Category Archives: Spain

Els Reis Mags

Every year, on January 5th, the Three Wise Kings arrive in the port of Barcelona from the Netherlands on their ship, the Santa Eulalia. They then process through the city of Barcelona in a great cavalcade, with all their friends, throwing candy to the children — some fifteen tons of it.

  There’s Melchior.












  And Gaspar, accompanied by my favourite Bollywood soundtrack album.









  And then with much fanfare…










  …And one of Hannibal’s elephants, last but not least…












  …Comes Balthazar!












  He’s followed by a few camels.





  (Okay, the part about the Netherlands was a joke.)

  Happy Epiphany!






Santiago Matamoros

Santiago — Saint James — can be found in several different guises. There’s James at the Transfiguration; my favourite, James as a medieval pilgrim; and this version I found in Barcelona on what was probably a church belonging to the military Order of Santiago, Santiago Matamoros, Saint James the Moor-slayer.

James as a bloodthirsty slayer of Muslims, very medieval and crusade-y, no? Well, no, or at least, not as much as you might expect. While the ideas behind this image come from the time when Christians and Musims fought for contro of the peninsula, most of the actual images showing James on a horse, trampling a beleaguered Moor actually date from a time after 1492, the date when the Muslims lost control of Granada, their final stronghold in the peninsula. This one is dated 1580.

I guess it is easier to imagine yourself as a valiant slayer of infidels once they have already been soundly vanquished.


So here I am, in Barcelona for most of the rest of the month. Why yes, that is a palm tree in the background. So what was the temperature in Chicago today? Oh. Sorry. (hee hee hee)

To be honest, it isn’t all that warm here, and it is kind of grey and cloudy, which is why I haven’t taken more photos. Typical European winter. And actually I like the cold. (No, honestly, I do. Really.) But it is warm enough to go without a hat or gloves, or to sit outside in a cafe with a coat on, so I am content.

More, soon.

Sephardic Jews leave Genetic Legacy in Spain

A recent article describes genetic studies of Spanish men that show a high percentage of them bear traces of Sephardic Jewish and North African ancestry:

Sephardic Jews leave genetic legacy in Spain

From the 15th century on, Spain’s Jews were mostly expelled or forced to convert, but today some 20 percent of Spanish men tested have Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and 11 percent can be traced to North Africa, a study has found.

“These values are surprisingly high,” the researchers wrote in their report, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

They checked the Y chromosome, a stretch of DNA carried only by men and passed down with little change from father to son. Mutations in this gene can be used to trace ancestry, and some have been clearly linked to Sephardic Jewish and northern African populations.

“The genetic composition of the current population is the legacy of our diverse cultural and religious past,” one of the report’s authors, Francesc Calafell, from the evolutionary biology faculty at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, said on Friday.

I thought it was fascinating, and useful data for medieval historians who are trying to weigh the evidence of numbers of Jews who were converted to Christianity and remained in Spain, and those who left. The high numbers of those with Jewish ancestry are especially significant given the usually low estimates of the population of Jews in medieval Spain. Another report suggested that the number of those with Jewish descent were relatively fewer in Catalunya, indicating perhaps the “success” of the pogroms against them in the fourteenth century.

I am of Sephardic descent through my great grandmother. Her last name was Bondy which means “Bon dia” in Catalan (“Good day” or “Yom tov” in Hebrew). My understanding is that all the Bondys in Bohemia were descended from one Sephardic Jew who moved to Prague in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. By chance, I am going to be spending a month at the university where they did this study in January — maybe I’ll have a chance to talk to the researchers!

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

It’s a light, empty, fun movie, worth it if you are looking for mindless summer fun. I also found it hilarious in ways I don’t believe the director planned. I think poor Mr. Allen learned everything he knows about Spain from the foyer of a luxury hotel and the back seat of a taxicab. And what Woody seems to have learned is that Barcelona is a lot like Los Angeles! People own handguns and drive around in massive silver SUVs and live in mansions, with pools, and invite people over to their fabulous modern kitchens with stainless steel appliances. Like, L.A., there are a lot of Spanish speakers around but it’s okay because they all speak English too. God forbid that in Catalunya they should speak, you know, Catalan. So it’s not surprising that when our heroines finally leave Barcelona (mild spoiler alert), they have experienced none of the personal epiphanies that are usually associated with the broadening effects of foreign travel. They never really left home.

Historical Fiction in Spain

C.W. Gortner in his blog, Historical Boys, had an interesting post yesterday on the popularity of historical fiction in Spain. He found new novels covering many time periods and written by authors from all over Europe. His impressions of the market there reflect the sense I got when I was in Spain last July. Waiting for a friend at the Barajas airport in Madrid, I stopped in the airport bookstore to see what people were buying. I think fully one quarter of the novels there were on historical fiction, mostly about medieval and early modern topics and set in Spain and the rest of Europe.

I thought that was pretty neat.