Fatima's Catholic, but there's a Muslim
in its history.
I'd known of this for a while, but in my
reading I'd also seen a reference to "the words of an ancient ballad,"
having to do with the story. I wanted to see for myself what the lyrics said, so I searched for the writing but had no luck in tracking it down.
Then, finally, I went to the Cullom-Davis
Library at Bradley University in Peoria, where I told a lady at the
reference desk of my search. With information I'd given her, she did a
computer search that turned up an account that included an "old lay." A
lay is defined as "a narrative poem, such as one sung by medieval minstrels;
a ballad." While there isn't a lot of narrative to the it, it does
fit the definition.
Much of what's written here is
based on that account, titled LEAVES
FROM THE PORTUGUESE OLIVE.―NO. III,
which I'll refer to hereafter as
The account contains an interesting
story with a linkage to the famed shrine in Portugal. In the telling
woven in some thoughts of my own.
History and the Iberian
To acquaint ourselves with some background
on Portugal, both it and Spain are part of the Iberian Peninsula,
that somewhat squarish land mass, hanging down in western
the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
It was subject to a series of
invasions, one in
711, when thousands of
soldiers led by Tariq ibn
Ziyad, crossed from Africa to Europe and landed near the promontory called
thereafter Jebel al-Tariq in Arabic (meaning the “mountain of Tariq”),
into the name Gibraltar.
It was called a Moorish invasion but the invaders were also referred
to as Arabs and Berbers.
The Moors were a Berber
people who became Muslims and adopted the Arab language. Tariq
was himself a Berber and was joined in the Iberian conquest by the Muslim
governor of North Africa, Musa ibn Nasyr. Most of the peninsula was
brought under Islamic rule, except for areas in the northwest and the
nobles sought refuge in the region along the northern coast facing the Bay of Biscay.2
In 722, the independent Kingdom of Asturias 3
was set up, established
to become the cradle of the Reconquista.
In 868, after the territory between the
Minho and Douro rivers was reconquered, the County of Portugal was
established and eventually it evolved into the Kingdom of Portugal. In
1139, Afonso Henriquez defeated the Moors at Ourique, and became the King of
Portugal. It was during his reign, that we meet the persons involved
in the story of Fatima.
tells us that a monk and chronicler by the name
of Bernardo de Brito preserved "a lay" in Cistercian history (Brito
died in 1617). It
narrates a daring exploit,
penned by the hero himself, Gonzalo Herminguez.4 Gonzalo was the son of Hermigo Gonzales who served under
the Count of Portugal, Alfonso Henriquez, and at the Battle of Ourique, the agile
Hermigo overthrew so many Moors that he was called O Luctador,
LEAVES says that
Gonzalo inherited Hermigo's prowess, which one may define
as having a strength, courage or daring, surpassing others in battle.
He was celebrated with the name Traga Mouros,
"the Moor eater." Toward the end of Alfonso's reign, about
1189 the account records,
Gonzalo was of a mind to make reprisals against the Moors "for the captives
they had taken from among the natives of his country." (possibly a
"4" was miscopied as a "9, " as Alfonso
Henriquez died in Dec. 1185 ) We're
not told who was captured, but what Gonzalo was determined to do, will bring
Fatima into the picture.
Fatima the Princess
The story to unfold testifies to Gonzalo's resolute courage.
Having embarked in boats with a daring band of followers, Gonzalo set out
for Alcacer do Sal, a town yet in Moorish hands. It was situated on
the Sado River
5 which flows through southern
Portugal, emptying into an estuary of the Atlantic, south of Lisbon.
The degree of risk of their
action, would depend on whether they carried it out in the daylight or in
the dark. It seems possible if not plausible that
they approached the city at dusk, as darkness was gathering, and the
Muslims were outside in the early evening. It would seem they wouldn't
want to be exposed to discovery any longer than they had to be, and that the
longer they rowed against the current, the more energy they'd be exerting
just to reach the town.
and concealed themselves where they observed what was going on. It was midsummer when the Mahometans
were celebrating their Feast of Bairam.6 The gates of the city were open
and nearby on the grass, they were sporting and dancing with the females of
their families. The Christians, here called Lusitanians,7 watched them from
their hiding place for a while. Gonzalo noticed a beautiful Moorish girl,
"sporting with her female companions, full of
graceful gaity." He was attracted to her in particular and
decided to capture her.
Her name was
The Christians rushed from where they were lurking in
concealment, and although the Mussulmans were
surprised, they fought bravely, often snatching away from Gonzalo
the lovely girl he'd seized.
herself noticed Gonzalo from the
time the Christians appeared. She admired him as a person and for his
valor. She was flattered by the value he put upon her, shown by his
efforts to obtain her. He became the center of the skirmish and
a focus of attack from her people. This action may reflect the fact
that this girl whom he sought, was not just a Fatima, but according to another
narration, a Princess named
Fátima, the daughter of the Muslim Prince
at Alcacer do Sal, details LEAVES
did not include but that are mentioned elsewhere.
A curious thing appeared to
happen. The account says "it would seem, that instead of being
alarmed, or offering any resistance, she threw herself in the way of
recapture by Gonzalo as often as she was snatched from him." Gonzalo
was able to capture her. Being close to the open gates of Alcacer do Sal,
it would seem likely, that other Moorish occupants within the town heard the
commotion and that some
witnessed the skirmish.
It's not hard to
envision an alarm being raised, others being summoned to help and Muslims
rushing out of the gates in pursuit.
The Christians made their escape in their boats, reversing their course on the
From what I see on a historical map8 of the
1037-1270 time frame, I would guess
they paddled downstream toward where the Sado flows into an estuary of the
Atlantic. Alcacer do Sal appears just below a line, where it says, Northern Limits of
Saracen Lands (dated 1200).9 The boundary line
appears to be about where the last part of the river is located, but whether
the northern limit was there at this point in history
14 to 15
years before 1200
― is not here known.
Map-wise, this is the closest information at hand.
From Alcacer do Sal, the
river curves northward in an elongated, backward "S," then westward to the
estuary. Where it's curving to go in a westerly direction, may be
around seven kilometers or so from the city. In terms of miles,
they may've had to go several on the river before they reached safer
territory, maybe being chased as they did so, along the bank or from behind
by boat. Christian territory may've been farther yet.
Another account tells us they took
their captives to the king at Santarem, somewhat to the north and west of Alcacer do Sal. While they were on on their way, Gonzalo fell in love
with Fatima―captivated by his captive.
Gonzalo asked the monarch for
permission to marry her. The king replied that he could, but that she
herself would have to consent to it, and that she would need to become a
The Conversion of Fatima
LEAVES speaks of Gonzalo converting
where we gain a little more information. It's posited that his love for her, without doubt, sharpened his
controversial acumen, and her love for him, softened her prejudices.
It could be that her acceptance of the king's requirements wasn't immediate,
as she had to overcome the errors of Islam which regard Christians as infidels, and accepts
neither the divinity of Jesus nor the Trinity of God.
credits his eloquence for her conversion.
Not to diminish his part, but I would hold he
was assisted by grace of God, and it seems to me that the high regard that Islam has for the Virgin Mary,
to bridge the religious gap in her conversion.
Mary, in fact, is the only woman mentioned in the
Koran, spoken of a number of times. Even one of the chapters (called suras) is named after her, Sura XIX. In
the Sura III it says: “O Mary! verily hath God chosen thee, and purified
thee, and chosen thee above the women of the worlds.” The
same sura affirms the Virgin Birth of Jesus, echoing her response to Gabriel.
I’ve read that she’s most often referred to in Islam as Maryam,
umm Isa (Mary, the Mother of Jesus).
It seems to me that it's a pathway that the Muslims can take, to
at least explore what Christianity really is, if not go on to embrace it.
LEAVES tells of her baptism where her Muslim name of
is exchanged for Oriana, and the narrative says she passed "from the font to the altar." She
wed a soldier who loved her, and Gonzalo wrote about that love in the piece
he composed, the writing previously mentioned as a lay, but also called a romance
and a poem.
describes the piece as "a memorial of his
exploit, and of his hallowed love."
This account says it was unable to give
an exact likeness of the original but gives the sense of it as well as they
can collect it. It's said to present many difficulties,10 but it shares
in a convention of epic poetry,11 a literary technique
called in medias res (into the middle of affairs) wherein a
story doesn't start at the beginning. The first stanza speaks of the fight; the second, speaks of
his thoughts, seeing
her from his hiding place; and the third, of his affection for the wife he won.
Gonzalo Writes About Fatima Baptized Oriana
Here, Awhile, I held thee; there
the shock repelled thee,
Still, still, as waver'd the fortunes of the fight,
Here didst thou grasp me; there again unclasp me;
Thence wouldst thou fly to me; hence didst thou draw nigh to me,
As here the champions
parted, or there combin'd their might.
Mem'ry shew'd thee brightly; sporting free and lightly,
as when first I saw thee,
with thy smiling face.
Then, my fancy warming, thought―"O maid so charming!
In this land around me, happy fate has found me
Prize like thee to
follow in the eager chace."
Oriana, dearest! trust the lay thou hearest;
Life to me is only
life since blest with thee:
Life no value knowing , save of thy bestowing―
Thou prize, that battle gave me, dost, in turn enslave me,
For nothing fairer,
dearer, thro' all the world I see!
One might imagine it being sung for her, by
the light of a candle and the glowing warmth of crackling fire.
Accompanied perhaps with a lute, the lyrics "Oriana, dearest! trust
the lay thou hearest..." bring a smile to her face, as she turns
appreciatively to Gonzalo, who watches, not in hiding, but in plain sight,
to see her response.
By another account, their happiness as a
together in life, ended all
too soon, for she died soon after her marriage. Afterwards a broken-hearted Gonzalo joined a monastery, and
from there, he was sent to a priory in the mountains, taking along her
mortal remains. He named the place after her,
calling it by her Arabic and Muslim name
This is not
once-upon-a-time story ― if that means
it fits vaguely into history;
it doesn't ―
nor that they lived happily ever after, if that connotes long into the
years, but it appears they were happy together in the time they had.
As to any general consciousness or remembrance of the story, I would guess
that it might be poetically
said, that the
story slept through the long centuries, to awaken in the future that lay out
ahead: a story with a sleeping beauty, and not one of a fairy tale.
In another way of looking at it: it's like crossing a stream,
stepping from stone to stone to reach the farther side. The story
steps across the centuries, from medieval to modern times, where we may fall
with it to a better world.
story of this couple, it seems to me, is Providence working through history. While
her name comes to the fore, Gonzalo the soldier, the husband and the monk had a crucial part
In an age that has now come to pass,
her name ought to
the world, linked spiritually to Mary and the Rosary.12
And amid the titles of the Queen of heaven is her name, the name of
From a footnote in
LEAVES referring to the Gonzalo's poem, it's indicated
Gonzalo may have written more than the three stanzas above. In which
case, is there more out there to find?
In The Dublin University Magazine: a literary and political
journal, Vol. 40
2. Named for the province of Biscay in
Spain. It's the large notch in the coastline
of Europe, formed by a gulf of the Atlantic, which washes the shores of northern Spain and western France.
On some Medieval maps it was called El Mar de los Vascos (the Basque Sea).
It's also known by the Spanish name for it, Mar Cantabrico, the Cantabrian
Kingdom of Asturias was
established by a nobleman named Pelayo who formed a dynasty that would
expand the boundaries of the realm. But there was a period in the kingdom
Other and Earlier Accounts in LEAVES
follow), considered one of
retreat, which included the reigns of Aurelio, Silo, Mauregato and Bermudo I. Mauregato
led a rebellion , forcing the elected king Alfonso II, to withdraw and he
became king, followed by Bermudo. In 791 the kingdom was
on firmer ground when Alfonso II was restored to the throne and recognized by the Pope and Charlemagne.
Alfonso II reigned until 842.
Herminguez is the son of Hermigo. Compare it to
Gonzalez, the son of Gonzalo, or Henriquez, the son of Henrique. But
it reflects a Spanish origin rather than Portuguese one, wherein the son
Henrique would be Henriques.
The son of Gonçalo (a spelling of
Gonzalo elsewhere) is Gonçalves. "Ez"
is a Spanish ending and "es," a Portuguese one.
5. The Sado was also called the
Saldao. One may wonder whether it was linked to the
Sal of Alcacer do Sal, a city
that had different names in history,
including Salatia. It was important in the salt trade and it seems likely that Salatia derives from
the Latin for salt, sal. Alcacer is a respelling in Latin
phonetics of the Arabic Al Qaşr, the castle.
6. One of two
feasts, either after the fasting month of Ramadan or at the close of their
7. Lusitania was an ancient Roman province
which included about all of Portugal south of the Douro River, and
part of Spain. The name may derive from the Celtic Lus and
Tanus, "tribe of Lusus."
Os Lusiadas (The Lusiads), often
looked upon as the national epic of Portugal, is a poem that chiefly focuses
on a "fantastical interpretation of the Portuguese voyages of discovery."
Its heroes are said to be the Lusiads, who are the sons of Lusus: the
8. Map of the Iberian Peninsula, The
Saracen was used by the ancient Romans for inhabitants
of the deserts near their province of Syria. Later on, it was applied
to Arabs, and then used for Muslims in the time of European chroniclers and
the Crusades. Ptolemy mentions a people called Sarakenoi living
in Arabia. In Christian writing, it was taken to mean "those empty of
Sarah" or not from her.
an asterisk was placed after the word many (the last word in a column
before it jumped to the next), referring to a footnote, saying, "Bouterwek
has given the commencement of the original; but sadly corrupted and
miswritten." (I found a Friedrich Bouterwek, who died in 1828, and
who's called "a pioneer historian of Spanish literature.")
I have some difficulty deciphering all that's
meant in the article. There's some criticism of Gonzalo's work in
comparison to The Fight of the Figwood, in the writing that follows
and which came from the same 1852 account. It was called "more
barbarous." It also said "...but in the length of the lines, and the
recurrences of rhymes, we have ventured to fill up its irregularities and
deficiencies." My concern here is the accuracy of history, not any
perceived failings regarding literature nor whether it was poorly written.
11. In medias res may also be at
the conclusion of a story. The technique is found in The Lusiads
mentioned above. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are regarded
as models of it.
12. The Rosary here refers not only to the
prayer, but is meant to suggest the rose flower. One explanation for rosary is that it came from the
Latin rosarium which meant "a garland of roses," and another saying, it meant a rose-garden.
Other and Earlier Accounts in LEAVES
LEAVES also speaks of other stories. One of these relates to
Cordoba, a city in
southern Spain on the Guadalquivir River, founded in the time of ancient
Rome. Called Qurtuba in Arabic, it was the capital of the Caliphate of
Cordoba which governed most of the Iberian Peninsula.
An Abject Treaty
The Moorish king of Cordova,
often defeated the
Christians, leaving only Asturias in the mountains free of Muslim
dominance, yet it appears to differ with what follows: The Cordovan ruler gained such an ascendancy of power, that
he extorted from the Christian kings "abject treaties," and among these was
one that contemporary writers were ashamed to mention: it was "the
disgraceful tribute of a hundred young maidens of noble birth and a hundred
others of inferior rank, to be chosen annually from amongst the handsomest
of the Christian females, and carried to Cordova, and distributed among the Mahometan harems."
We're told that King Mauregato of
Asturias (783-788) promised Abdurrahman,
"to pay the maiden tribute unresistingly and punctually. The subjects
of Mauregato were incensed at an odious tax."
This terrible treatment
― egregiously bad ― was degrading not only to
the young ladies, but as
LEAVES continues to relate, it was degrading to
the men and every year brought "disgrace and mourning
into so many families, and rent asunder the tenderest ties. But they
had neither political nor military strength to battle for its abolition in
the field." However, there were isolated actions of gallantry.
Young men occasionally formed bands to ambush the Moors travelling
"with the extorted quota of maidens." They would look for an
opportunity to attack, and were often successful in rescuing the girls to
return them to their parents.
Incident in Eighth Century
during the reign of Mauregato,
a Moorish escort was taking six young ladies to Cordova, from
somewhere in northern Portugal. A group of young Christian men,
led by one Goester Ansur and his brother, watched them when they stopped at
a grove of fig trees to rest. The group of young men attacked, and in
the fray, Goester broke his sword. But he broke off a branch from a fig
tree and fought with it. They were victorious and freed the young
women, who they ended up marrying. Afterwards the site of the
rescue was called Figueira das Donas (Figwood of the Women [ figo
is fig in Portuguese] ). The spot isn't far from Viseu in the Province
of Beira. Goester took the family name of Figueiredo, and
put five fig leaves on his shield with a field of or (gold) and his brother took Figueroa
as his name. For two or three centuries, a ballad
about this exploit was sung in the Province of Beira, a song apparently written by Goester's brother.
A Ballad of the Exploit
A ballad of that exploit was
preserved by that Cistercian monk and chronicler named Bernardo de Brito, and entitled, THE FIGHT OF THE FIGWOOD and
subheaded FROM THE GALLICIAN, OR OLD PORTUGUESE:
Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
Into the figwood too came I;
Six fair maids he there discover'd,
Six fair maids I did descry.
Weeping, sighing, he perceiv'd them:
I, too, saw them weep and sigh.
"Who maltreats ye? Wherefore must ye
Bear this lot of cruelty?"
Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
Into the figwood too came I.
Thus to me a maiden answered:
"Sir, I cannot tell you why;
Woe to the realm where wicked monarch
Works his people misery.
Had I weapons, I mistake me
If their use I would not try;
No man then should captive drag me―
This foul law I would defy.
Now, farewell, good youth! I know not
If again beneath the sky.
Yet to meet and speak together
E'er shall be our destiny."
Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
Into the figwood too came I.
Thus spake I to her: "O, never
From thee my feet shall fly:
I at goodly price will purchase
Charms that thus delight mine eye.
Still through regions strange and distant,
I thy steps will 'company;
Long, long ways through rough and weary,
Shall seem short when thou art by.
Well I know the Arab language,
I can speak it skillfully:
Any Moor who dares oppose us,
I will smite him, he shall die."
Into the figwood came Figueiredo;
Into the figwood too came I.
To the Moor those captives guarding
I with stealthy step drew nigh;
Fiercely did he threat my maiden―
Then my wrath blaz'd fierce and high.
Figueiredo broke a fig branch:
Then a fig branch, too, broke I.
Fast he plied his club around him,
I as fast my club did ply;
We the Moor robbed of the maidens
He had seized in robbery,
Then to her with whom I'd spoken,
Did I bind a tender sigh,
Out of the figwood went
Out of the figwood, too, went I.
(also Cordova) is a city in Andalusia,
The philosophers Seneca the Elder
and Seneca the Younger came from here. The first
mention of it in history goes back to the Carthaginian expansion
across the river Guadalquivir, it was "baptized" Kartuba.
Kart-Juba meant "the city of Juba", Juba being a commander who died in
battle near there.
The terms Mussulmans and Mahometans appear
in the text of the account. It's reported that at least until the
mid-1960's, many English writers used the term Mahometans. It
might be of interest to know that there's a non-Islamic surname spelled with
an umlaut, Müsselman, which is said to
be a probable name for a woodman, from Middle High German müsel
log + man man.
I've read it's argued that the term
Mohammedans is considered offensive because it allegedly implies that
Muslims worship Mohammad. It doesn't imply that at all, but means that
the person is a follower of Mohammad, just as a Lutheran is a follower of