Monday 21 March 2011

Son of the Moon

By Richard Morley.

A few days ago I came head to head with a Pope. Or, to be more accurate, an Antipope.

Let me give you a little history.

In the fourteenth century the French town of Avignon, up to then a place of little importance, became the residence of the Pope. Actually several popes when the Holy See moved, for it's own security, out of Rome. The last Pope to reign there was Pope Gregory XI, who, in 1377, was persuaded by Saint Catherine of Siena to return to Rome. One of his followers was a certain Pedro Martinez de Luna y Pérez de Gotor, a man born to a noble family in the Kingdom of Aragon. A member of the Aristocratic Luna family, he had been born in the small town of Illueca, about halfway between Calatayuz and Zaragoza. As a child he had lived in the family castle set on a hilltop overlooking the tiny village. When he came of age he studied law at the University of Montpelier in France, where he obtained a doctorate and taught Canon Law. His noble birth and high education caught the attention of Pope Gregory, who appointed Pedro as Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a minor basilica in Rome, in 1375.

So, two years later when Gregory restored the Holy See to Rome Pedro Martinez de Luna was one of his greatest supporters. Unfortunately, the following year Gregory died and was replaced with Urban VI with the assistance of this new cardinal. Urban, however, was not a great Pope. He was seen as haughty, superior and completely dismissive of the advice of his cardinals and the will of the people. In fact one of his critics went so far as to say he was “completely lacking in Christian gentleness and charity”. Hardly admirable qualities for the head of the Christian Church.

Meanwhile, the French, not particularly happy to have lost the seat of the Pope from their country, began to conspire against him. The Catholic church split into two factions. On the one hand the countries of England, The Holy Roman Empire, Denmark, Northern Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Ireland came out in support of Urban and Rome. On the other, France, of course, Scotland, Aragon, Castille and Leon, Burgundy, Savoy, and Southern Italy wanted to see the Pope back in Avignon.

And, if Urban wasn't going to move there, and he wasn't, they were going to elect another Pope who would.

So, a few months after Urban was elected Pope in Rome, at a conclave of Cardinal in Fondi in Southern Italy, Robert of Geneva was elected and set up as Pope in Avignon, becoming Pope Clement VII.

With Urban in Rome and Clement in Avignon, so began the start of a forty year period known as the Western Schism.

Pedro Martinez, obviously seeing which way the wind was blowing, decided to go to Avignon with Clement. This proved to be a good move because twelve days after Clement's death in September 1394, Pedro was elected Pope, taking the name Benedict XIII. Well, that’s the official name. If you talk about Benedict XIII, the Catholict church will assume you are talking about the one who was pope between 1734 and 1730.

From the 1377 return from Avignon until the present day, only the Roman popes are recognised as the true inheritors of Saint Peter’s legacy. History being written by the victors, the popes of Avignon are known for posterity as “Antipopes”. And the antipope from Illueca is known more commonly known as “Papa Luna”.

Urban had died in 1389 and was replaced with Boniface IX and a decade later the perfidious French decided their allegiance was, after all, with Rome, and Pedro, or Pope Benedict XIII, or Papa Luna, lost most of his support. He was left with just five cardinals although he was still regarded as the true Pope in Scotland, Sicily, Aragon and Castille. So he stayed in Avignon. This did not please the French who, in 1398, began a five year siege of the Papal Palace.

In 1403 Benedict escaped under the protection of the Duke of Anjou. Boniface died the following year and his successor, Innocent VII, died in 1406. He was replaced by Gregory XII, who magnanimously suggested both he and Benedict should resign to make way for a Pope that was agreeable to the whole Catholic church. To this end the Council of Pisa was set up to organise a peaceful transition. But Benedict wasn't having any of it despite both Gregory XII and his successor, John XXIII, agreeing to resign. Exasperated, no doubt, by this obstinate priest, John declared Benedict a “Schismatic” and excommunicated him. He had been pope for twenty eight years and two hundred and thirty eight days. Benedict, living up to then in Perpignon near the eastern French side of the Pyrenees, now fled to the castle at Peñíscola near Valancia under the protection of Alfonso V. It was there he died in 1423. If you have seen the film of El Cid, the castle at Peñíscola played the part of Valencia.

Benedict's body, on the orders of the Aragonese king Alfonso, was brought back to the family castle in Illueca and laid to rest. But in the early 1800s when Spain was under French rule, Napoleon’s army attacked the castle and, maybe because the French have long memories, the remains of Papa Luna were disinterred and unceremoniously thrown into the river. The only part that was rescued was the skull and this was spirited away to the castle of the duke of Anjou, in Sauvignon, France. Remember, the duke of Anjou was his only French supporter. In the year 2000 the skull was finally returned, with much pomp and ceremony, to Illueca and the castle

 (A small digression here. The current Duke of Anjou is a Great grandson of Alfonso XIII, the king of Spain who abdicated in 1931, and a Grandson of Francisco Franco. He is a claimant to the French throne. It’s a small world in European aristocracy!)

The castle is now a hotel.  I was staying there courtesy of Pueblo Inglés, the company that brings Spanish students of English into direct contact with native English speakers in an immersion programme to improve their use of the language. There, in a rather gruesome  illuminated display in the hotel reception, sits the skull of Papa Luna. It was with this that I came to have a nodding acquaintance a few days ago.

This weekend all our students were teachers of English, or teachers who teach in English, (there is a difference!) from the state schools of Aragon.

Before I went there I was told by several Madrileños that the people of Aragon have a reputation for stubbornness. This was confirmed by one of the teachers who told me a joke. “How do you get twelve Aragonese  in a mini car? Tell them they can't”. So, given the history above, I was delighted to find that there is a Spanish idiom that is used to describe a stubborn person: “Seguir en sus trece” - to stay in his / her thirteen, which is a direct reference to the intransigence of antipope Benedict XIII, who just didn't want to go.

Illueca is still a small town. The population in 2004, at the last census, showed just  3,396  inhabitants. I doubt it's not much more now, for a number of reasons.
 The early morning sun settles gently on the hills around Illueca. In the foreground is a small industrial site where the remnants of the once important shoe industry is still continued.

Historically the town relied on agriculture and the manufacture of textiles. Apparently at one time it was famous for its production of dusters. A strange thing to base an economy on! Since the 12th and 13th centuries, when the name of the place was either Illicata or Illoca, there has always been some form of textile or leather trade. It was the latter that brought the greatest income and until very recently shoe and boot making was the town’s bread and butter. As recently as the last decade it was trumpeting its different styles of industrial safety footwear. However, as seen in other European towns that produced boots, that trade has largely migrated to the far east. It was not that long ago that I lived a short distance from the home of Doc Martins in Northampton in the UK. Those boots are now produced in South Korea!

From the high vantage point of the Luna castle the visitor can look down on two aspects of the town. Nestled directly below the castle is a tangle of narrow streets and alleys of the old town. Some of the streets are stepped as they slope steeply up to the castle.  Wandering through this labyrinth I found the Calle Mayor – and found it to be just three of my paces, about two and a half metres, wide. Not very mayor! On both sides of these tiny streets the houses are small and narrow. Looking down from the castle can be seen collapsed roofs and vacant lots where a building once stood. There is an air of weary dilapidation about the place, although there are a few houses where a lick of paint and cement rendering has kept the house alive, you can also see houses that have irredeemably died on their foundations.

Beyond the old town lies the new. A development of new apartments, some utilitarian, some with some thought to their design, lie along the flatter valley floor. The main street is the normal mix of bars and shops. A shoe shop sells far eastern imports, piled high and sold cheap. A pair of plastic trainers for €8, football boots for €12. Irony in a town that once produced quality leather goods. Trading on its history, there is a factory outlet that sells proper leathers shoes, but no sign of where they are made. Mind you, a quick check of industries in the area shows there is still a great connection to the supply of footwear. Just how much is actually manufactured in the town is debateable.

The teachers I spoke to that weekend told me the town had a bad reputation for its schools. This has not been for lack of government spending. The teachers told me this: That due to the money that could be earned in the shoe factories the kids left school as soon as legally possible. Very few went on to further education. Illueca, having little in the way of nightlife, except bars, and the money earned by the young workers led to drug taking and alcohol abuse. This trickled down to the kids still at school, who already having little interest in academic learning, made life difficult for the teachers. The education authority invested eight million euros in a school of design and art – appropriate for an area that relied on the changing whims of footwear fashion – but apparently not many students applied.

This is, of course, always a problem when a town depends on one local industry and that industry disappears.

The community of Aragon is divided into three provinces, Huesca, Zaragoza and Truel, which are subdived into thirty three comarcas, or counties. The population is slightly less than one and a half million, with half living in Zaragoza. Mostly the community is a collection of small, isolated, villages. Illueca is the head of the Arranda Comarca, named for the river that flows through the town. The meeting rooms for the council are also in the castle. We actually had some of our meeting and classes in the council chambers, a smallish room that was none-the-less filled with microphones.

Down in the valley, where the old town merges with the new, the local town council offices overlook a sunny plaza in an otherwise narrow street. It was here they debated on whether the fate of name of the Calle Franco. There is a movement, largely successful, to rid the towns of memories of the Civil War and Franco’s legacy. But if they were to change the name, what important event or personage could possibly replace that of Franco. Well, there was a faction in the town who wanted to celebrate the great achievements of one Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, the singer (if that’s the word!) of Spain’s 2008 entry in the Eurovision song contest. I suspect this was a publicity stunt to bring the town some prominence. If so, it worked  as it’s the only bit of news to come out of the town for years. As it happens, the motion was not passed and as far as I know, the street named for the dictator. (At least according to GoogleMaps.)

In these days of economical crises, a small community like Illueca will be struggling. However, they are Aragonese, and given their propensity for stubbornness I am sure they will “Seguir con sus trece”. I mean, Papa Luna outlived five “proper” popes. The people from Illueca are obviously survivors.