The Queen of Iznatoraf

A little more reading (Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, Hispano-Arabic Literature and the Early Provençal Lyrics) suggests (possibly unjustly) that Wallada was famous not so much for her poetry as for being the caliph’s daughter and having poetry written about her by Ibn Zaydun. It’s a shame that in our enthusiasm to find ancient heroines inoffensive to our socialist bishops we may miss some phenomenal scientific advances made by women in the same period. Take for example the king of Iznatoraf‘s wife:

In 964 in the nearby kingdom of Iznatoraf the Christians, under Muslim rule, venerated an image of Our Lady. The Moorish queen was discovered by her husband, King Alimenón, attempting to take instruction in the Christian faith. She was thrown out and, a few leagues from the city, her hands were cut off and her eyes put out and she was abandoned to a sad fate. In that moment the queen invoked the Lady of the Christians and heard the murmur of a spring. Driven from within by a voice, she plunged her mutilated arms into it and recovered her hands as well as her eyes, with which she saw the Virgin Mary. Before this double miracle, King Alimony converted and commanded the building of a sanctuary-fortress wherein was enthroned the image of Our Lady, since then of the Holy Spring.

I figure that, unlike some shape-changing queens of our time, Queen Anon was actually a pioneering surgeon who, working blind and on her own, reconnected her hands, manipulating the implements with her feet. (We’re quite good at hands now, but the eyes remain a mystery.) When she got back to town she realised there was no way she could explain this kind of stuff to her stupid husband–so stupid that he might have cut the damn things off again–so she made up a load of water-feature mumbo-jumbo.

The presence of mining in the region meant that it kept a finger in the pie of religious and technological development for some time after. Iznatoraf was an important site for munitions construction (eg in the Peninsular War) and there were repeated scandals involving the religious preferences of the German and English miners working in the region. In one recorded by Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo in Historia de los heterodoxos españoles, an evangelical minister in Iznatoraf, “subsidised by an English lady,” protested that the local priest had, on the wishes of the mother, baptised his son into the wrong faith. The state found in favour of the minister and reprimanded the mayor, who had opposed this English lady’s attempts to undermine with “gifts or flatteries” the wishes of parents.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Holy Spring was severely damaged by the communists during the Civil War, and I think I’m right in saying that the new image, by the Granadan sculptor Domingo Sánchez Mesa, was inaugurated in 1949. It’s a fine example (there’s lots of dross too) of the church-encouraged neo-traditionalist regionalist movement which rolled across Spain following years of progressive repression and destruction. This particular atheist was freezing cold and starving hungry when he pedalled past in January, but that doesn’t go all the way to explaining the sense of an immanent God the new image conjures, glistening behind glass with enough superstitious mumbo-jumbo in attendance to last another 1000 years. It would have been nice if they’d put up one to the queen as well, or at least converted her into a saint or famous feminist or something.

[If you go to the sanctuary, outside Villanueva del Arzobispo, don’t get caught out by the innumerate monk scam. It’s quite hard work getting him to sell you his crap postcards, but when he’s finally rolled up the kiosk front and done his ladder-teeter trick, you’ll find he needs to be persuaded to use his calculator to ensure that 5*30c sums don’t veer too far in his favour.]

[I tend to see a generic relationship between this kind of stuff and literary images of women such as that evoked by the Falangist Rafael García Serrano in his bizarre 1937-8 novel Eugenio, o proclamación de la primavera: “She is symbol and flesh. She is Mary of Victory. And Heroine. And the Falange… this young woman, virgin, nude, surrounded by rifles and blood.”]

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