuzcoa. He was general-in-chief of the army of Don Carlos. He died from the effects of a wound received in the first siege of Bilbao, in 1835. He was one of the best Spanish generals of this century.