One summer afternoon, in a garden in Toledo, I was told this singular story by a very good and very pretty girl. As she explained to me the mystery of her special form, she kissed the leaves and the pistils that she pulled out, one by one, from the flower that gives this legend its name.
One summer afternoon, in a garden in Toledo, I was told this singular story by a very good and very pretty girl.
As he explained to me the mystery of its special form, he kissed the leaves and the pistils that he plucked, one by one, from the flower that gives this legend its name.
If I could refer to her with the gentle charm and tender simplicity that she had in her mouth, you would be moved as I was moved, by the story of unhappy Sara.
Since this is not possible, here’s what I remember about that pious tradition right now.
In one of the darkest and most tortuous alleys of the imperial city, embedded and almost hidden between the Moorish high tower of an ancient Mozarabic parish and the shady and emblazoned walls of a manor house, he had many years ago his rickety, tenebrous and miserable room as its owner, a Jew named Daniel Leví.
This Jew was resentful and vengeful, like all his race, but more than any deceiver and hypocrite.
Owner, according to the rumours of the vulgo, of an immense fortune, you saw him, nevertheless, the whole day curled up in the shady portal of his house, composing and dressing metal chains, old belts or broken garrisons, with which he brought a great traffic between the thugs of Zocodover, the resellers of the Postigo and the poor squires.
An implacable abhorrence of the Christians and of all that belonged to them, he never passed by a principal knight or a canon of the primate without removing one and even ten times the grubby bonnet that covered his bald and yellowish head, nor did he welcome in his tenducho one of his habitual parishioners without overwhelming him with humble salutations, accompanied by flattering smiles.
Daniel’s smile had become proverbial all over Toledo, and his gentleness, tested against the heaviest tricks and the mocking and screaming of his neighbors, knew no limits.
In vain did the little pages and even the men of arms of the next palace tried to bore him, calling him by the most insulting names, or the old devotees of the parishioners crossed themselves when they passed through the threshold of his door, as if they saw Lucifer himself in person.
Daniel smiled eternally, with a strange and indescribable smile. His thin, sunken lips dilated in the shadow of his excessive nose and hunched like the beak of a harrier, and although from his small, round eyes, almost hidden between his thick eyebrows, a spark of badly repressed anger, he continued impassively hitting with his iron hammer the anvil where he dressed the thousand moldy trinkets and, apparently, without any application whatsoever, from which his traffic was composed.
Above the door of the Jew’s hut, and within a frame of brightly coloured tiles, there was an Arab cherry tree, the rest of the old buildings of the Moors from Toledo. Around the openwork strips of the ajimez, and entangled by the marble column that split it into two equal openings, one of these climbing plants rose from the inside of the dwelling, patronising green and full of sap and freshness over the blackened walls of the ruined buildings.
In the part of the house that received a dubious light because of the narrow openings of that ajimez, the only one open in the moss and cracked wall of the alley, lived Sara, Daniel’s favorite daughter.
When the neighbors of the neighborhood passed in front of the Jew’s shop and happened to see Sara behind the lattices of her Moorish ajimez and Daniel huddled next to her anvil, they exclaimed aloud, amazed at the perfections of the Hebrew:
-It seems a lie that such a wretched trunk has given rise to such a beautiful offspring!
Because, in effect, Sara was a prodigy of beauty. Her eyes were large and surrounded by a dark fence of black eyelashes, in the background of which the point of light of her burning pupil shone like a star in the sky of a dark night. Her lips, lit and red, seemed cleverly cut from a purple cloth by the invisible hands of a fairy. Her complexion was white, pale and transparent like the alabaster of a sepulchre statue. He was barely sixteen years old, and the sweet sadness of the early intelligences was already engraved on his face, and his bosom was already swollen and those sighs that announce the vague awakening of desire were escaping from his mouth.
Toledo by Night.Photo: gabillo on Flickr.com
The most powerful Jews of the city, captivated by her marvelous beauty, had requested her for a wife; but the Hebrew, insensitive to the tributes of her adorers and to the advice of her father, who urged her to choose a companion before being left alone in the world, kept herself enclosed in a deep silence, giving no reason for her strange conduct other than the whim of remaining free.
At last, one day, tired of suffering Sara’s contempt and suspecting that her eternal sadness was a sure sign that her heart held some important secret, one of her worshippers approached Daniel and said:
-Do you know, Daniel, that among our brothers there is a murmur of your daughter?
The Jew raised for a moment the eyes of his anvil, suspended his continuous hammering, and without showing the slightest emotion, asked his questioner:
-And what do they say about her?
-They say,” continued the speaker, “they say… What do I know? Many things… Among them, that your daughter is in love with a Christian.
At this point, Sarah’s despised lover stopped to see the effect her words were having on Daniel.
Daniel raised his eyes again, stared at him for a while, without saying a word, and, looking down again to continue his interrupted task, he exclaimed:
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-And who says that’s not slander?
-Who has seen them talk more than once in this same street, while you attend the hidden Sanhedrin of our rabbis,” insisted the young Hebrew, admiring that his suspicions first, and then his affirmations, did not dent Daniel’s mood.
This one, without abandoning his occupation, fixed the look in the anvil, on which after leaving to a side the hammer was busy to burnish the metal brooch of a garrison with a small lime, began to speak in a low and broken voice, as if machinally they were repeating his lips the ideas that crossed for his mind.
-Hee, he, he, he! -He said, laughing strangely and diabolically, “So my Sarah, the pride of the tribe, the staff on which my old age rests, is going to take away a Christian dog from me? And do you think there is? Ha, ha, ha! -He continued, always talking to himself and always laughing as the lime squeaked louder and louder, biting the metal with its steel teeth. Heh! Heh! Poor Daniel, my friends will say, already chochea! Why does this old dying and decrepit daughter, so beautiful and so young, want if she doesn’t know how to keep her from the greedy eyes of our enemies? Ha! Do you think, by chance, that Daniel sleeps? Do you think, by chance, that if my daughter has a lover…, that she could well be, and that lover is a Christian and tries to seduce her, and seduces her, that everything is possible, and plans to flee with her, which is also easy, and flees tomorrow, for example, which fits within the human, do you think that Daniel will let his treasure be taken away?… Do you think that he will not know how to avenge himself?
-But,” exclaimed the young man, interrupting him, “do you know…?
-I know,” said Daniel getting up and tapping him on the back, “I know more than you, that you know nothing and would know nothing if the time had not come to say everything… Bye-bye, tell our brothers to get together as soon as possible. Tonight, in an hour or two, I will be with them. Goodbye!
And this saying, Daniel gently pushed his interlocutor towards the street, picked up his tasks very slowly and began to close with double locks and knocks the door of the little shop.
The noise that this one produced when it fitted itself squeaking on its premium hinges prevented the one who was moving away from hearing the rumor of the lattices on the ajimez, that at that point fell suddenly, as if the Jewess had just withdrawn from her window sill.
Photo: Leyendasdetoledo on Flickr.com, a corner at the Cathedral Clock Gate.
It was Good Friday night, and the inhabitants of Toledo, after having attended the darkness in their magnificent cathedral, had just given in to sleep or referred to the love of fire counsels similar to those of the Christ of Light, who, stolen by some Jews, left a trail of blood by which the crime was discovered, or the story of the Holy Child of the Guard, in whom the implacable enemies of our faith renewed the cruel Passion of Jesus.
A deep silence reigned in the city, interrupted at intervals, either by the distant voices of the night guards who at that time were watching around the Alcazar, or by the groans of the wind, which made the weathercocks of the towers turn or buzzed among the twisted revolts of the streets, when the owner of a barquichuelo that swayed moored to a pole near the mills, which seem to be embedded at the foot of the rocks bathed by the Tagus, and on which the city sits, saw approaching the shore, going down laboriously by one of the narrow paths that from the top of the walls lead to the river, a person who, apparently, waited impatiently.
-She is! -Where the hell will they have an appointment with Satan, who all come to my boat, having the bridge so close?… No, they won’t go to anything good when they avoid bumping into the men of arms of Saint Cervantes, but, anyway, that’s what they give me good money to earn, and their soul their palm, which I don’t go in or out at all?
This saying, the good man, sitting in his boat, rigged the oars, and when Sarah, who was not another person whom he had apparently waited until then, had jumped into the boat, released the mooring that held him and began to bogar in the direction of the opposite shore.
-How many were there tonight? -Sarah asked the ferryman as soon as they had moved away from the mills and as if they were referring to something they had dealt with before.
-I haven’t been able to count them,” replied the questioned: a swarm! It seems that tonight will be the last one they meet.
-And do you know what they’re all about and what they’re leaving the city for at this hour?
-I don’t know, but they’re waiting for someone who should be here tonight. I don’t know what they’ll be waiting for, although I presume it’s no good at all.
After this brief dialogue, Sara remained a few moments immersed in a deep silence and as if trying to sort out her ideas. There is no doubt,” she thought to herself; “my father has surprised our love and is preparing some horrible revenge. I need to know where they are going, what they are doing, what they are trying to do. A moment of hesitation might lose it.”
When Sara stood up for a moment, and as if to remove the horrible doubts that worried her, she passed her hand over her forehead, that anguish had covered with a glacial sweat, the boat touched the opposite shore.
-Good man,” exclaimed the beautiful Hebrew, tossing a few coins to her driver and pointing to a narrow, tortuous road that meandered up the rocks, is that the way they go?
-That’s it, and when they reach the Moor’s Head, they disappear on the left. Then the devil and they will know where they are going,” replied the boatman.
Sara walked away in the direction he had indicated. For a few minutes she was seen appearing and disappearing alternately between that dark labyrinth of dark rocks cut to the beak afterwards, and when she had reached the summit called the Head of the Moor, her black silhouette was drawn for a moment on the blue background of the sky, and finally disappeared into the shadows of the night.
Following the path where today is the picturesque hermitage of the Virgin of the Valley, and as two shots away from the crossbow that the vulgo knows in Toledo by the Head of the Moor, there were still at that time the ruinous remains of a Byzantine church, prior to the conquest of the Arabs.
In the atrium, which some stones scattered on the ground drew, brambles and parasitic herbs grew, among which lay, half hidden, either the shattered capital of a column, or a roughly sculpted sillar with intertwined leaves, horrible or grotesque endriagos or shapeless human figures. Only the lateral walls and some broken arches already covered with ivy remained standing from the temple.
Sara, who seemed to be guided by a supernatural premonition, when she reached the point her driver had pointed out to her, hesitated for a few moments, undecided about the path she should follow; but finally, he went with a firm and resolute step towards the abandoned ruins of the church.
Indeed, her instinct had not deceived her. Daniel, who no longer smiled; Daniel, who was no longer the weak and humble old man, but rather, breathing the wrath of his small and round eyes, seemed animated by the spirit of vengeance, surrounded by a multitude like him, eager to quench his thirst for hatred in one of the enemies of his religion, was there and seemed to multiply giving orders to some, encouraging the others in the work, arranging, finally, with a horrible request the necessary sizing for the consummation of the frightful work that had been meditating days and days, while he beat impassively the anvil of his covacha of Toledo.
Sara, who in favor of darkness had managed to reach the atrium of the church, had to make an effort not to utter a cry of horror as she penetrated inside with her gaze.
In the reddish glow of a bonfire that cast the shadows of that infernal circle on the walls of the temple, he had thought to see that some made efforts to raise a heavy cross high, while others woven a crown from the branches of the brambles or sharpened on a stone the tips of enormous iron nails. A frightful idea crossed her mind: she remembered that those of her race had been accused more than once of mysterious crimes; she vaguely remembered the terrifying story of the Crucified Child, that she had until then believed a gross slander invented by the vulgar in order to apostrophize and smite the Hebrews.
There, before his eyes, were those horrible instruments of martyrdom, and the ferocious executioners waited only for the victim.
Sarah, full of holy indignation, overflowing in generous anger and animated by that unshakable faith in the true God that her lover had revealed to her, could not contain herself from the sight of that spectacle and, breaking through the undergrowth that hid her, unexpectedly appeared on the threshold of the temple.
When the Jews saw her appear, they shouted in surprise, and Daniel, taking a step toward his daughter, in a threatening gesture, asked her in a hoarse voice:
-What are you looking for here, wretched woman?
-I come to throw on your foreheads,” said Sarah with a firm and resolute voice, “all the burden of your infamous work, and I come to tell you that in vain do you wait for the victim for the sacrifice, unless you try to feed your bloodlust on me, for the Christian you are waiting for will not come because I have prevented him from your wiles.
-Sara! -exclaimed the Jew, roaring with anger. Sarah, that is not true; you cannot have betrayed us, to the point of revealing our mysterious rites, and if it is true that you have revealed them, you are not my daughter…
-No, I am no longer a Father; I have found another Father, a Father all love for his own, a Father whom you nailed to an offensive cross and who died on it to redeem you, opening for us for eternity the gates of heaven. No, I am no longer your daughter, because I am a Christian and I am ashamed of my origin.
Hearing these words, pronounced with that energetic fortitude that only puts heaven in the mouths of the martyrs, Daniel, blind with fury, threw himself upon the beautiful Hebrew and knocked her to the ground and grasping her by the hair, dragged her, as if possessed of an infernal spirit, to the foot of the cross, which seemed to open its fleshy arms to receive her, exclaiming when addressing those around them:
-There I give her to you; you do justice to this infamous woman who has sold her honor, her religion and her brothers.
The next day, when the bells of the cathedral rang out the air knocking on glory, and the honest neighbors of Toledo were entertaining themselves in throwing crossbows to the Judas of straw, neither more nor less than they still do in some of our towns, Daniel opened the door of his tenducho, as was his custom, and with his eternal smile on the lips he began to greet those who passed, without stopping for that to knock on the anvil with his iron hammer; but the lattices of the morisco ajimez…