My Escape from the Auto de Fe at Valladolid - Chapter 1- 2
Summary: October 1559 * Don Fernando de la Mina A story founded on historic fact, retold by Pastor Timms.
 
 

Excerpt

In the afternoon of November 24, 1602, an attorney sat in the oak—panelled dining room of a merchant prince's London house, and there, in the presence of the heir and his friends, the attorney read the following will:

London, September 14th, 1601: I, Fernando de la Mina, Embroiderer by Appointment to Her Majesty, at the sign of 'The Golden Cross' on Cornhill in the City of London, do hereby bequeath to my son, Fernando de la Mina, my business and all my possessions together with the accompanying sealed Document.

This sealed document was handed to the heir who, when he had read its startling superscription, placed it carefully inside his doublet in reserve for private reading. In the evening when his company had departed and young Fernando sat alone by his bedroom fireside, he once more read the superscription of the bequeathed document and read as follows: "A faithful record of my Providential Escape from the Torture and Fire of the Inquisition at Valladolid in the year of Our Lord 1559." With very few deletions and modernisings, this ancient manuscript read as follows.

Chapter 1 - My Arrest at Simancas

L, Don Fernando De La Mina, a nobleman of Spain, was born on April 16, 1534, near Simancas-an ancient city which lies ten miles to the south of Valladolid, the capital of Spain. My mother gave her life for me when I was born and my father gave his life for his King and Country at the glorious victory of San Quentin. Thus, at the age of twenty-­three years, I became the head of our ancient family and the owner of the Castillete de la Mina and the fourteen surrounding farms that constituted our family estate. Thereupon, early in September 1557, while the King was fighting in France, I was presented at the Regent Joanna's Court at El Escorial and there took the Oath of Allegiance to my Sovereign Lord, King Phillip the Second, whom may God rest. From that time until my twenty-fifth birthday I devoted my attention to our estate and the days passed pleasantly and profitably until the evening of April 16, 1559 (my twenty-fifth birthday), when a sudden catas­trophe overwhelmed me in anxiety, poverty, and privation. I was at home that evening entertaining my friends at a supper party when, without a word of warning, four officers of the Holy Inquisition entered the hall and peremptorily forbade us to move from our seats until they had searched the Castillete for evidence of heresy.

Unwelcome visitations such as this were common enough in those days. It was no unusual occurrence for the homes of wealthy folk to be suddenly searched for heretical books. The servants, too, were often terrorized or bribed to betray their master's religious views and practices; and such betrayals of trust frequently involved their master's arrest, the confiscation of his property, torture, and death.

The reformed religious doctrines were then fast filtering into Spain from England, the Netherlands, and Germany. The dark ages of Medievalism were passing away, and the dawn of a New Truth was breaking upon the world-a Truth that challenged the time-long teaching and authority of the Church of Rome.

In consequence of the rapid spread of this new Lutheran teaching, the prelates of Spain became alarmed, and their alarm spurred them to violent acts of oppression. By means of the prison, the thumbscrew and the rack, they sought to prevent the people from learning and accepting the Reformed Christian Doctrines. They instituted priestly questionings at the enforced Confessional and sent their secret spies, disguised as servants, into the house-holds of suspected folk. Tribunals were set up in every district to hunt out and arraign heretics. The unfortunate suspects were arrested and tortured, their property confiscated and their family names made infamous, and finally, if they remained staunch and unrelenting, they were publicly brought to trial at the Auto de Fé (the Act of Faith!) and there forced either to recant their heresy, or perish in the flames!

I searched my mind, in vain, to discover the reason for this untimely and unwelcome visit of the search officers of the Holy Inquisition. Had any of my neighbors or acquaintances denounced me to the Holy Office, thought I? Surely not, for I had not an enemy in the world, save, perhaps, Father Lorenzo, a very distant relative of mine. Did the Holy Office covet my estate and seek a reason to confiscate it? Perhaps!

But I had no fear, for I knew that the only evidence of my sympathy with the Reformed Faith were just a few books that lay discreetly hidden in the wall-recess behind my bed. Just a few Lutheran books in Latin and the four Gospels in Greek. These had been given to me on my previous birthday by the Dofia Rosa de Riello-your mother, an orphan like myself and to whom I was then betrothed. The Riello estates joined mine, and your mother and I had fondly hoped that our marriage in the following May would prove a happy and a blessed union of body, soul, and estate. Our mutual love was sincere and beautiful. Our religious beliefs were similarly liberated and enlightened by the new learning and by the Gospels, which revealed the open Way to God and exposed the superstitions of the Roman Church and the pretensions of its misguided priesthood.

The searchers of the Holy Office quickly distributed themselves in the hall, and there they thoroughly ransacked every coffer and receptacle. Then they passed into my little cabinet (my workroom) that led into the patio, i.e., the large open courtyard in the center of the Castillete. But, failing to discover any heretical documents among my private papers, they then proceeded to the servants' quarters at the further end of the courtyard and from thence went up the stairs and round the gallery to the many sleeping chambers. But I, fearing nothing from the search, refused to allow the intrusion to interrupt our gaiety and I confidently encouraged my friends in cheerful conversation-and the wine and the laughter went merrily round!

But alas! How foolishly I had underestimated the vigi­lance of the searching officers! In less than twenty minutes, the Captain returned to the supper room carrying the incriminating books!

Our merriment immediately subsided. My compan­ions, one by one, rose contemptuously from the table. The taint of heresy was upon me! I was discovered to be a traitor to my Church and Country!

One by one my erstwhile friends departed coldly and unceremoniously, and I was left alone "despised and rejected"-a prisoner in the hands of the dread Inquisition. And, within half an hour of the arrival of the search party, I left my ancestral home-never again to enter its hospitable walls.

Chapter 2 - Torture and Escape

At the captain's command, I at once left the banqueting hall and walked out from the Castillete with the officer along the familiar chestnut avenue toward the stables. But as we drew near to the angle of the farmhouse road I turned and took, what proved to be, my last farewell of the beloved home of my childhood-that stately Castillete de la Mina that had been our family possession ever since the proud day when Queen Isabella transferred it from Abn Eber, the vanquished Moor, and bestowed it on my great, great-grandfather as a rich reward for his generous and valiant service to the State. "Oh, my son, if ever it shall be within your power to recover possession of our family estate, I pray you spare no labor or expense. Nevertheless I urge you not to compromise with your conscience-no! Not even for such a tempting earthly joy as the Castillete de la Mina, near the city of Simancas!"

"Your Excellency," said the Captain as he courteously stepped aside, so that I might precede him into the stables-"Your Excellency will please instruct the stableman to ride upon one of my own horses" and dressed as I was in gala costume-the irony of it!-I was escorted as a prisoner along the roadway to Valladolid and there incarcerated in the prison of the Inquisition. No question was asked me, no judicial examination was made. I was, at once, placed in a small cell upon the first floor, the grated window of which gave out upon the dismal courtyard below. But, saving the restraint and loneliness under which I chafed, my first five months of imprisonment were not severe, for permission was granted that my food and extra might be sent to me from the Castillete de la Mina.

On the fourth or fifth of September, however, I was awakened at midnight and arraigned before the dread Tribunal in the vault of the prison!

Numbed with the cold and frozen with the horror of the scene, I shuddered with weakness and fear as I peered into the cruel eyes of the unknown Inquisitors, who glared upon me through the holes in their hooded masks. Three times they repeated their question before I understood its true significance.

"From whom," they demanded, "from whom did you receive the heretical books?"

There was but one answer to that question-it was silence, and a terrible retribution was dealt out upon me for that silence.

My son, do you remember how, as a little boy, you often inquired of me concerning the ugly swelled bones that disfigure my ankles and wrists and which always pain me so in damp weather? Oh, God! That priestly men professing gentleness and love and charity could ever be so pitiless and brutal in their lust of wealth and power!

That night they tortured me upon the rack with ever-increasing severity until, at last, all sense of suffering was providentially withheld from me in a merciful unconsciousness. Twice again they tortured me, and twice again a saving insensibility was providentially interposed.

The memory of those excruciating hours haunted me throughout the rest of my life!

For three weeks I lay upon my bed in constant pain, unable to stand or raise my arms, and it was not until the end of September that I was able to dress myself.

Early in the afternoon of Saturday, October 7, I was visited by the jailer, who treated me with gross indignity. He commanded me to descend into the courtyard and there assist the prison carpenters to complete the seven coffins that were required for the bodies of heretics who had recently died in jail, in order that their remains might be placed in them and burned tomorrow at the Auto de Fé! These coffins were painted with flames and devils in red and yellow, and it was my odious task-I, a nobleman of Spain!-it was my odious task to paint those hellish symbols on those coffins!

Now, my son, you may or you may not believe in special interventions of Providence. For my part, I believe in Almighty God, and I believe Him to be able and willing, at His own chosen time, so to control and direct the administration of His own irrevocable laws that the powers of nature shall work for the special well-being of His children. Listen!

No sooner had I descended into the courtyard and commenced my loathsome task than a great heat and a lowering darkness descended upon us, and a terrific thun­derstorm, such as you never experience in Britain's favored land, broke over the city. The lightning flashed and crackled like brittle steel, and the earth swayed and shook under the savage roll of thunder. The carpenters, mad with fright, fled into the cellars. The keeper of the gate rushed into his lodge and stood there, blinded and gibbering as if he were struck with sudden madness!

In that moment of blackness and horror I crept to the gate, unbolted it, and passed, unobserved, through the little wicket into the narrow street outside. Swiftly I sped on in the darkness towards the river and there, spurred by fear and heedless of the danger, I leapt across the stream from stone to stone, just in time before the oncoming storm-flood began to sweep down in a wild, roaring torrent from the surrounding hills.

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