A group of very religious women will be fooled by their ideals and devotions when they try to make a priest of a young man. In the afterword, we will explore the complicated times in which Tomas Carrasquilla lived.
Source in English
The Spanish American Short Story, A Critical Anthology by Seymour Menton. Published by UCLA LATIN AMERICAN CENTER PUBLICATIONS, University of California, Los Angeles and UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
Sources in Spanish:
1. (2010) "Religion in Latin America," Hemisphere: Vol. 19 : Iss.1, Article 1. Available at: http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/lacc_hemisphere/vol19/iss1/1
2. Same magazine, Religious Diversity in Colombia By Sandra Ríos
3. Guerra y Religion en Colombia by Carlos Arboleda. Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Medellin, Colombia, 2006. (PDF)
4. http://www.tomascarrasquilla.net/node/151 - Tejada, Luis. Crónicas para leer en el tranvía. Comfama - Metro de Medellín, Medellín, julio de 2008, p.p.: 56 - 58.
7. POEM To Colombia by Julio Florez: https://rojitaa.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/to-colombia-a-poem-by-julio-florez/
Little Saint Anthony
By Tomas Carrasquilla
Translated by Antonia Garcia
Adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
Aguedita Paz was one of those members of the human race devoted to God and his holy service. Slightly past the age of becoming a nun when the religious passion came over her, she tried to turn her house into a simulated convent but only in the decorative sense of the word.
As well, Aguedita tried to turn her life into that of an apostle, and she devoted entirely to the affairs of the church and the sacristy; to the conquest of souls, for the greater honor and glory of God. At times, offering advice to people whether they needed it or not and spending less time on things like aiding the poor and visiting the sick.
The good lady would go back and forth, from her little house to the church and from the church to her little house. She would spend day after day, managing saintly affairs and stirring petty intrigues over church repair funds, altar arrangements, the mending and patching of ecclesiastic garments, the caring for the images, sweeping, cleaning, and adorning every spot related to the divine service.
In such idle pursuits and campaigns, she became intimately friends with Damiancito Rada, a very poor, young snot-nose man, very devout and the chief altar boy in processions and ceremonies. Upon whom the good lady bestowed an affection that was both tender and extravagant, something quite rare, among unmarried and pious people.
Damiancito became her trusty right arm and helped her in sweeping and dusting off, in cleaning and polishing candelabra and censers. He was in charge of carrying the flower arrangements, moss and folding the altar cloths and other trappings used during Mass. As well, he was first helper and adviser on those high holy days when the bells pealed loud.
On top of all this, Damiancito prayed constantly and set a fine example, faithfully receiving communion, diligently studying in and out of school, with an obedient, sweet, and modest character; rejecting the noisy games of the mobs of kids, and very prone to burying himself on pious and uplifting books such as The Saintly Nun and Love of Christ in Practice.
Such unusual as well edifying qualities were the reason why Aguedita, thanks to her clairvoyance and intuition, came to see in Damian Rada not a mere Mass-saying priest, but a doctor of the church. At least, Damiancito could become a bishop who in the not so distant future would shine like a star of wisdom and saintliness for the honor and consecration of God.
But first he needed to attend the Seminar. The bad part of it was the poverty and I’ll fortune of the Damian’s parents and the non-affluence of his patroness. However, Aguedita was not one to give up such lofty ideals. This misery was the net with which Old Satan wanted to frustrate the flight of that beautiful soul that was meant to soar serenely, serenely, like a dove, to its God.
Aguedita: No, Old Satan would not succeed!
And thinking and pondering on how to break out of this diabolical bet, Aguedita began to train Damiancito in weaving and crocheting; hoping that in this way they could collect the necessary funds to send him to school. And to her rejoice, the disciple turned out to be so intelligent, that at the end of a few months he raffled off a nightgown with branch patterns and arabesques which were a delight to the eye, all wrought by Damian´s delicate hands. The tunic was sold for fourteen one pesos.
After the first sell, came another one, and then a third. Such profits aroused Aguedita´s ambition and boldness. She went to the priest and asked permission to hold a bazaar in Damian´s benefit. The priest agreed and Aguedita, armed with his consent and an abundance of eloquence and seductive charm, found support among the town's upper class. The success almost drove the good woman crazy the collected sixty-three pesos!
The fame of Damian´s virtues spread throughout the parish, and if we add to it the almost ascetic and decidedly ecclesiastic ugliness of the Damiancito, both things formed a halo around him, that only the most pious people could see. They began to call him ¨Aguedita´s little priest”, and for a long time they spoke of nothing but his virtues, his austerity, and his penance.
The little priest fasted on Ember Days and Lent, before the Mother Church ordered him to. The young man that had barely turned fifteen ate with an eminently Franciscan frugality, and there were times when his fasting was so extreme that it became a transgression.
Sometimes, Aguedita´s little priest would wander through the pastures in search of solitude, to talk with his God and spout a few paragraphs from The Imitation of Christ, a book that he always carry on with him. Some women woodcutters said that they had seen him at the bottom of a ravine, kneeling, looking mournful and striking his chest with a grinding stone.
There were some who assured that in a very remote and wooded site, he had made a cross from a willow tree and on it he would crucify himself naked for hours on end; and no one doubted it since Damian would return haggard and emaciated from the trances and crucifixions.
In short, Damiancito became the parish Saint, the lightning rod capable of saving so many sinners from Divine fury. For the charitable ladies, it became necessary to pass through Damian’s hands the collected contributions and more than one asked him to be included in his saintly prayers.
And since virtues tend to exhale a perfume causing an almost magical effect on those who breath into it, Damián, in spite of being a weakling, shriveled and skinny, with a pale aged face, with a shrunken chest and a hunched back, with a physique that made him seem more like a fetus than a young boy, well despite all that, to the beholder he appeared good looking and even interesting.
Soon, he went to be called “Aguedita’s little priest” to be known as “little Saint Anthony.” And since they called him little Saint Anthony, he answered to that name. When the older women saw him leaving the church with his tiny steps, with patches on the elbows of his jacket and patches on the seat of his pants, but oh! so neat and proper, they would say:
Women: “He’s so adorable! So beautiful, his way of praying, with his eyes closed! The religious fervor of this child is edifying! That humble and gentle smile. Even in the way he walks you can see his saintliness.”
Once the money was collected, Aguedita didn’t rest on her laurels. She met with the boy’s parents, arranged his clothes, received communion with him in a Mass devoted to the Holy Trinity for the success of their enterprise; gave him the final advice, and on a cold January morning, Little Saint Anthony was seen leaving in a new outfit, riding a little old mule, escorted by a peddler who carried his suitcase.
In the meantime, since Aguedita was closely related to several very wealthy women in Medellin, she had taken the necessary steps beforehand to recommend well her protégé. She had arranged for him lodging at the Del Pino sister’s boarding house.
Almost instantly, the saint’s seductive power had its effect on the Del Pino sisters. Doña Pacha and Fulgencia, were delighted with him. They called Master Arenas, the tailor of the seminary, to take the would-be seminarian’s measurements, to make him a cassock and a cloak with great precision and economy, and a Carmelite brown flannel suit for important occasions and street processions.
The sisters even got him the sash, a three-cornered hat, and shoes. Last Doña Pacha presented herself in the Seminary to recommend Damian to the Rector. But, oh misfortune! He couldn’t get a scholarship: they were all committed and there was a superabundance of candidates. But this did not discourage Doña Pacha. Upon returning from the Seminary, she went to the Cathedral and implored the Holy Spirit to illuminate her in this predicament. And she was illuminated.
It occurred to her to meet with Doña Rebeca Hinestrosa de Gardeazabal, a very rich and pious widow to whom she painted the little saint’s indigence, so convincingly that she obtained lunches and dinners for him. Radiant with joy, Doña Pacha flew home, and in the twinkling of an eye she transformed a small storage room near the false door into a little cell for the seminarian; and although they were poor, she offered to providing him with clean cloths, give him free lighting, afternoon snacks, and breakfast.
One of the other boarders, Juan de Dios Barco, the one most spoiled by the ladies for his exemplary Christian devotion , gave to the newly arrival a gift. Some of his clothes that were in very good shape and a pair of boots, which were a bit too big and loose around the heels and a bit worn out. Juan, also got him the textbooks and other school supplies at a great discount at the Catholic Bookstore, and lo and behold our Little Saint Anthony all decked out as a friar.
Three months had not gone by, and already little Damian was lord and master of his landladies’ hearts as well as those student boarders and each and every other guest who sought shelter in that all so popular boarding house in Medellin. It was contagious.
What most charmed the women was that even temper; that smile, that angelical look that did not even fade away while he was asleep. There was something there, something undefinable, something resembling a sickly angel, which made even his rotted and uneven teeth gleam like ivory or mother-of pearl. Oh! It was as if his soul could filter through his eyes, through the pores of this so ugly boy who was at the same time so beautiful.
It got to the point that he became a necessary part of the women’s life. Gradually, they began to invite him to stay sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner; and finally, the day arrived when a message was sent to Señora de Gardeazabal informing her that they would take complete care of their marvel. They would feed his skinny body with all the necessary meals.
Pacha: What is most appealing to me about this young fellow, his discretion with us and with other adults. Haven’t you noticed, Fulgencia, that if we don’t speak to him, he won’t speak to us on his own.
Fulgencia: You can’t say too much, Pacha, that boy’s diligence! Why he has the good sense of an old man! And his vocation for the priesthood! And his shyness: not even out of curiosity has he raised his eyes to look at Candelaria.
The aforementioned was a young girl raised by the ladies with much prudence, manners, and the fear of God. The ladies had spoiled Candelaria as though she were their own daughter; and since she wasn’t bad looking and in such a house there are always dangers lurking, the ladies, they didn’t let her out of their sight not even for an instant.
As soon as Doña Pacha found out about her student boarder’s talent as a fringe maker and weaver, she put him to work. Soon enough several wealthy and socially prominent women had him making antimacassars and slipcovers. Once the news spread out thanks to Fulgencia’s diligent advertisement, he was commissioned to make a bedspread for a bride...
Oh! There the ladies did indeed see the fingers of an angel! Oh that delicate and immaculate netting, similar to a heavenly spider’s web. There appeared bunches of white lilies with petals and coquettishly so butterflies that flew like the souls of virgins.
And as if the piece of heavenly art could influence the flights of his priestly mind, his mastery grew, and with it his knowledge of the intricacies of the Latin tongue.
Often crouched over a small crooked-legged table, Damian translated from Latin to the vernacular and from the vernacular to Latin, at times Cornelious Nepote and a bit of Cisero, and other times Saint John of the Cross.
The head of his chaste little bed was a hodgepodge of lithographs and medallions, of certificates and holy pictures, each one more religious than the next. In one spot, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, with skinny face that so resembled Damian’s; in another Martin de Porres, who armed with his broom represented Heaven’s blacks; in another, and the Scapulary of the Sacred Heart, in high relief with its large spurts of blood standing out against the circle of white flannel.
Doña Pacha, by dint of her enthusiasm over the virtues and saintliness of her little priest, perhaps due to her own religious devotion, was on the verge of falling into a schism. She greatly admired the priests and especially the Rector of the Seminary, but she couldn’t accept the idea - not even if It were wrapped in the holly wafer - that they wouldn’t give a scholarship to someone like Damian, that poor little boy with no earthly, material wealth, but so rich in spiritual values.
The Rector might know a lot, as much -if not more- that the Bishop, but neither he nor His Grace had examined or understood Damiancito. Surely if they had done so, they would have given Damiancito the scholarship. If they could see what she could see in him, they would know that the Church of Antioquia was going to have its own little Saint Thomas Aquinas. That is if Damian didn’t die first, because the boy did not seem to belong to this world.
While Doña Pacha fantasized about the moral superiority of Damian, Fulgencia began spoiling that weak body that held that soul, a body hardly comparable to the aforementioned bedspread. Fulgencia would give him hot chocolate without flour, concentrate and foamy, that hot chocolate in which the sisters took delights in their hours of sybaritism. The best the Sunday delicacies - with which they regaled their boarders- also made their way in friarly rations, to the seminarian’s tummy which gradually began to expand.
And as for that bed, which was formerly a sewing room bench, was equipped with delicately soft pillows and a mattress, with starched white sheets and pillowcases that were changed weekly. The most loving mother would not go through and examine the undergarments of her only son as Fulgencia did with his shirts, his socks, and that other article of clothing that maiden ladies may not name.
And although Fulgencia was somewhat squeamish and not fond of getting involved with anyone else’s clothing, clean or dirty, the seminarian’s little wardrobe never even remotely caused her any bit of repugnance. But how could it, when quite the contrary, handling his clothes made her imagine that she smelled the fragrance of purity that must be given off by the smooth wings of angels. And since she was famous as a cigar maker, she fashioned for Damiancito some long, aristocratic ones, that he would smoke while alone in his brief moments of leisure.
Doña Pacha, with about the degree of devotion for the little saint, would often be alarmed at Fulgencia’s treats and indulgences with the boy, which seemed to Pacha somewhat sensual and anti-ascetic. But her sister would reply, arguing that a young boy as studious and dedicated as he needed very good food; that without god health there would not be any priests, and that they could not begrudge such a heathy soul with few insignificant extra morsels and much less the aroma of a cigar. And just as the soul was itself nourished on celestial sweetness, so the poor body that enveloped it could taste something sweet and flavor some, especially since Damiancito offered up all of his pure and innocent pleasures to God.
After the landladies had finished their early evening chores and had prayed the rosary, Damian would read from some mystic book, generally by Father Fabre, that same Anglican priest that had converted to Catholicism.
And it was such a delight to hear Damian’s nasal voice, breaking its way through those chipped teeth, creating the tone, the accent, the mystic character of a sacred oratory. Reading Bethlehem, the poem of the Lord’s infancy - a book in which Faber put his whole heart- Damian made such faces, such looks, that poor Fulgencia he seemed to be transformed or something like that. More than a few tears the good woman shed during these readings.
And that’s how the first year passed, and, as was to be expected, the results of the exams were stupendous. And so great was the ladies’ affliction when they thought that Damiancito would leave them during the vacation, that he decided not to return to his town but rather to remain in the city, to review the course already completed and to prepare for the next ones.
This he accomplished perfectly; between texts and lace, between nets and notebooks, praying at times, frequently meditating, he spent the school vacation. He went outside only on necessary errands and to do the shopping whenever the ladies needed it and perhaps to go on evening walks to the more solitary outskirts of the city, but only because the ladies made him.
The next year passed, but not before that precocious saint’s prestige, knowledge, and sublime virtue had increased considerably. And what also grew was Doña Pacha’s holy hatred for the Rector of the Seminary. Not a day went by without her roasting him for the injustice and favoritism which was running rampant and was prevailing even in the seminaries.
At the end of the year, about the time that the exams were ending, since it occurred to Damian’s parents to visit Medellin, and since Aguedita – his first patron - was going to attend the December spiritual expertise, the landladies concluded - with parental permission - that Damian would not spend this year’s vacation in his home town either.
The ladies came to that conclusion not so much because they would miss him, but because of the extreme poverty and wretched life of his parents. Who were simple and innocent peasants for whom feeding their son, even for a few days, would surely constitute a severe hardship. Damian, this obedient and submissive boy, agreed to everything with the meekness of a lamb. And his parents, after blessing him, left, with tears of gratitude for the kindness of the landladies and for God who had given them such a son.
They! Poor country folk, a pair of starving nobodies, parents of a little priest! They couldn’t believe it. If the Almighty would only let them live long enough to watch him chant Mass or raise the host with his hands, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although they were very poor, they were very fortunate. Whatever they had, a little land, the cow, the four plants in the little vegetable patch, they would give it all up, if it were necessary, just to see Damiancito ordained. Well, and how about Aguedita? She was swelled up with celestial joy, the glorification of God stirred within her whenever she thought of that priest, who was practically of her own making.
Even the local parish, considered itself Damian’s hometown and was beginning to feel the winds of glory, the holy breeze: he was the little Saint Anthony of Padua.
In the meantime, Doña Pacha was unyielding in her idea about the scholarship. With the tenacity typical of charitable, zealous souls, she looked and looked for the right opportunity: and she finally found it.
It so happened that one day, around the month of July, Doña Debora Cordobés, a kindly and religious woman from the same town as the Rector of the Seminary and his close relative, appeared in the house, as if fallen from the sky, and looking for lodging.
No sooner did Doña Pacha find out about the relationship of those two, than she entrusted Doña Debora with the scheme. The latter offered herself enthusiastically, promising to obtain from the Rector whatever she wanted. The very same day she requested, by phone, an interview with her illustrious relative and to the Seminary she went the next morning.
At home Doña Pacha stayed gargling prayers. Fulgencia ran to pack Damian’s suitcase and arranged the entire little priest’s belongings; not without getting a little depressed over their separation from this child who was the object of veneration and respect in the house.
The hours went by and there was no sign of Doña Debora. Who did come by was Damian with his books under his arm, as neat and smiling as always. Doña Pacha wanted to surprise him with the news, but held it back until everything was definitely arranged. But Fulgencia couldn’t wait and gave him some hints.
Such was the tenderness of that kind soul, so grateful to his landladies, that in the midst of his happiness, Fulgencia could have sworn she had noticed certain anguish, perhaps sadness at the thought of leaving them.
As he was going out, Fulgencia tried to stop him: but the poor lad couldn’t stay, he had to go the Plaza de Mercado, the market, to take a letter to the muleteer, a very interesting letter for Aguedita.
No sooner does he leave, Doña Debora walks in. She arrived red in the face from hurrying in the heat. As soon as they hear her, the Del Pino sisters pounce on her, they question her, they try to pull the great news out of her. Doña Debora sits down and exclaims:
Debora: Let me rest a minute and I’ll tell you. My dears, the little saint had deceived you! I spoke with Ulpianito. Damian has not been to the Seminary for over two years...Ulpianito didn’t even remember him!
The two ladies protested:
Pacha and Fulgencia: Impossible! Impossible!
Doña Debora continues: He hasn’t returned...Not even once. Ulpianito inquired with the associate Rector, with the assistants, with the professors, with everyone at the Seminary. No one has seen him. The guard, when he heard about the inquiries, said that that boy was given to bad habits. Some say they’ve seen him following evil ways. Some stories have it that he has even been seen with Protestants...
Fulgencia interrupts furiously.
Fulgencia: It’s a mistake, Miss Debora
Pachs: They just don’t want to give him the scholarship. Who knows what kind of mix-up they’ve gotten that poor little angel into!
Fulgencia: You’re right, Pacha. They’ve fooled Miss Debora. We’re witnesses of that boy’s progress; he himself has shown us his monthly certificates and his examinations grades.
Hesitant Doña Debora says: But then, ladies, I don’t understand, either Ulpianito has deceived me or I don’t’ know.
In that moment, Juan de Dios Barco shows up.
Fulgencia: “Listen, Juancho, for the love of God. Come over and listen to these wild inventions. Tell him, Miss Debora.”
The messenger sums it up in three words; Juancho protests; the ladies stand firm; Doña Debora gives in. Doña Pacha screams, running to the telephone:
Pacha: They can’t do this to me
Pacha: Operator...The Rector of the Seminary!...
Pacha: Yes, is this the Rector, sir we need to speak about an urgent matter, I cannot believe what is happening with Damian Rada, what? …. But! …..I don’t understand!
Rector: Mam, that boy has not come to any classes, no one has seen him!
Pacha doesn’t understand; she gets mixed up, she disagrees, she chokes up; she gives the phone to Juan de Barco and listens trembling. She feels the evil serpent coils around her. Juan says good-bye, hangs up the receiver, and becomes lost in thought.
And that dull Germanic face, like that of a soldier of Christ, turns to the ladies; and with that unalterably simple voice, says:
Juancho:That lit-the ras-cal sure had the wool pulled over our eyes!
Fulgencia collapses into a chair. She feels that she is crumbling apart, that she is melting morally. She doesn’t suffocate because the boiler bursts out sobbing.
Doña Pacha shouts, her voice hoarse and quivering: Don’t cry, Fulgencia. Leave him to me!
Fulgencia gets up and grabs her sister by the arms.
Fulgencia: Look, dear, don’t go and say anything to that poor boy. At least let him have lunch.
Pacha: Don’t say anything to him! Don’t say anything to him! Just let that little brat come here now! Jesuit! Hypocrite! No one can make a fool of me, not even the Bishop! Bum! Rake! Deceiving poor old ladies; stealing from them the bread that they could have given to a poor deserving person. Oh, wicked man, sacrilegious communion taker! Inventor of tests and certificates! He might even be a Protestant!
Doña Debora and Juancho intervene. They beseech her. Doña Pacha finally decides, raising her finger
Pacha: All right!Fill him up with lunch till he bursts. However, don’t give that shameless rascal any of our hot chocolate. Let him drink sugar water or he can leave without any dessert.
Straightening up, swelling with indignation, she runs to serve lunch.
Fulgencia looks up at Saint Joseph, her favorite saint, appearing to ask him for help.
A few moments later, the little saint arrives, very humble, with his faint angelical smile a bit more accentuated. Fulgencia says with trembling voice showing both tenderness and bitterness
Fulgencia: Go eat lunch Damiancito,
The young fellow sat down and ate of everything, chewing nervously, not looking up at Fulgencia, not even when she served him the unusual cup of sugar water.
When he finished the last gulp, Doña Fulgencia offers him a handful of cigars as she often did. Little Saint Anthony accepts them, lights one up, and goes to this room.
Once the lunch was over, Doña Pacha went to look for the Protestant. She enters his room and doesn’t find him there; not his suitcase, not even his bed covers.
That night they call Candelaria to prayer and she doesn’t answer; they look for her and she doesn’t appear: they run to her room, they find it open, the trunk empty...They understand everything.
The next morning, when Fulgencia was straightening up the scoundrel’s room, she found a filthy slipper of the kind he used to wear; and as she picked it up, there fell from her eyes, a tear like the divine forgiveness of the crime, a tear that was clear, bright, and from deep down within her.
Very well dear listeners it is time to talk, and just as we did in the other programs dedicated to Latin American Authors we are going to explore aspects of the story and how - I think – they are a reflection of the times in which the author lived.
Our dear author, Tomas Carrasquilla, was born in 1858 and died in 1940 in Antioquia, Colombia. He was a very observant man of the daily lives of the people and thus found inspiration almost everywhere to write his novels and short stories.
In 1920, Luis Tejada published his perception about Carrasquilla in the newspaper El Espectador, and here is what he said:
“When Tomas Carrasquilla speaks, we fear him a bit, perhaps because we are too weak to follow his impetuous strong dislikes and to identify ourselves with his inflexible ideals about life, beauty and literature…We don’t have the courage, or spiritual freedom to accept that the sublime old man throws his whip against the merchants of our temples. His sacrilegious word is alive, it deepens like a hand drill in the preconceived concepts, in the ordinary ideas, in the literary fetishisms, in the classic and modern admirations that – we feel - he scorns and pierces…After all, we feel that in Tomas Carrasquilla’s vehement talks, there is a principle of sincere justice, a profound sense of futurist truth, that we resist to accept, perhaps because we feel a bit guilty of the sins he criticize harshly; but that one day we will recognize its righteous reach, when we are more independent and have an authentic self-worth, if we ever can.”
As we can see there is a sense of a society that hardly thinks on its own and bends its will to its fears and in some cases it leads to fanaticism; and that is exactly what the story of San Antoñito is about. All those pious women are fooled but not by the young man. Instead they are fooled by their own ideals and preconceptions. San Antoñito mainly played the part as far as he could.
Then the question is where does all this frantic devotion – which the author criticizes - come from? To answer that let’s go back to the times in which Carrasquilla grew up.
Since its independence Colombia became involved in several different disputes – eight civil wars and as many of 40 local wars. So, if anyone has asked himself why modern-day Colombia seems to be stuck in this violent loop of endless disputes, well the problem came from a long time ago.
The period after the second half of the 19th century was called Liberal Radicalism, due to the somewhat drastic measures taken by the liberal party. I mean radical for the times and the society he was ruling.
In the article “The civil war of 1876-1877 in the Northwestern Andes of Colombia,” the author Edna Carolina Sastoque tell us that some argue that the animosity towards liberal laws and projects began its incubation around the 1850's.
The year before, in 1849, the liberal Jose Hilario Lopez became the president and immediately began to take some radical decision.
Among those was the Constitution of 1863 – which, by the way, was the first country’s constitution that does not begin with “In the name of God”, but “In the name and by authorization of the people of the United States of Colombia.”
This constitution had a secular position and guaranteed individual freedom, abolished the death penalty, and guaranteed freedom of press (national and foreign); and the freedom to express options in word and in writing without fear of penalty.
In this order of ideas, under the leadership of the president Jose Hilario Lopez, the Jesuits were told to leave the country, an action that polarized the public opinion.
This command was later reinforced by another liberal president, Tomas Cipriano de Mosquera, who by the way was president four times. And why did he reinforce the decree? Because another president in between reestablished the old status quo. (The existing state of affairs)
I will mention as well that during Jose Hilario Lopez´s presidency slavery was ended, the universal right to vote and the civil marriage were established. As well, during his mandate it was presented the idea of expropriating the church´s assets that had been inherited since the conquest.
Assets that had been diligently accumulated overtime, thanks to the faithful souls that register their goods to the holy church after their death. I assume expecting the intersection of the holy establishment in expediting the welcoming of the faithful parishioner in paradise.
The argument for expropriating the church’s assets was that those goods were needed to finance public works and contribute to the decreasing of the external debt. Of course it didn't work. The revenue made from selling the holy assets went to expand the pockets of those who were already rich. So, the corruption in Colombia is “older than the fashion of walking” as we say.
Neither of these initiatives was well received by the oligarchies and the church. They were very comfortable with how things were since colonial times (the good old times). Although, the country had gained its independence 31 years earlier, the traditional way of thinking, the old prejudices and habits were still deeply engraved in the daily lives of the people. In other words, Spain, as an entity was no longer ruling us but its backwards way of thinking surely was still in the elite's DNAs. We will get back to this point later.
In 1870, the radical liberal government of Eustorgio Salgar decreed the law on secular education; and to exasperate the church and its allies, a German tutoring mission was invited to educate teachers in different public schools in all the states. In response, the church put up a fight and six years later it still hadn't given up the full control over the education system.
In consequence, when Tomas Carrasquilla was 18 years old, in 1876, another war broke out in Cauca state and spread to the states of Antioquia, Tolima, and Santander. It was called “The war of the schools”.
Antioquia was the state in which our author grew up. Where it appears that the Catholic Church seemed to had given the war a more holy symbolism. Like another crusade.
In the article “Bishops, ministers and the faithful standing in war” by the National University of Colombia, Luis Javier Ortiz tells us that the Medellin church – Medellin the capital of Antioquia – closed ranks around the Conservative party. They were so determined about their goal that even from the Vatican the Pope intervened to condemn what the liberals were doing. Years before the war of 1876, Pope Pius IX wrote in his Syllabus that one of the biggest mistakes of the modern world was Liberalism.
I am guessing that Tomas Carrasquilla perhaps met some dogmatic and faithful people that somewhat became characters in his cuento and in his other narratives.
In consequence, many concluded that the often called “The War of The Schools” happened as a conservative response – in association with the Catholic Church – against the liberal projects; especially the secularization of education which would break the monopoly that the church had over the education system.
However, blaming the radical liberal initiatives and the exasperation of the conservatives does not paint the full picture. The author Edna Sastoque comments that there was more to that. Nationally, it appeared that all motivations had an ideological and political agenda, but locally the economy – that is the control over certain exportable crops – had a strong hand over the matter. Thus both combined let to the 1876 war.
In addition, Christina Rojas in her article “Civilization and Violence, the search of Colombia´s identity in the XIX century,” tell us that the whole issue was far more complex than that.
The author argues that it is easier to understand the multiple wars that broke out in the country during the 19th century, due to the struggle to establish the so-called “civilization”.
She suggests that the period after Colombia´s independence in 1819, the educated criollo elite –that is those of Spanish heritage born in the new world- wished to establish in these tropical lands a mirror of the European civilization.
From there, or way before, comes the idea that everything that was conceived by a white mind is superior.
So, the envisioned civilization had to be based on the economic practices, the religious and educational ideas, traditions and ways of dressing of Europe. The dream of a mestizo (or mixed race) civilization meant the elimination of all that had been African or indigenous heritage. Oh! Those old dreams that many had believed and repeated like a creed.
Although both parties -- liberal and conservative – had a similar dream, Christina says their paths were quite dissimilar. The liberals hoped for the individual´s sovereignty and an educated democracy and citizenship; whereas the traditionalists hoped to achieve a civilized culture through the Christian morals, education and well-being. Both approaches towards the same goal created tensions that according to the author led to violence and war.
However, despite all these wheeling and dealings between the Catholic Church, the conservatives and liberals, in the end the catholic religion won. Rafael Nuñez the president that devised the 9th constitution that lasted for more than a 100 years, thought he had understood that Catholicism was an element of stability and cohesion. Not really but apparently it worked for a while.
And to finalize our program I am going to leave you with a poem from the Colombian poet Julio Florez (1867-1923) who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th century. For many years he was forced into exile from Colombia, living in Venezuela, Central America and Mexico.
The sea beats against the hull of the ship
that is taking me from you, beloved homeland.
It is midnight; the sky is dark;
black is the stormy immensity before me.
From the stiff prow, my gaze
sinks into the deep shadows of the emptiness;
my damp eyes see nothing.
How scorching the air; how cold the heart.
And I think, oh homeland, about your sorrow, and I think
about how I will no longer see you. And I exhale
a deep moan within the infinite blackness.
A sailor awakes… he sits up…
he pricks up his ears in the darkness
and I hear him whisper “Who is crying?”
And with this cuento we have finalized our journey through the stories written by three Latin American Authors. My name is Carolina Quiroga-Stultz and Tres Cuentos tells you to take a good look at those devotions, that sometimes lead to disputes, disrupting families and communities.
Next time, we will give bring Indigenous Narratives.
Until the next cuento.
1. Church Bell Celebration - Doug Maxwell/Media Right Productions
2. Jesus, meine Zuversicht - Sir Cubworth
3. The Curious Kitten - Aaron Kenny
4. Lost In Prayer -Doug Maxwell
6. Missing Pieces - Sir Cubworth
7. Covert Affair - Film Noire by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
8. Cantus Firmus Monks by Doug Maxwell/Media Right Productions
10. Brandenburg Concerto No4-1 BWV1049 - Classical Whimsical by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100303
11. Chomatic3Fantasia - Classical Rousing by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100293 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
12. Gagool by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100443
13. Falling from grace – White Hex
14. Waltz To Death - Sir Cubworth
16. Lament (Golden Light)- Devon Church
17. Camaguey by Silent Partner
18. Allemande_Sting by Wahneta Meixsell