HolyMary.info

 
                    Fatima the Princess
 

       Fatima's Catholic, but there's a Muslim in its history.
      
       I'd known of this for a while, but in my reading I'd also seen a reference to "the words of an ancient ballad," having to do with the story.  I wanted to see for myself what the lyrics said, so I searched for the writing but had no luck in tracking it down. 
       
       Then, finally, I went to the Cullom-Davis Library at Bradley University in Peoria, where I told a lady at the reference desk of my search.  With information I'd given her, she did a computer search that turned up an account that included an "old lay."  A lay is defined as "a narrative poem, such as one sung by medieval minstrels; a ballad."   While there isn't a lot of narrative to the it, it does fit the definition.  

        Much of what's written here is based on that account, titled LEAVES FROM THE PORTUGUESE OLIVE.―NO. III, which I'll refer to hereafter as LEAVES .1  The account contains an interesting story with a linkage to the famed shrine in Portugal.  In the telling of  it, I've woven in some thoughts of my own.

                                     History and the Iberian Conquered 
   
       
To acquaint ourselves with some background on Portugal, both it and Spain are part of the Iberian Peninsula, that somewhat squarish land mass, hanging down in western Europe between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  It was subject to a series of invasions, one in 711, when thousands of  soldiers led by Tariq ibn Ziyad, crossed from Africa to Europe and landed near the promontory called thereafter Jebel al-Tariq in Arabic (meaning the “mountain of Tariq”), which evolved into the name Gibraltar.  It was called a Moorish invasion but the invaders were also referred to as Arabs and Berbers. 
       
         The Moors were a Berber people who became Muslims and adopted the Arab language.  Tariq was himself a Berber and was joined in the Iberian conquest by the Muslim governor of North Africa, Musa ibn Nasyr.  Most of the peninsula was brought under Islamic rule, except for areas in the northwest and the Pyrenees.

       Christian nobles sought refuge in the region along the northern coast facing the Bay of Biscay.2   In 722, the independent Kingdom of Asturias 3 was set up, established de facto, to become the cradle of the Reconquista. 

       In 868, after the territory between the Minho and Douro rivers was reconquered, the County of Portugal was established and eventually it evolved into the Kingdom of Portugal.  In 1139, Afonso Henriquez defeated the Moors at Ourique, and became the King of Portugal.  It was during his reign, that we meet the persons involved in the story of Fatima.


                          
                     Gonzalo Herminguez

      
LEAVES  tells us that a monk and chronicler by the name of Bernardo de Brito preserved "a lay" in Cistercian history (Brito died in 1617).  It narrates a daring exploit, penned by the hero himself, Gonzalo Herminguez.4  Gonzalo was the son of Hermigo Gonzales who served under the Count of Portugal, Alfonso Henriquez, and at the Battle of Ourique, the agile Hermigo overthrew so many Moors that he was called O Luctador, the Wrestler. 
         
         LEAVES says that Gonzalo inherited Hermigo's prowess, which one may define as having a strength, courage or daring, surpassing others in battle.  He was celebrated with the name Traga Mouros, "the Moor eater."  Toward the end of Alfonso's reign, about 1189 the account records, Gonzalo was of a mind to make reprisals against the Moors "for the captives they had taken from among the natives of his country." (possibly a "4" was miscopied as a "9, " as Alfonso Henriquez died in Dec. 1185 )  We're not told who was captured, but what Gonzalo was determined to do, will bring Fatima into the picture.

                                                       Fatima the Princess
       
         The story to unfold testifies to Gonzalo's resolute courage.   Having embarked in boats with a daring band of followers, Gonzalo set out for Alcacer do Sal, a town yet in Moorish hands.  It was situated on the Sado River 5 which flows through southern Portugal, emptying into an estuary of the Atlantic, south of Lisbon.    
     
         The degree of risk of their action, would depend on whether they carried it out in the daylight or in the dark.  It seems possible if not plausible that they approached the city at dusk, as darkness was gathering, and the Muslims were outside in the early evening.  It would seem they wouldn't want to be exposed to discovery any longer than they had to be, and that the longer they rowed against the current, the more energy they'd be exerting just to reach the town.

          They disembarked and concealed themselves where they observed what was going on.  It was midsummer when the Mahometans were celebrating their Feast of Bairam.6  The gates of the city were open and nearby on the grass, they were sporting and dancing with the females of their families.  The Christians, here called Lusitanians,7 watched them from their hiding place for a while. Gonzalo noticed a beautiful Moorish girl, "sporting with her female companions, full of graceful gaity."   He was attracted to her in particular and decided to capture her.  Her name was Fátima.

         The Christians rushed from where they were lurking in concealment, and although the Mussulmans were surprised,  they fought bravely, often snatching away from Gonzalo the lovely girl he'd seized.  Fátima herself noticed Gonzalo from the time the Christians appeared.  She admired him as a person and for his valor.  She was flattered by the value he put upon her, shown by his efforts to obtain her.   He became the center of the skirmish and a focus of attack from her people.  This action may reflect the fact that this girl whom he sought, was not just a Fatima, but according to another narration, a Princess named Fátima, the daughter of the Muslim Prince at Alcacer do Sal, details LEAVES did not include but that are mentioned elsewhere.

        A curious thing appeared to happen.   The account says "it would seem, that instead of being alarmed, or offering any resistance, she threw herself in the way of recapture by Gonzalo as often as she was snatched from him."  Gonzalo was able to capture her.  Being close to the open gates of Alcacer do Sal, it would seem likely, that other Moorish occupants within the town heard the commotion and that some witnessed the skirmish.

         It's not hard to envision an alarm being raised, others being summoned to help and Muslims rushing out of the gates in pursuit.   The Christians made their escape in their boats, reversing their course on the stream.

         From what I see on a historical map8 of the 1037-1270 time frame,  I would guess they paddled downstream toward where the Sado flows into an estuary of the Atlantic.  Alcacer do Sal appears just below a line, where it says, Northern Limits of Saracen Lands (dated 1200).9  The boundary line appears to be about where the last part of the river is located, but whether the northern limit was there at this point in history maybe 14 to 15 years before 1200 is not here known.  Map-wise, this is the closest information at hand. 

         From Alcacer do Sal, the river curves northward in an elongated, backward "S," then westward to the estuary.  Where it's curving to go in a westerly direction, may be around seven kilometers or so from the city.   In terms of miles, they may've had to go several on the river before they reached safer territory, maybe being chased as they did so, along the bank or from behind by boat.  Christian territory may've been farther yet.

        Another account tells us they took their captives to the king at Santarem, somewhat to the north and west of Alcacer do Sal.  While they were on on their way, Gonzalo fell in love with Fatimacaptivated by his captive Gonzalo asked the monarch for permission to marry her.  The king replied that he could, but that she herself would have to consent to it, and that she would need to become a Christian. 

                                                 The Conversion of Fatima

         LEAVES speaks of Gonzalo converting Fátima to Christianity, where we gain a little more information.  It's posited that his love for her, without doubt, sharpened his controversial acumen, and her love for him, softened her prejudices.  It could be that her acceptance of the king's requirements wasn't immediate, as she had to overcome the errors of Islam which regard Christians as infidels, and accepts neither the divinity of Jesus nor the Trinity of God. 

        LEAVES credits his eloquence for her conversion.  Not to diminish his part, but I would hold he was assisted by grace of God, and it seems to me that the high regard that Islam has for the Virgin Mary, probably helped Fátima to bridge the religious gap in her conversion.  Mary, in fact, is the only woman mentioned in the Koran, spoken of a number of times.  Even one of the chapters (called  suras) is named after her, Sura XIX.    In the Sura III it says: “O Mary! verily hath God chosen thee, and purified thee, and chosen thee above the women of the worlds.”   The same sura affirms the Virgin Birth of Jesus, echoing her response to Gabriel I’ve read that she’s most often referred to in Islam as Maryam, umm Isa (Mary, the Mother of Jesus).   It seems to me that it's a pathway that the Muslims can take, to at least explore what Christianity really is, if not go on to embrace it.

         LEAVES tells of her baptism where her Muslim name of Fátima is exchanged for Oriana, and the narrative says she passed "from the font to the altar."   She wed a soldier who loved her, and Gonzalo wrote about that love in the piece he composed, the writing previously mentioned as a lay, but also called a romance and a poem.   LEAVES  describes the piece as "a memorial of his exploit, and of his hallowed love."

          This account
says it was unable to give an exact likeness of the original but gives the sense of it as well as they can collect it.  It's said to present many difficulties,10 but it shares in a convention of epic poetry,11 a literary technique called in medias res (into the middle of affairs) wherein a story doesn't start at the beginning.   The first stanza speaks of the fight; the second, speaks of his thoughts, seeing her from his hiding place; and the third, of his affection for the wife he won. 
       
                                    Gonzalo Writes About Fatima Baptized Oriana

                                                             TO ORIANA

                                   
 Here, Awhile, I held thee; there the shock repelled thee,
                                    Still, still, as waver'd the fortunes of the fight,
                            Here didst thou grasp me; there again unclasp me;
                            Thence wouldst thou fly to me; hence didst thou draw nigh to me,
                                   As here the champions parted, or there combin'd their might.


                            Mem'ry shew'd thee brightly; sporting free and lightly,
                                    as when first I saw thee, with thy smiling face.
                            Then, my fancy warming, thought―"O maid so charming!
                            In this land around me, happy fate has found me
                                    Prize like thee to follow in the eager chace."

                            Oriana, dearest! trust the lay thou hearest;
                                     Life to me is only life since blest with thee:
                            Life no value knowing , save of thy bestowing―
                            Thou prize, that battle gave me, dost, in turn enslave me,
                                     For nothing fairer, dearer, thro' all the world I see!
     

        One might imagine it being sung for her, by the light of a candle and the glowing warmth of crackling fire. Accompanied perhaps with a lute, the lyrics "Oriana, dearest! trust the lay thou hearest..." bring a smile to her face, as she turns appreciatively to Gonzalo, who watches, not in hiding, but in plain sight, to see her response.

       By another account, their happiness as a couple together in life, ended all too soon, for she died soon after her marriage.  Afterwards a broken-hearted Gonzalo joined a monastery, and from there, he was sent to a priory in the mountains, taking along her mortal remains.  He named the place after her, calling it by her Arabic and Muslim name Fátima.  

       This is not once-upon-a-time storyif that means it fits vaguely into history; it doesn't nor that they lived happily ever after, if that connotes long into the years, but it appears they were happy together in the time they had.  As to any general consciousness or remembrance of the story, I would guess that it might be poetically said, that the story slept through the long centuries, to awaken in the future that lay out ahead: a story with a sleeping beauty, and not one of a fairy tale. 

        In another way of looking at it: it's like crossing a stream, stepping from stone to stone to reach the farther side.  The story steps across the centuries, from medieval to modern times, where we may fall in step with it to a better world.

         The story of this couple, it seems to me, is Providence working through history.  While her name comes to the fore, Gonzalo the soldier, the husband and the monk had a crucial part in it.

         In an age that has now come to pass, her name ought to blossom in the world, linked spiritually to Mary and the Rosary.12  And amid the titles of the Queen of heaven is her name, the name of Fátima the Princess.
                                                                                             John Riedell


                                                                Afterword

         From a footnote in LEAVES referring to the Gonzalo's poem, it's indicated Gonzalo may have written more than the three stanzas above.  In which case, is there more out there to find?


Footnotes:
 

1.   In The Dublin University Magazine: a literary and political journal, Vol. 40

2.  
Named for the province of Biscay in Spain.  It's the large notch in the coastline of Europe, formed by a gulf of the Atlantic, which washes the shores of northern Spain and western France.  On some Medieval maps it was called El Mar de los Vascos (the Basque Sea).   It's also known by the Spanish name for it, Mar Cantabrico, the Cantabrian Sea.

3.  
 The Kingdom of Asturias was established by a nobleman named Pelayo who formed a dynasty that would expand the boundaries of the realm.  But there was a period in the kingdom (see Other and Earlier Accounts in LEAVES to follow), considered one of retreat, which included the reigns of Aurelio, Silo, Mauregato and Bermudo I.  Mauregato led a rebellion , forcing the elected king Alfonso II, to withdraw and he became king, followed by BermudoIn 791 the kingdom was on firmer ground when Alfonso II was restored to the throne and recognized by the Pope and Charlemagne.  Alfonso II reigned until 842. 

4.  
Herminguez is the son of Hermigo.  Compare it to Gonzalez, the son of Gonzalo, or Henriquez, the son of Henrique.  But it reflects a Spanish origin rather than Portuguese one, wherein the son Henrique would be Henriques.
The son of Gonçalo (a spelling of Gonzalo elsewhere) is Gonçalves.  "Ez" is a Spanish ending and "es," a Portuguese one. 

5.  The Sado was also called the Saldao.  One may wonder whether it was linked to the Sal of Alcacer do Sal, a city that had different names in history, including Salatia.  It was important in the salt trade and it seems likely that Salatia derives from the Latin for salt, sal.   Alcacer is a respelling in Latin phonetics of the Arabic Al Qaşr, the castle.

6
.   One of two feasts, either after the fasting month of Ramadan or at the close of their year.   

7
.   Lusitania was an ancient Roman province which included about all of  Portugal south of the Douro River, and part of Spain.  The name may derive from the Celtic Lus and Tanus, "tribe of Lusus." 
      Os Lusiadas
(The Lusiads), often looked upon as the national epic of Portugal, is a poem that chiefly focuses on a "fantastical interpretation of the Portuguese voyages of discovery."  Its heroes are said to be the Lusiads, who are the sons of Lusus: the Portuguese. 

8.
   Map of the Iberian Peninsula, The Reconquest 1037-1270.

9. 
 Saracen was used by the ancient Romans for inhabitants of the deserts near their province of Syria.  Later on, it was applied to Arabs, and then used for Muslims in the time of European chroniclers and the Crusades.   Ptolemy mentions a people called Sarakenoi living in Arabia.  In Christian writing, it was taken to mean "those empty of Sarah" or not from her.

10.
  In LEAVES an asterisk was placed after the word many (the last word in a column before it jumped to the next), referring to a footnote, saying,  "Bouterwek has given the commencement of the original; but sadly corrupted and miswritten."  (I found a Friedrich Bouterwek, who died in 1828, and who's called "a pioneer historian of Spanish literature.") 
      I have some difficulty deciphering all that's meant in the article.  There's some criticism of Gonzalo's work in comparison to The Fight of the Figwood, in the writing that follows and which came from the same 1852 account.   It was called "more barbarous."  It also said "...but in the length of the lines, and the recurrences of rhymes, we have ventured to fill up its irregularities and deficiencies."  My concern here is the accuracy of history, not any perceived failings regarding literature nor whether it was poorly written. 

11.   In medias res may also be at the conclusion of a story.  The technique is found in The Lusiads mentioned above.  Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are regarded as models of it.

12.
  The Rosary here refers not only to the prayer, but is meant to suggest the rose flower.  One explanation for rosary is that it came from the Latin rosarium which meant "a garland of roses," and another saying, it meant a rose-garden. 
          

                 

                     __________________________________________________________________

                                Other and Earlier Accounts in LEAVES  

         LEAVES also speaks of other stories.  One of these relates to
Cordoba, a city in southern Spain on the Guadalquivir River, founded in the time of ancient Rome.  Called Qurtuba in Arabic, it was the capital of the Caliphate of Cordoba which governed most of the Iberian Peninsula.  

                                                         An Abject Treaty

        The Moorish king of Cordova, Abdurrahman,
often defeated the Christians, leaving only Asturias in the mountains free of  Muslim dominance, yet it appears to differ with what follows: The Cordovan ruler gained such an ascendancy of power, that he extorted from the Christian kings "abject treaties," and among these was one that contemporary writers were ashamed to mention: it was "the disgraceful tribute of a hundred young maidens of noble birth and a hundred others of inferior rank, to be chosen annually from amongst the handsomest of the Christian females, and carried to Cordova, and distributed among the Mahometan harems."   We're told that King Mauregato of Asturias (783-788) promised Abdurrahman, "to pay the maiden tribute unresistingly and punctually.  The subjects of Mauregato were incensed at an odious tax."   

        This terrible treatment
― egregiously bad was degrading not only to the young ladies, but as LEAVES continues to relate, it was degrading to the men and every year brought "disgrace and mourning into so many families, and rent asunder the tenderest ties.  But they had neither political nor military strength to battle for its abolition in the field."  However, there were isolated actions of gallantry.  Young men occasionally  formed bands to ambush the Moors travelling "with the extorted quota of maidens."  They would look for an opportunity to attack, and were often successful in rescuing the girls to return them to their parents.  

                                         An Incident in Eighth Century
       
       
 Sometime during the reign of Mauregato, LEAVES says a Moorish escort was taking six young ladies to Cordova, from somewhere in northern Portugal.   A group of young Christian men, led by one Goester Ansur and his brother, watched them when they stopped at a grove of fig trees to rest.  The group of young men attacked, and in the fray, Goester broke his sword.  But he broke off a branch from a fig tree and fought with it.  They were victorious and freed the young women, who they ended up marrying.  Afterwards the site of the rescue was called Figueira das Donas (Figwood of the Women [ figo is fig in Portuguese] ).  The spot isn't far from Viseu in the Province of Beira.  Goester took the family name of Figueiredo, and put five fig leaves on his shield with a field of or (gold) and his brother took Figueroa as his name.  For two or three centuries, a ballad about this exploit was sung in the Province of Beira, a song apparently written by Goester's brother.       
        
                                                   A Ballad of the Exploit

        
A ballad of that exploit was preserved by that Cistercian monk and chronicler named Bernardo de Brito,  and entitled, THE FIGHT OF THE FIGWOOD and subheaded FROM THE GALLICIAN, OR OLD PORTUGUESE:             
                                 Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
                                      Into the figwood too came I;
                               Six fair maids he there discover'd,
                                      Six fair maids I did descry.
                               Weeping, sighing, he perceiv'd them:
                                      I, too, saw them weep and sigh.
                               "Who maltreats ye?  Wherefore must ye
                                      Bear this lot of cruelty?"

     .                                             Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
                                                   Into the figwood too came I.

      
                               Thus to me a maiden answered:
                                      "Sir, I cannot tell you why;
                               Woe to the realm where wicked monarch
                                      Works his people misery.
                               Had I weapons, I mistake me
                                      If their use I would not try;
                                No man then should captive drag me

                                      This foul law I would defy.
                               Now, farewell, good youth! I know not
                                       If again beneath the sky.
                               Yet to meet and speak together
                                       E'er shall be our destiny."

                                                  Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
                                                  Into the figwood too came I.

                               Thus spake I to her: "O, never
                                       From thee my feet shall fly:
                               I at goodly price will purchase
                                       Charms that thus delight mine eye.
                               Still through regions strange and distant,
                                       I thy steps will 'company;
                               Long, long ways through rough and weary,
                                       Shall seem short when thou art by.
                                Well I know the Arab language,
                                       I can speak it skillfully:
                                Any Moor who dares oppose us,
                                       I will smite him, he shall die."
                                                 Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
                                                 Into the figwood too came I.

                               To the Moor those captives guarding
                                       I with stealthy step drew nigh;
                                Fiercely did he threat my maiden―
                                       Then my wrath blaz'd fierce and high.
                                Figueiredo broke a fig branch:
                                       Then a fig branch, too, broke I.
                               Fast he plied his club around him,
                                       I as fast my club did ply;
                               We the Moor robbed of the maidens
                                       He had seized in robbery,
                               Then to her with whom I'd spoken,
                                       Did I bind a tender sigh,
                                                 Out of
the figwood went Figueiredo;
                                                 Out of the figwood, too, went I.

                              
1. 
Córdoba (also Cordova) is a city in Andalusia, southern Spain. The philosophers Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Younger came from here.  The first mention of  it in history goes back to the Carthaginian  expansion  across the river Guadalquivir, it was "baptized" Kartuba.   Kart-Juba meant "the city of Juba", Juba being a commander who died  in battle near there.


Endnotes:    
       The terms Mussulmans and Mahometans appear in the text of the account.  It's reported that at least until the mid-1960's, many English writers used the term Mahometans.   It might be of interest to know that there's a non-Islamic surname spelled with an umlaut, Müsselman, which is said to be a probable name for a woodman, from Middle High German müsel log + man man.
      
I've read it's argued that the term Mohammedans is considered offensive because it allegedly implies that Muslims worship Mohammad.  It doesn't imply that at all, but means that the person is a follower of Mohammad, just as a Lutheran is a follower of Martin Luther. 

 

 

Return to Home Page    

   

 

Copyright © 2005 - John Riedell - All Rights Reserved
Site Last Updated on 04/22/10