Its been a long while since I took a stroll through my virtual garden – the winter was long and snows deep this past year and it seemed gardens were a thing of the past. But the rains of the past few days have greened things up a bit and I’ve found time to thumb through Grandville and read one of Taxile Delord’s cautionary tales.
Neither the writer nor the illustrator were particular favourites with the authorities – their tart observation of things political and religious often fell under the censors’ scrutiny. The story of The Last Cacique is a bitter story of political and religious intolerance and hypocrisy. Until I read Cleaveland’s translation of Delord’s story I had no idea what a cacique was. For him it obviously meant native of Central American and more specifically of Mexico though the Wikipedia entry gives it a wider and more political meaning. It tells of a religious and ethnic clash and the toadying of politicians to the “bread and circuses” – though in this case it is “auto-da-fe and baptism – will of the people. Once again behind the lovely lithographs lurks a damning and uncomfortable lesson.
The Last of the Cacique – Part I
There was a time about the middle of the last century when the city of Mexico had become very dull. Since the death of Havradi the famous toreador the bull fights had lost their charm with the public. It was the rainy season and they could have no processions and adverse winds had prevented the arrival of the fleet from Europe. The inhabitants clamoured against the public authorities for not finding means to amuse them. The governor Don Alvarez Mendo ay Palenzuela y Arnam began at length to fear an insurrection. Having risen one day in worse humour than usual and feeling it his duty to attend to affairs of state he summoned before him the commander of the forces Don Gonsalvo de Saboya who like all Spanish officers claimed descent from Gonsalvo of Cordova. The governor had a project in his head “It is” said he to himself “a long time since the city of Mexico has enjoyed an auto da fe. A spectacle like that would have the double advantage of quieting my complaining subjects and of securing the favour of the Inquisition which complains somewhat of my luke-warmness.”
And the most obvious choice for the festive pyre would be a native or cacique, a follower of the old Sun worship. In fact there had been rumours of a renewal in the old believes amongst the locals that the Inquisition was not happy about. But of course like all politicians the good Governor doesn’t want to soil his hands with anything so unsavoury. So he delegates the task of finding a heretic to the good Commander who not being the bravest or brightest of men delegates it to his Captain. The Captain worries about his next commission and by happenstance discovers that his Sargent has a drinking buddy who is a Cacique and orders him to arrest his old friend.
Next to the toreador whose death was so much deplored, next to the processions, the bull fights and the arrival of the fleet from Spain the chief delight of the inhabitants of Mexico was the dancer Grenadilla. Lord, citizens, soldiers, sailors, everybody knew her; everybody admired her and respected her – and yet she was only a poor street dancer – a child of the common people, a gipsy and a mountebank. Still whenever this mountebank gipsy began to dance the fandango there was not a duchess of them all who had an air more noble a more flexible form or whose movements were prouder and more graceful than were those of the Grenadilla.
Needless to say the Governor was not immune to the charms of this beautiful gypsy girl and she often danced for him in his private quarters. But when he pressed his suit she would laugh at him and run back to the streets to be with her people. When the Governor told her of the coming auto da fe La Grenadilla spread the word amongst the populace who greeted the news with acclamation.
Meanwhile Tumilco, the Sargent’s cacique drinking companion, was happily celebrating a successful day at the market at a local taverna. His old friend the Sargent appeared but his charge was not to drink with Tumilco but to arrest the bewildered man. He was trundled off to without a word of explanation to a dark cell away from the life-giving sun. A month later he was led before the dreaded Inquisition where a tribunal of glowering priests demanded that he say a Pater or an Ave. Poor Tumilco knew neither prayer and his silence condemned him as a heretic to be burned at the stake in the public square.
The Auto da Fe
In the mean time the Mexicans became impatient.
On every side was heard the inquiry “When is the auto da fe to place? Will it be tomorrow or on the day after? Is it or proper to make us wait so long for the burning of a wicked little heretic? This is showing but small zeal for the interests of religion and little regard for the feelings of good catholics!”
All these remarks were repeated to the governor who replied “It is nothing to me. The prisoner is in the hands of the Inquisition. They may do what they please.”
Meanwhile the governor more enamored than ever of the charming Grenadilla would almost have himself worshipped the sun had it been necessary to please her. The Grenadilla however was incapable of requiring such an enormity.
At length one fine morning the inhabitants of Mexico saw the funeral pyre, which they had so long and impatiently expected, set up in the public square. The bells sounded a general peal. The fraternities of the Penitents, with banners flying, proceeded to the house of the grand inquisitor to form his escort to the elevated stand which had been reserved for him in the public square, and which fronted the funeral pyre.
Two o clock was the hour fixed for the execution.
But long before this, at an early hour of the morning indeed, the crowd had filled the place. At the windows, in the trees everywhere, one could see nothing but heads. These multitudes were talking, waving their hands, and calling impatiently for the victim. At last the cortege made its appearance on one side of the square. First came the clergy, then the Penitents, and last of all the victim surrounded by the soldiers of the Santa Hermandad.
At this moment all became still and deeply attentive.
To be continued next Friday …….
On this day in 1743: Jean-Pierre Christin developed the centigrade temperature scale.