|Photos in this post by Jessica Knauss 2017|
If you can think of something that would make a building unique, San Pedro de la Nave has it in spades. It's permitted to hold ceremonies according to the ancient Mozarabic ritual, it preserves rare pre-Romanesque Visigothic sculpture, it was threatened with being swallowed up by a reservoir, and it was moved brick by brick to a safe location. We'll delve into all that in future posts. Now, let's start with the harrowing story people have told over the centuries to explain the presence of a simple sarcophagus that became mysterious with time.
“Young Julián, you lead a good life in this fertile valley. But beware: one day, you will murder both of your beloved parents.”
Julián was shocked that the deer could speak at all. Given the extraordinary messenger, he had to believe the message. He laid down his bow and arrow right there and fled to Portugal (known as Lusitania at the time), thinking to evade the awful prophecy.
In Portugal, Julián made his fortune as a warrior. (The legend doesn’t specify what side he fought for. Whoever wrote the legend down probably had no idea who was fighting whom when Julián would’ve lived. The only thing he could be sure of was that it was on the Iberian Peninsula, so of course there was some kind of war.)
Julián was rewarded for his valor with marriage to the lovely Castilian noblewoman Basilisa. (Castile wouldn’t really have existed when Julián and Basilisa were alive, but to the seventeenth-century writer, Castile probably seemed eternal.)
Basilisa and Julián made a lovely home together, but there was another couple who wasn’t happy: Julián’s parents had been wondering where their son went and why for many years at this point. They went in search of him, and happened to find his home and bride when he was away doing important Lusitanian things.
Basilisa was a good daughter-in-law and gave Julián’s parents an unforgettable welcome. When they admitted to being exhausted from their long and worried journey, Basilisa offered them her own nuptial bed to rest in.
While her guests took their siesta, Basilisa went to church to pray. Of course that was the moment Julián came home to find two people in a bed where at most he would expect to find one: his wife, waiting for him. Julián believed Basilisa was dallying with another man, and slew both sleepers.
Basilisa walked in the door to find the horrifying sight of her mother- and father-in-law dead and explained the guests to her husband. Julián was devastated—I could’ve told him he couldn’t escape the prophecy so easily—and decided to do penance for his (totally unintended and studiously avoided) crime back in his hometown of San Pedro.
He and Basilisa set up a free service ferrying pilgrims across the River Esla so they could safely arrive at the holy sites they were aiming for. The couple did this successfully for years and earned quite the holy reputation. Finally one day, when Julián was an old man, he glimpsed someone on the opposite side of the river who needed a ferry during a severe storm.
When he made it across the dangerous river, Julián found that the pilgrim was a leper. Nonetheless, he offered the pilgrim his own bed in which to warm up and wait out the storm. Suddenly, the leper became a beautiful angel.
“Julián, your penance is complete. Your sin is redeemed. You will enjoy the rewards of Heaven. Go in peace.”
Julián and Basilisa lived out their final days feeling very blessed. That’s who’s supposed to be at rest in this tomb.
Nevermind that it’s not a tomb, but a sarcophagus, where bodies were placed until such time as only bones remained. A sarcophagus is no one’s final resting place. Just try to tell that to someone writing a thousand years after this building came into being, though.
If you think this story is remarkable, just wait for the real saga of San Pedro de la Nave, in the next posts.