29.5.12

Courtesans and Saints along the River Tormes

Salamanca in Spain has not one, but two cathedrals. In addition, in the nearby town of Alba de Tormes there is a monastery that is the final resting place of the Spanish saint Santa Teresa de Jesús or, rather, just parts of her, since other parts of her body can also be found in other Spanish churches as well as in Rome, Paris and Lisbon - it is even said that the dictator Franco had her right hand tucked away in his bedside table. Salamanca was also the city that had been chosen for the wedding in 1543 between a very pious Phillip II and Maria Manuela of Portugal. You would think that all these facts would make 16th Century Salamanca one of the most somber cities in the world, however, the city was also, and continues to be, a university town. At the time there were around 8.000 students in Salamanca and to give you an idea of the magnitude, the capital city of Madrid had a population of 11.000. All these students were attended by an army of courtesans (and I use the more polite term) that made some observers compare the city to Sodom and Gomorrah. Amongst those that held this view was Phillip II himself, who passed a law forcing all the courtesans to be taken to the other side of the River Tormes before Lent and not to allow them to return until a week after Easter Monday. This imposed period of "fasting" meant that the return of the courtesans was celebrated raucously by the students who came out to the river to welcome them back with wine and food. The parties that ensued are part of the legend of the city but nowadays the festivity, which is called "lunes de aguas" ("Monday of waters"), is still celebrated by students and families alike by having a picnic with friends and eating Hornazo, a pie which the students shared with the courtesans.



Monastery in Alba de Tormes

Monastery in Alba de Tormes

Bridge where students waited with Cathedral in background

The River Tormes

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