Power that is Inherited

Power that is Inherited

Written by Alfonso Elizondo


This experience of the Upper Middle Ages that still survives in the North of Spain is perhaps the clearest current experience in the Western world of the phenomenon of the transmission of earthly power in human society since the time when the idea of land ownership first emerged in history in 11,000 BC. At that time primitive humans left the life of nomads and poachers they had led for several million years to create the rural world that is the origin of the present civilization.


At the same time that the formula of the tribal nomadic family with circumstantial leadership was disappearing, a new leadership formula was being established by those who had created the breeding ground for the rearing of edible animals previously hunted by the tribal group. This new form of survival was the origin of the current formula of human coexistence. It involved a small elite group handing down their property rights to the future generations of their families, without there being any questioning of  the degree of equity and justice in the new ‘natural right’ created.


As has happened throughout the history of humankind, homo sapiens has created myths and lies to justify the transmission of those powers to their descendants. This situation has persisted with this model since the first farming society appeared in the world. And according to popular traditions and images that have survived over time, numerous stories emerged generating a varied mythology that still exercises total control of all societies on the planet.


Perhaps the only common denominator of all these mythologies is the belief that the mythology that is typical of an ethnic group or region is the only valid one in the world and that behind it there is a great divine power controling the entire Universe. The same thing occurred with pantheistic, agnostic and polytheistic societies, as well as with those who believe that there is only one god, such as the Judeo-Christians and Islamists.


So in this new visit to the city of Burgos in Spain I want to refer to the myths of two important religious facilities that are still functioning: The Monastery of La Cartuja de Santa María de Miraflores and the Monastery of Las Huelgas:


I will start by trying to give a brief description of the incredible Gothic altarpiece of La Cartuja de Miraflores which Gil de Siloe made in golden walnut and polychrome wood between 1496 and 1499, while Diego de la Cruz used a technique called ‘applied brocade’ to create exceptional polychromy.


So the few Carthusians residing in the Monastery say they still appreciate the spiritual meaning of that altarpiece which for more than 500 years has enriched the prayer of many generations of Carthusian monks.  Because of this, they live a more intense experience of the liturgical seasons celebrated throughout the year as the six reliefs of the altar correspond to the Birth of Jesus, the Baptism, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost and the Ascension of Mary, and those old medieval myths are preserved in one of the most beautiful spaces still maintained in the world.


The Monastery of Santa María Real de las Huelgas was built in 1187 by the Spanish king Alfonso VIII of Castile when he married Leonor de Plantagenet and created a Cistercian monastery of Bernardine nuns, where they ended up housing a large portion of the Castilian aristocracy so that the women of high social rank and royal blood could attain respectable positions, both in the personal sphere and as holders of legal and material privileges.


The abbess or administrator of the monastery had her own set of laws that she managed to preserve from the twelfth to the nineteenth century when it was abolished by Pope Pius IX. Nevertheless, from this abbey came numerous very famous monarchs like Alfonso XI and Enrique II of Trastámara, in addition to knights who bore arms before becoming kings, such as Fernando II the Saint, Edward I of England, Alfonso XI of Castile and Leon, Pedro I of Castile and Juan II.


Addendum: The period of the Middle Ages in Spain still retains the myths that allowed the inheritance of power, by both the monarchs and religious hierarchies. But everyone believes that the inheritance of territories and legal spaces is completely fair and considers them a natural right