Thursday, April 24, 2014

The lovers of Teruel

Silly girl, silly boy. 

Each February since 1996, the city of Teruel has celebrated a reenactment of the wedding of Isabel de Segura.


Spoiler: This is a medieval tale, and they loved tragic endings back then, so get out your kleenex.

In 1217 in the city of Teruel in east-central Spain, Isabel de Segura and Juan Diego Martínez de Marcilla grew up together and fell in love. Both were of noble families, in fact the Seguras were very rich.

Some versions of the story say the Marcillas had fallen on hard times, others say that as the second son, Diego inherited only a horse, but both Diego and Isabel knew her parents would never grant him permission to marry her if he was poor. Some versions of the story says Diego talked to her father, others say he spoke only to Isabel, but in any case they reached an agreement: he would have exactly five years to seek his fortune. And so he rode off.

For five years, Isabel waited with no news from Diego while she fended off suitors, claiming that she had vowed to remain a virgin until age 20 and that no woman should marry until she knew how to run a household. At exactly five years, her father gave her in marriage to Pedro de Azagara.

As Teruel celebrated the wedding, city guards announced a commotion at a gate: Diego was arriving, and he was rich. She had started counting five years from the day they made their agreement, and he began his count on the following day.

That night, he snuck into the newlyweds’ bedchamber, woke Isabel, and begged: “Kiss me, for I am dying.” She refused out of dedication to her new husband. Diego fell dead next to the bed. She woke Pedro, who praised her virtue but feared he would be blamed for Diego’s death, so their servants quietly carried his body to his parents’ home.

The next day during the funeral, a woman walked into the church and proceeded toward the altar: Isabel, in her splendid wedding dress. She stopped at the corpse of her beloved Diego, bent to kiss him, and after she did, fell dead on top of him.

They were buried together, finally united in love for eternity.

The legend spread and gave rise to the refrain: “Los amantes de Teruel, tonta ella, tonto él.” The lovers of Teruel, silly girl, silly boy, commenting on the way passion can give rise to misfortune.  

Is this story true?

 Maybe. In Italy in 1353, Boccaccio told a similar story about Girolamo and Salvestra, and he may have borrowed it from Spanish folklore. In Spain, writers including Tirso de Molina and Tomás Bretón have also dramatized the story.

In 1555, the bodies of the lovers (or of some people) were exhumed and found to have mummified, which is not unusual in Spain’s dry climate, and they were placed into beautiful new marble tombs sculpted by Juan de Ávalos in San Pedro Church. The two lovers are carved into the lids of their tombs, and their outstretched hands almost touch. On the sides of the tombs, open stonework filigree allows visitors to view their mummified remains.

If you can’t get to Teruel to visit the mausoleum, you can visit the website of “The Lovers Foundation” here.

But if you can get to Teruel, each February it hosts a city-wide recreation of the tale with plenty of medieval festivities, as you can see in the promotional video for 2013: food, dance, and spectacle.


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