Los Amantes de Teruel

February 2004

For St Valentine's Day I would like to tell you of a wonderful Spanish tale of unrequited love.

On the western edge of the Maestrazgo Mountains is the fascinating town of Teruel. Because Valencia and the Mediterranean Sea are on the other side of the Maestrazgo range, Teruel has been a strategic location populated by Romans, Moors, El Cid, and the many political refugees.

Tragically much of the city was demolished during the Blizzard of 1937 in one of the most horrendous battles of the Spanish Civil War. But the town is resilient. Its stately Medejar Towers stand tall with their glistening ceramic tile inlays and patterned brickwork. The winding streets of the Old Quarter retain a haunting Moorish flavor.

It was along these narrow streets in the early days of the 13th Century, that a knight named Diego de Marcilla neared the end of a five year odyssey. He was exhausted from making the tortuous trek across the craggy mountains, yet he was filled with joy: His journey had earned him the right to marry his beloved, Isabel de Segura, and soon he would be in her arms. In fact, he heard wedding bells ringing as he approached his home town. He could hardly wait.

Diego and Isabel had been in love since they played together as little children. But when they matured into two young people deeply in love, Isabel's father, a wealthy merchant, was reluctant to bless their proposed union because Diego, as the second son of a noble family, did not have the funds necessary to maintain his daughter in the style to which she had grown accustomed.

Isabel's father finally relented on one condition: the two can marry when Diego proves his noble lineage as a valorous knight, and returns with enough wealth to give Isabel the life she deserves. "This all must be accomplished within exactly five years," he warned -- "no exceptions. At that time, if you meet the requirements," Isabel's father pledged to Diego, "you can have the hand of my daughter Isabel in marriage. But if you fail, I will see that my daughter marries well into a prominent noble family."

The five years have passed and Diego is returning to Teruel in the prime of his youth -- strong, handsome and wealthy. He is honored throughout the land for his courageous victories in many battles against the invading Moors. Confidently he awaits his reunion with his beloved.

But being an impulsive young man, he has not kept track of the time. The very day of his triumphant arrival in Teruel is the day the deadline has expired. Soon he learns from his friends that the wedding bells he hears are not for him and his beloved Isabel; they are for her marriage to another. Prudence and the enthusiasm of a very eligible (and noble) suitor prompted Isabel's father to delay not even one day before giving his daughter in marriage to Pedro Azagra, Lord of Albarracín. He had arranged a good marriage indeed.

Brave Diego was beside himself -- filled with mixed feelings of disappointment and rage. But he realizes that it is his error -- Isabel's father had kept his word. Crestfallen, he approaches his beloved Isabel and tearfully tells her he must leave her and the town of Teruel forever. All he asks for is a farewell kiss. But it was not to be, for Isabel cannot grant his wish (and her desire) since now she is wed to another man. The full force of what has happened confronts Diego, his heart literally bursts, and the brave knight crumples to the floor, dying of a broken heart.

Now the wedding chimes are tolling mournfully. The next day, as the grief stricken families and friends are processing with Diego's body to the church, a young woman, her face veiled, slips out from the file of mourners and silently approaches the fallen knight. She goes up to him and places a kiss on his cold mouth, the kiss that she had denied him in life. At that moment Isabel faints and expires in her lover's arms.

The place most visited in Teruel continues to be the place where the two lovers are buried side by side, their hands reaching out to one another. The monument, carved by Juan de Avalos is revered by lovers throughout Spain, indicating the enormous significance of the tradition that they died of love. The legend is based on fact. Juan Martinez de Marcilla was the actual name of Diego.

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Tu amigo,