I wrote this poem today, Let your Words (which you will find at the end of this post, together with my song My Love in Barcalona Lay) while again looking at Francisco Rizi’s depiction (1683) of the auto-da-fé held on June 30th., in the reign of Carlos II. in the Plaza Mayor, Madrid, in 1680.
I remember we were sitting having a beer in the Plaza Mayor in 2016 and I was thinking of the many ghosts who have voiced their truths in the cobbled echoes. I had scribble down some almost unreadable jottings, which now came to hand. In trying to decipher my own scribbles, the phrase “let your words” came to mind. I had been impressed with the square back then and the surrounding remains of the old city. The people coming and going: walking their own walk, thinking their own thoughts, voicing their own truths, appealed to me as a great contrast to Rizi’s time, and the claustrophobic embrace of the religion-drenched walls and tapestry of his depiction. I wondered did he ever voice his own words to his own heart either here, in Madrid, or at El Escorial, where he died.
The square which Francisco depicted is a far cry from what it is today, to that which Francisco Rizi featured in his depiction of the Auto-da-fé held on June 30th., in the reign of Carlos II. in 1680. It is one of those paintings which give us a vast amount of detail, of people wrapped in the social and religious bindings of the period.
Its origins and many changes speak to the long endurance of built places. Philip II commissioned the architect Juan de Herrera to remodel the whole area, and construction did not commence until the reign of Philip III, in 1617. The work was continued by architect Juan Gómez de Mora and it was finished in 1619. The square was devastated by three fires, in 1631, 1670 and again in 1790. Its current architecture is credited to Juan de Villanueva who, following the 1790 fire, lowered the then five-storey surround to three, over the colonnade.
The Plaza Mayor was not the original name. It was first named the Plaza del Arrabal, which was the site of the most popular marketplace, until the end of 15th century. The name was changed several times over the years to Plaza de la Constitución (following the Constitution of 1812); when the Borbón king was restored in 1814 it became known as Plaza Real. In 1873 it was renamed Plaza de la República, and at the end of the the Spanish Civil war, it was finally given its current name, The Plaza Mayor.
Today the square measures 1229 m by 94 m. with ten entrances — and nine gates; each with a name, such as Arco de Triunfo. The equestrian statue at the centre of the square depicts Philip III and it was placed there in 1848. Besides the auto-da-fé, this square has been the scene of public executions, bull fights and football matches.
Above: Images from around the Plaza Mayor
Madrid became the symbol of liberty for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War which began with a failed coup d’état (or Pronunciamiento) against the Popular Front Government of the Spanish Republic, by right-wing Spanish army officers let by the fascist General Franco, on July 18th 1936. The great republican slogan “No pasarán”, coined by the communist leader, Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria, who worked for gender equality and the rights of the working classes) in a radio broadcast on July 18th, which urged resistant to the coup, was to become the watchword for the defense of Madrid, and the Republican cause in general. I suppose in a strange way with the coming to power of Franco, Rizi’s auto-da-fé, like that “rough beast”, came round again.
Dolores giving her farewell speech to the International Brigades on November 1st 1938 in Barcelona.
A banner displaying the famous Republican slogan: ‘No Pasarán’
Madrid became the mythic centre in the popular imagination during the war when it held out for four years and became the subject of songs, such as Los Emboscados ( a version “Si me quieres escribir” and the poem by Rafael Alberti “Madrid corazón de España which begins:
Madrid, corazón de España,
late con pulsos de fiebre.
Si ayer la sangre le hervía,
hoy con más calor le hierve.
Ya nunca podrá dormirse,
porque si Madrid se duerme,
querrá despertarse un día
y el alba no vendrá a verle.
No olvides, Madrid, la guerra;
jamás olvides que enfrente
los ojos del enemigo
te echan miradas de muerte.
Madrid, heart of Spain,
Throbbing with the beats of fever.
If yesterday her blood was boiling
Today it boils with more heat.
She will never be able to sleep,
Because if Madrid falls asleep,
She will wish to wake up one day
And dawn will not come to meet her.
Don’t forget, Madrid, the war;
Never forget that in front
The eyes of the enemy
Are throwing at you looks of death.
The full poem can be read in Romance de la defensa de Madrid — Poesia española — at
Let Your Words
Let your words go out to play,
They are not meant to sit in silence.
Let them jeer the auto-da-fé
Let their potency be violent!
Let them speak out from the heart,
Don’t pull your punches nor your meaning;
Here equivalence has no part,
And there’s no space for in-betweening!
Do not fear the listener’s ear,
Do not fear the lector’s pause,
Let your words be loud and clear
Shun indifference, shun applause.
And having let your words run wild
Among the dangers of the street,
Let their truth be simple, as a child’s,
Let them speak to all they meet;
And say “I am!” and “This is me!”
No fudge, no crass hypocrisy.
— © Frank Callery, August 9th., 2019.
My Love in Barcelona Lay
My love in Barcelona lay
Under a cloth of golden sky
Where she composed his fatal day
With her dark hair and her dark eye
She tempted him with her deep sigh
Her long dark hair, her moist dark eye.
Her breasts were soft arpeggios
Her smile a symphony of joy
And in her hair, a black, black rose
Consumed the blood of my dear boy;
And as she pressed him to her heart
Her hunger tore his soul apart.
My love to Barna* made his way
Among the youth who heard her call
And on a hill he heard her say
If you love me, give your all.
If you would my beauty save
Lie beside me in this grave.
My love in Barcalona lies
Far from the hearts he could console
He gave his youth for her dark eyes;
His name upon her honoured role.
An Irish boy who tuned his poem
To wring the blood from olive stone.
My love in Barcelona stayed
Beneath her cloth of golden sky
While we who loved him wept and prayed
She would not tempt him with her sigh,
Her black rose, and her red lips:
Las flores de la muerte where he sipped.
— Frank Callery ©
Barna is the local pet name for the city, it is a placename which is also common in Ireland. The most famous of which is in Co. Galway. Willie Callery a Dubliner, one of the subjects of this song, embarked from Galway to travel to fight in the Spanish Civil War. the reference to Olive Stone is to the Irish republican poet Charlie Donnelly who died in the war.