Wednesday, October 04, 2006


One of the villages I visited while in Spain was the parish of Santorcaz, just outside Alcala de Henares. It's a lovely little place made famous by the remains of the episcopal palace that was the summer residence of the bishops of Toledo. The name betrays the village's Roman origins: St Torquatius was a Roman martyr (does anyone know anything about him?). The main Square still bears his name Plaza de San Torcuato, although the town has become Santorcaz.

It is a fascinating place in many ways. When he was a humble Fransiscan friar the young Cisneros was imprisoned in the castle by (you've guessed it!) the Spanish Inquisition. He was a friend of Erasmus and Thomas More. Such contact with European humanism meant that one or two checks needed to to made before he could continue preaching! Later, of course, he became the famous Cardinal Cisneros who founded the historic Complutensis University in Alcala, was twice regent of Spain, and swiftly converted the city of Granada to Christianity. A plaque on the wall of the Church commemorates his early detention in the town. It reads: To Cardinal Cisneros, the historic villa of Santorcaz, in whose Castle he was detained.

The baptismal records of Santorcaz also make interesting reading. They date back to the reconquest and note any Moorish converts. In fact, there are surprisingly few of them - at least if you believe the accounts that claim the wicked Christians attacked all the Moors and forced them either to convert or to leave. Over several decades there were a number of converts. They were generally young men (late teens - early thirties). The books record their Arabic name as well as their baptismal names. There really does not seem to have been any wholesale or forced conversion at the time.

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