My Escape from the Auto de Fe at Valladolid
Publish date:

My Escape from the Auto de Fe at Valladolid 

October 1559 * Don Fernando de la Mina

A story founded on historic fact, retold by Pastor Timms

Chapter 5&6


Don Fernando de la Mina, a nobleman of Spain, was arrested for his sympathy with the Protestant faith. Sentenced to death, he miraculously escaped during a thunderstorm, and happened upon a poor peddler in a hut who had been killed in the storm. Quickly changing clothes with the peddler, Fernando narrowly escaped his pursuers. Now disguised as the peddler, Fernando makes his way back to town, to attend the Auto De Fe (Act of Faith) - the burning of other Protestant sympathizers in the hopes of obtaining mercy from the King and finding his beloved, the Dona Rosa de Riello.

Chapter 5

The Auto de Fe

When I woke up in the morning the sun was shining gloriously. It was Sunday morning - the morning of the Grand Auto de Fé - and, as I lay thinking awhile, I remem­bered that, but for the intervention of Almighty God, I should have been one of the thirty victims condemned to be burned at the stake that day at the Quemadero. Burned alive in the presence of the King and his Court! 

"The King!" - thought I - "the King!"

And then I recalled how graciously the Regent­ Princess Joanna had received my obeisance to the King two years ago. The King! "Yes," I resolved, with a sudden inspiration, "Yes, I will, as a buhonero, attend the Auto de Fé. I will get there early and take my stand near the royal platform and, as soon as the King arrives, I will approach him, and I will reveal to him God's marvelous intervention and then openly confess myself to His Catholic Majesty. I will plead my father's valor and sacrifice for Spain. I will avow my loyalty to my King and Country and then throw myself upon the leniency and protection of His Majesty.

So, early on that Sunday morning, I took my place in the crowd of common people in the Great Square of Valladolid, just as the dismal bell began to toll its ominous signal. The soldiers were clearing a passageway for the priests and martyrs and, in the disturbance, I grad­ually elbowed my way right up to the royal platform just as the King arrived. His Majesty was followed by his sister, the Princess Joanna, his son the young Don Carlos, the foreign Ambassadors, and the ladies and gentlemen of the Court. Many of these had been my personal friends; some, indeed, had shared my recent birthday hospitality! But all of them - both friends and strangers - now knew unquestioningly that Don Fernando de la Mina, who had escaped from prison yesterday, had been caught and killed by the vengeance of God in the Church of Arroya de la Encomienda, and, in that belief and at the command of the Church, they had now come to witness the burning of his dead body at the Auto de Fé that day! 

There was a hush and then a stir among the crowd as the procession marched into the plaza, led by the Dominicans carrying the crimson banner of the Inquisition. These were followed by sixteen "penitents," those who, at the last moment, had abjured their heresy. A somber company! Should I have been one of these? I dare not speculate; I can only thank God that He spared me the penitents' terrible trial of faith. 

A great cross was now carried into the square and then appropriately following the cross, there came the twelve men and two women martyrs, who now advanced to the Tribune to receive their sentence of death. Some of these victims were scholarly folk of noble rank. The very flower of Spanish manhood and womanhood. But all of them were barefooted; they had rope round their necks and all but one were garbed in the san-benito - that hideous yellow smock with flames and devils painted on it. After this "noble army of martyrs" had marched past, there filed into the square twenty or thirty lay fanatics, who bore between them the seven black coffins that I had assisted to paint with the symbols of Hell in the prison courtyard yes­terday; and in one of which it was now universally believed the divinely stricken body of Don Fernando de la Mina lay. 

I will not dwell upon the final horrors of that Sabbath­day drama. Let it suffice that, after the Bishop of Zamora had preached a sermon upon the true faith, sentence of confiscation of property and varied terms of imprisonment were pronounced upon the sixteen penitents, who were then conducted back to prison, some for years and some for life. 

The staunch and unrepentant fourteen martyrs were next arraigned before the Inquisitors, and a final appeal was made to them to renounce their heretical faith. At this last dread moment the awful fear of suffering over­came the courage of twelve of those fourteen martyrs, and to these twelve was accorded the solace of the garrote; that is to say, they were permitted to be strangled before they were thrown to the flames.

Then the two Christian heroes advanced who had scorned to compromise with conscience and whose constancy hat triumphed to the last. They were sentenced to be burned alive!

One of these was Father de Roxas, a Dominican monk, the son of the Marquis de Poza. He advanced proudly towards the royal and the official plattforms, and, having received his sentence, he was stripped of his priestly robe and dressed in the san-benito. Then, standing there with head erect and outstretched hand, he began an oration in defense of the Reformed Doctrines. But before he had spoken more than a few words he was silenced, gagged, and removed to the Quemadero and burned alive!

Then the second Christian hero advanced. He was my old friend and first instructor in the Faith, a Florentine nobleman who had married my cousin and lived in Valladolid. A pure, kindly, brave Christian soul. His name rang out from the Tribunal: "Senor Don Carlos de Seso!" and he advanced quietly, proudly, firmly, until he came to the royal seat. 

There he stood still for a moment and then, looking up to the King, he said, with a loud, clear voice: "Sire! Why do you consent to have your innocent subjects thus burned at the stake?" 

The King looked scornfully upon him and replied in slow, measured words: "Yo trahere la lefia para quemar a mi hijo, si fuere tan malo como usted." 

My son, I heard the King reply to Don Carlos de Seso's rebuke in these very words: "I would bring the faggots to burn my own son, were he as wicked as you." 

Do you wonder that my heart sank within me when I heard these unkingly words? I had come to the Auto de Fé on that Sabbath morning hoping to win the clemency of my sovereign. But now I knew, only too well, that I had no hope of pity or justice from the blind and heartless bigotry of my priest-ridden King. 

Henceforth, my only assurance of safety was to be sought in an escape from Spain. I must escape from Catholic Spain swiftly and secretly and seek safety beyond the Pyrenees in Protestant Navarre; and there await the arrival of my beloved Dona Rosa de Riello and start my life anew in an alien land.

Chapter 6

Plazuela del Hospicio

With a heavy heart I walked away toward the river.

A forlorn and solitary outcast - and there I tried - but tried in vain - to formulate my plan of escape. Gradually I began to realize the awful truth that I was alone, an unknown stranger in the midst of kindred and friends - ­but with no hope of help or pity from a single living soul. I could not think clearly. I was too bewildered and depressed by the awful scenes that I had so recently witnessed; and now a deepening sense of my own utter loneliness increased my misery as I began to realize my true position. I had become a new creature without a history and without a friend! Oh! How I longed for companionship and sympathy, if I had but one friend to whom I could confide my sorrow and my secret! And my heart burned with a feverish desire to acquaint my beloved with the fact of my marvelous deliverance and safety. My heart ached as I thought that, at that very moment, she was mourning my death and the loss of all the sweet happiness we had so fondly dreamed and hoped together. 

As I thus meditated, two women drew near to where I was standing. They were dressed in black. One was deeply veiled, and I did not recognize her; but the maid, who was unveiled, I immediately recognized as Ana, the faithful old servant of my beloved. The two women walked a little way beyond me by the river and then they turned quickly into the Plazuela del Hospicio. There they joined the little group of passengers who had come in from the country that morning to witness the Auto de Fé, and who were now waiting to return home by the galera - the country wagon - that plies between Valladolid and Simancas. I followed my beloved and her maid into the square and stood beside them in the crowd, and as I looked upon the sorrowful face of the Dona Rosa and the weary, hopeless look upon Ana's countenance, I was sorely tempted to reveal myself to them and transform their sorrow into joy. But I dared not - the truth of my escape was so unbeliev­able! They would, perhaps, think me an impostor, or the perpetrator of a cruel jest; and even should I be able to convince them that it was I, Don Fernando de la Mina, who confronted them, the shock and sudden happiness might overwhelm them and bring us to disaster. Alas! Now that I had the opportunity of revealing myself to my be­loved - an opportunity for which I had so fervently prayed - I was unable to use it. In vain I strove to devise some means of arresting her attention, but my heart and my senses failed me. 

The passengers were now moving toward the ladder that was being set up against the wagon and, as the passen­gers moved toward it, each engrossed with his or her own affairs, I drew near to the Dona Rosa and, raising my hat, said: "Senora, will you condescend to hear the simple words of a poor buhonero, a man who, though neither Morisco nor Gitano, possesses the mystic gift of seeing clearly into the future? Believe me, Senora, the darkness of your present hour is but the prelude of a brighter day." 

As I spoke she looked tenderly but searchingly upon me, and I knew that she was remarking in my face a strange likeness to one whom she had devoutly loved and whom she now deemed dead to her. But her transient expression of sweet surprise soon faded into a settled look of sorrowful resignation as she replied: "Senor, I thank you for your kindly sympathy, but the light has gone out from my earthly life - the dead do not return!"

Then, opening her purse, she gave me a silver piece and bade me, "Adios, Senor, and may the blessing of God abide with you." And as I stood watching the galera pass out from the square, I strove hard to devise some means whereby I might continue my communication with her.

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