A scholarly look at Burgos

I’m counting down the days to my upcoming linguistic tour of northern Spain with my friend Sue. To help prepare for our stay in the Castilian city of Burgos, I consulted Teofilo Ruiz’s The City and the Realm: Burgos and Castile 1080-1492. Dr. Ruiz is a historican whose unusual life trajectory has taken him from a Cuban jail, to driving a NYC taxi, to Princeton, UCLA, and a National Humanities Medal. I was impressed that the essays collected in the The City and the Realm were written in four languages: not just English and Spanish, but also French and Italian.

The two dates in the book’s title are easily recognizable. 1492 was, of course, a year of triple significance in Spanish history: the Catholic kings (Ferdinand and Isabella) completed the Reconquista by conquering Granada, Spanish Jews were forced to chose between conversion to Catholicism or expulsion, and Columbus sailed to the New World. 1080, in contrast, was a year of linguistic significance. The Church convened a high-level meeting, or Council, in Burgos, to deal with a language problem: the vernacular Romance, called mozárabe, used in the local Mass had diverged noticeably from the Latin of the traditional Roman Mass. The outcome of the Council was to enforce the Roman Mass. This event stands as a cultural milestone in the evolution of Latin into Spanish, and Hispanic Romance more generally.

The essay I read in depth was the first, “Burgos and the council of 1080.” The main points I took away were:

  • The 1080 Council was the culmination of a series of Church actions taken against the mozárabe Mass during the preceding decade or so. This indicates that there was widespread awareness of the linguistic divergence.
  • Although Burgos is a relatively small city today — it ranks 37th in population within Spain — and is likewise not on the radar for most foreigners, it played an active role in medieval Spanish commerce and religion. it served as a trade center, funneling imports from the Bay of Biscay (see map) into southern Spain. By 1080 Burgos had also become a standard stop on the Camino de Santiago. (In fact, when I searched for tourist advice on “walk along rio alarzon burgos”, the top Google match was a modern-day Camino website!) Burgos was also surrounded by monasteries (including San Millán de la Cogolla and Santo Domingo de Silos, which happen to be  sources of early examples of written Spanish). The monasteries and the Camino made Burgos a natural location for the Council.
  • The mozárabe Mass, or Rito Hispano-Mozárabe, is still celebrated on a daily basis in the Capilla mozárabe in the Cathedral of Toledo — probably my favorite cathedral. The cathedral’s website has a lengthy description of the history and current practice of the Rito. I won’t make it to Toledo on this trip, but the next time I do go, I will definitely try to sit in on this Mass.

I also had a friendly back-and-forth email correspondence with Prof. Ruiz, who informed me that the Cathedral of Burgos is built on the site of the 1080 Council. This will be very much on my mind during our visit.

2 thoughts on “A scholarly look at Burgos

  1. Babbleon

    The Cathedral in Burgos is based on the one in Bourges, France, but you won’t hear that from a Spaniard.
    Also, the Monasterio de las Huelgas, which like the Cathedral should not be missed, reminds us that huelga was used as we would today as ‘repose’. Rather like Karlsruhe in Germany. Every Mexican I know just think it means strike.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      I’ve been wondering about huelga — you answered this question before I had the chance to ask it! We’re off to Burgos tomorrow. I can’t wait.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *