The preserving and telling of the stories of national heroes generates a society which produces champions, conquistadors and commandos. Take Spain for example. There are countless famous Spanish people in history. Without much thought, the heroic names that come to mind are Queen Isabella, Hernan Cortes, Phillip II and Don John of Austria. Lesser known names, though equally captivating, are Pelagius of Asturias and Rodrigo Diaz, also known as El Cid.
The honorary name "El Cid" is not given lightly to any knight. This title meant that in all Spain, there was no better man. This title was honored and this man was revered and feared by even the Moors. Rodrigo Diaz is the one of the most famous Spanish people in history who has held this title for centuries and it identifies him more than his own name.
The inspiring biography, El Cid, God's Own Champion, The True Story of the Knight of Vivar, by James Fitzhenry has captivated audiences of all ages, boys and girls alike. This epic hero lived chivalry to the fullest and inspires everyone who reads his life story to imitate his virtues as a Catholic champion.
The Cid's heroic actions and efforts to undermine the Muslim invasion as well as combat the jealousy that was arising in his countrymen due to his success is truly met with the humility and patience of a martyr. Exiled by his own king, Rodrigo Diaz set out to build a tiny province which lived almost at peace with the Infidel while the Spanish Christian held the upper-hand - a quest only The Cid could accomplish. The Cid is also a champion of Spain as it was he who crushed the best Muslim troops while they were at the pinnacle of their power.
The Cid commanded the respect of even his enemies, and this novel uses many references of praise to this Spanish hero from even Muslim historians. He lived a life that was devoted to duty, prayer and trust in God. The author reminds us in the end of the book, that the Cid faced the same enemies that we face, and that is the world, the flesh and the devil. It calls us to be everyday heroes just like the Cid. "The heroic life of the hero will stand for all time as an example exhorting us to order our lives on principles of maximum effort, unwavering justice, and moderation; it will always demand of us that daily humble, and anonymous heroism that is the only sure foundation of a nation's greatness and without which the most resplendent deeds are unavailing."
The author's purpose was to share the true story of this hero as the Cid and famous Spanish people in history are defamed and made into nothings by those who fear that their legacy will plant the seed of heroism today.
"As an epic hero, the Cid stands in a class by himself. From the heights of his idealism he descends with a firm step on to the stage of history to face unflinchingly a greater danger than had ever beset him in life, that of having his history written by the very people on whom he had so often waged war and by modern scholars who as a rule show even less understanding than the enemies he humiliated."
Bear this in mind when you read a modern retelling of famous Spanish people in history like Hernan Cortes or Isabella of Spain. Why do these Modernists rewrite history demonizing those who are truly heroes? Because they know that preserving and telling of the stories of national heroes generates a society which produces champions, conquistadors and commandos.
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In his moving book, The Catholic Book of Character and Success, Fr. Garesche dedicates these pages as a call to action for young people to be courageous and heroic in everyday life.
One of his simple sentences that stuck with me the most was, "You have within you the stuff of heroes." Of course, he is talking directly to his reader but the same could be said of the later Spanish champions.
Like El Cid, they were inspired by stories of their past heroes because their lives were part of culture and traditions. Queen Isabella, Hernan Cotres and Don Juan of Austria were most likely inspired by their Spanish ancestry, the stories of St. James, Pelayo and The Cid.
In the first chapter of Fitzhenry's book, he emphasizes how important the heroes of Spain are. He demonstrates that since Spain was in a cultural war as well as a physical war with the Muslins, the more important it was to hand down inspiring stories of famous Spanish people in history.
Fitzhenry says that the Cid was certainly immersed in Spanish culture and traditions. Stories of James the Greater, Charles Martel and Pelayo were kept alive by handing them down generation after generation. This preserved Christian Spain her identity. Certainly every Spanish child knew that St. James appeared in battle and fought the Moors. But do we know this story?
Before Our Lord ascended into Heaven, He instructed His Apostles to preach to all nations and to baptize them. Consequently, all the Apostles went to the far corners of the earth to preach the Gospel. St. James the Greater sailed off to Spain. This charming gesture was to fulfill the command to spread the faith to the ends of the earth because, Spain is the furthest west country discovered and then considered the end of the world. St. James labored very hard among the people there and he once despaired of his efforts. Our Lady, who was still alive in Jerusalem, appeared to St. James to encourage him. This event marks the first Marian apparition.
Fitzhenry relates, "The Blessed Virgin stood before him upon a pillar supported by angels, and encouraged St. James by revealing to him the great faith that the people of Spain would possess in the future due to his sacrifice." The location in which this apparition took place is now the first church dedicated to the Mother of God and the pillar on which the Blessed Mother appeared can be seen at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain.
Of course, St. James returned to Judea and witnessed the Assumption of Our Lady. He was martyred in the year 44 by King Herod. He was the first apostle to be martyred. His body was claimed by his disciples and returned to Spain, but the resting place was unknown for many years. In the 9th century, St. James himself revealed the lost location of his relics by guiding a hermit to the spot by a star. The location is now the destination of the famous 500-mile El Camino Pilgrimage: Santiago de Compostela - St. James of the Starry Field.
In 841, King Ramiro of Leon was fighting a losing battle against the Moors in the Battle of Clavijo. "St. James suddenly appeared in the midst of the Christians, mounted on a magnificent white steed. In his hand was a brilliant sword, and with it he led the Christians to victory." St. James and strike for Spain! became the famous Spanish battle cry. I probably don't need to tell you as it almost goes with out saying that St. James is the patron of Spain.
Such was the legend of St. James and everyone believed in it and handed it down to enrich the Catholic Spanish culture.
Because I have exhausted the topic of Pelayo here, I will not go into detail about him here. In El Cid, God's Own Champion, the author says, "There is another remarkable tale that Rodrigo would surely have known, but that which is not much remembered in our own day, and that is the story of how it is that there is any Spain left at all after the Muslim invasion...It was Pelayo whose resistance saved Spain."
The legend of St. James and the story of Pelayo's victory over the Moors at Covadonga were handed down to the Cid's generation and inspired them. They heard the stories of their heroes and they became champions.
Queen Isabella, the Catholic Queen, has been grossly and unfairly depicted by modern historians. One of the most famous Spanish people in history, this heroic damsel finished the battle that Pelayo started. At the Battle of Granada, she successfully destroyed the Muslim strength in Spain. She had enough energy afterward that she was the only monarch who listened to Columbus' outrageous idea of sailing around the world. (Remember, Spain was at the end of the map.)
In his book, The Jesuits, Malachi Martin dedicates a few pages to describing the Siege of Granada pictured above. He writes, "Paradise, which Muslims believed Allah allowed faithful Muslims to enter after death...would supply all that the arid, burning sands and steppe of the desert had always denied their Arabian ancestors: green, luxuriant vegetation, meadows carpeted with unimaginably beautiful flowers; clean, clear, fresh ever-leaping fountains; cooling breezes; balmy shade beneath kindly palm trees; plentiful food; sweet pleasures with beautiful women; slaves galore to attend to their every whim and wish; no cold nights or boiling hot days, but perpetual lightsomeness, instead; and the undisturbed strains of desert music played by angels on heavenly lyres." He goes on to say that "for the Moor, Granada was Paradise on earth, or the nearest thing to it."
It was Queen Isabella who brought all of Spain together to finish what the heroes before them had started - drive the Infidel from the homeland. Granada was the last Muslim stronghold to fall. "The leave-taking from that earthly Paradise was heart-rending and later inspired much pathos and poetry...Woe is me! Granada! the Muslims cried as they turned away."
The place along the river where the Moors stopped to look at Granada, now with the Christian Crusader flag flying over its walls, is called by Spaniards The Last Sigh of the Moor. Martin ends his paragraph by giving a nod to the cultural aspect of this location by saying, "The safety of the Kingdom, its pride and beauty, was tied to such places by folklore and religious fervor as well as love of Spain."
But the hero of the day was Isabella. Because of her final stand against Islam, the future famous Spanish people in history would reach out to the New World to evangelize the natives. Because of this liberation, Spain was able to send a Hernan Cortes to destroy the temple dedicated to the demon gods and lay a Catholic foundation in Mexico. It would be missionaries from this Spain who would weather the New World's tropical jungles and dry deserts to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And it would be the great Spaniard, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who would establish the Jesuits who preached among the Native Americans.
In my mind, another word for hero is conquistador though others may beg to differ. Another hero from Spain is the acclaimed Hernan Cortes. Anne Carroll describes this champion in such a way that you hold nothing but respect and honor for him.
Like Queen Isabella, he is also grossly and unfairly depicted in history books now. Why was it so important for the people during El Cid's time to hand down the stories of their heroes when we are only told untrue stories about these people's faults and wrongs? They are made into blood-thirsty murderers when they were truly champions. The above quote by Mr. Fizthenry could fittingly be paraphrased here for this hero: his honor faces a greater danger than it ever did in life and that danger is that his story is written by modern scholars who as a rule show even less understanding than the pagan Aztecs he conquered.
Cortes famously scuttled the ships when he arrived in Mexico demonstrating to his men that there was no turning back. They came to the New World to bring the light of Faith to the human sacrificing Aztecs. His coming was the fulfillment of the Aztec prophesy that the just and somewhat good ruler Quetzalcoatl had returned. This Aztec king had forbidden human sacrifice during his reign and always wore black. When he died, there was a prophesy that he would return at a particular 1-Reed year.
Cortes arrived in the Aztec year 1-Reed when the Indians' depravity was at its height and Hernan wore black because it was Good Friday. The Indians believed him to be Quetzalcoatl returning to visit justice upon the Aztecs.
Because of this, not much bloodshed was spilt as the Aztec King Montezuma at first welcomed the Spaniards to his city out of fear of what this man dressed in mourning would do to him once he found out that child killing and human sacrifice had returned to Mexico. Cortes immediately set about destroying the temples which were consecrated to the devil. A Spaniard who was with Cortes wrote in a letter that the streets in Mexico were so saturated in the blood of the Devil-gods victims that the stench was almost unbearable.
Soon, the Aztecs realized that this man who seemed to have emerged out of the ocean was not the spirit of their Emperor-god but rather a Spanish Catholic who was on fire with his faith with the energy of all his ancestors' thousand years fight with Islam in him.
They revolted against his system and he took Montezuma hostage. Here is when bloodshed began. Montezuma was killed by the Aztec mob and then the Spanish used force to get the city in order. The Aztecs finally surrendered to Cortes and he continued his mission of converting all Mexico and bringing these heathens the light of truth through the gospel.
One of my favorite stories of this champion was when a fellow Spanish explorer challenged Cortes. Instead of making himself useful like Cortes had done in the New World, Panfilo Narvaez landed on the Mexican Coast and declared that he was there for Aztec gold and not even Cortes would come between him and his greed. He openly declared war on our hero. Cortes met him and easily defeated his tiny troop. Most of Narvaez's men pledged their respect for Cortes' authority but Narvaez himself was harder to convince.
Credited with very little humility, Narvaez looked at Cortes and presumptuously said: "Captain Cortes, it has been a great feat, your victory and capture of me." I can imagine our humble champion holding the events of his past in his mind's eye. He who had marched into heart of the empire of blood and had toppled the temples of the devil gods looked at Narvaez and cooly replied, "I regard it as one of the least important things that I have done in New Spain." Movie worthy picture?
Hernan Cortes is another prime example of another one of the famous Spanish people in history who was made of the stuff of heroes. He was certainly inspired by St. James, Pelayo, El Cid and his Queen Isabella. The legacy of famous Spanish people in history like Cortes demanded that daily humble and anonymous heroism that is the only sure foundation of a nation's greatness. For this reason it is so important to preserve and hand down the stories of national heroes because it generates a society which produces champions.
When Europe was once more threatened with Muslim invasion, who better to answer the Pope's call for a crusade than yet another Spanish hero: Don Juan of Austria. His story is told in full here but I will say that even though illegitimacy may have impaired him, John still carried the persona of Spain upon his shoulders.
He carried many of the trait of famous Spanish people in history who came before him. He had the faith of Pelayo, the rejection of the Cid, the determination of Cortes, the resolute firmness of Isabelle and the marked promise of Our Lady to St. James that Spain would be worth the saint's effort.
I will end now with a last example of how important storytelling is to Spain and how this love of heroes made famous Spanish people in history. I will finish with one last hero that this great nation produced.
In his same book, The Jesuits, Malachi Martin shares the following, "Inigo was a mere babe in arms the day that Boabdil (Moorish leader) and his family gave that long last look at their beloved Granada. When he grew a little older and could understand, his family must have repeated to him the last words of sighing regret that floated in a loud wail back to the ears of the victorious Christians in the Court of Lions." Does this sound similar to Fitzhenry's "as a boy growing up in Vivar, it is certain that young Rodrigo would have been familiar with this story"? Or again, further down the page in El Cid he relates "another remarkable tale that Rodrigo would surely have known..."
We see again, in separate works the theme of Spanish storytelling. Martin continues, "Magdelena relieved her loneliness by telling the two-year-old Inigo fabulous tales of the New World. The stories about how the Sacred Crusade had won the Kingdom's safety against the Moor, how this knight or that soldier and faithfully served His Most Christian Majesty, leader of God's armies, were now expanded to include the empire and the whole world."
This little boy to whom his family had lovingly told stories of great deeds grew up to be a wild, distracted courtier. He was finally pinned down by Providence which forced him to read the lives of the saints to pass the time where "he underwent what is known in the language of religious experience as a profound conversion."
The Spaniard in question is none other than St. Ignatius of Loyola. (Print his coloring page here!) "The summons of Their Most Christian Majesty he heard no longer. It was Christ, the Supreme Leader, who was calling him now. Inigo was always looking to that 'more'. His ambition as courtier, as knight, as believer, had always been to excel above all others in whatever he undertook. Second place never interested him. His aim was not to promote the great glory of God, but as he said, 'the greater glory of God.'"
St. Ignatius seems like he wished that he were born a century earlier. He clearly wanted to be one of the famous Spanish people in history like Cortes but did not have the discipline to match the hero. He finally found his purpose in life and set out like a crusader, a conquistador and a champion to fulfill that for which he was born.
Spain's endless war with the Infidel has made her a strong nation. For many years, famous Spanish people in history had to preserve their culture, customs, traditions and their Catholic identity. They did this artfully by handing down the stories of their nation's heroes as an example which exhorted them to live on principles of maximum effort, unwavering justice, and moderation. This heroism made the foundation of Spain's greatness.
Every Spaniard felt deeply attached and even fond of their nation's patron, St. James. The battle cry of Spain was given to them by he who enriched the Spanish culture and Catholic identity. Pelayo's story filled Spanish hearts with holy faith in the impossible. The honor that was given to the Cid by the Moors restored the Spanish confidence in their victory over the Infidel.
Finally we come to Isabella and Cortes and we see a disconnect. All we hear is their faults and their wrongs. They are made into blood-thirsty murderers when they were truly champions. Our handlers have seen the trend - Spaniards knew the stories of their heroes and they became champions. To upset the pattern, they must not be made into heroes. All their saintliness, chivalry and honor faces a great danger because it is ignored and not preserved.
We sometimes wish like St. Ignatius that we were born a few centuries earlier so that we could be heroes. But we have work to do here and that is sharing the stories of our heroes. Today needs champions more than ever before. That is why Fr. Garesche wrote a book calling all men and women to wake up, get inspired and become heroes. We need to find our purpose in life and set out like crusaders, conquistadors and champions to fulfill that which God placed us in this century for.
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