Tribute of the hundred maidens and the Apostle

The legendary tribute of the hundred maidens and the apostle is tied to the historical figure of Mauregato, proclaimed in the year 783 king of Asturias. The origin of this monarch is vague. It is not known when he was born and his alleged legitimacy came from being illegitimate son of King Alfonso I the Catholic (sic) and the Muslim slave Sisalda. With such origins, it is understandable that this king did not order the writing of chronicles about his lineage and his childhood, which remain obscure until now. It is believed that he ascended to power by leading a faction of the Asturian nobility with whose help he was able to expel the legitimate King Alfonso II from the throne of Oviedo. To save his life he must have taken refuge in the lands of Álava.

It is also believed that access to the power of Mauregato was favored by intervention in his favor of the emir of Cordova, who had control of practically all of the rest of the Peninsula. In return for this help, King Abdul Rahman I demanded of Mauregato a tribute that symbolized the submission of the Christian to his authority: the delivery of one hundred virgin maidens every year. With them the emir could renew his harem, embrace them to his servitude or sell them as slaves. Mauregato agreed, establishing the humiliating tradition of the tribute of the hundred maidens.

Abderramán I “el grande”

The happiness did not last long, for Mauregato was murdered five years later by the nobles Don Arias and Don Oveco. They claimed that it was in rebuttal for instituting such a humiliating tribute. Mauregato was buried in the church of San Juan de Santianes, in the Asturian municipality of Pravia. In his sepulcher, smooth, without any adornment, one can read: Hic iacet in Pravia qui pravus fuit (Here in Pravia lies he who was depraved).

Iglesia de San Juan de Santianes

The balance of forces between Muslims and Christians changed, reinforcing the precarious situation of those Goths refugees in the mountains of Asturias. In 795 the army of the Asturians caused a devastating defeat to the Muslims in the gorge of Muds, near the Asturian town of Lodares. As a consequence, King Alfonso II el Casto annulled the payment of the tribute of the hundred maidens. But a few decades later, the turnings became the intermittent struggle of the Christian and Muslim kingdoms.

The emir of Cordoba, Abderramán II, demanded to Ramiro I of Leon the reinstating of the tribute of the hundred maidens. The Leonese king, finding himself in a military situation of frank weakness-and after consultation with his advisers-ended up accepting to resume the payment of the tribute of the hundred maidens as he considered it less evil than a catastrophic invasion of his kingdom. As in the days of Mauregato, the heralds of the king communicated to the inhabitants of the towns of the kingdom their obligation to select a certain number of maidens and then to send them all together to Cordoba.

The regidores of a town of Valladolid decided to fulfill the terrible obligation that was imposed on them, but also they decided to demonstrate to their king and the emir of Cordova their enormous disgust and the decision that the powerful could not take full advantage of them. So they sent the seven maids assigned to them … but with their left hand cut off. That terrible gesture of defiance made the locals famous, and in time it would give name to the town of origin of these seven maidens: Simancas. Upon receiving that mutilated lot, the emir Abderramán became indignant, rejected the maidens, and demanded the surrender of seven others. In the face of the new situation, and the spreading of the courageous gesture of the inhabitants of Simancas, King Ramiro I understood the gesture of his vassals and reacted, refusing to accept that demand. He then called his men to defend his kingdom from the probable Muslim invasion. Predictably, the Muslim army headed north to subdue the Christians and force them to comply with the agreed tribute. Both armies were found in the fields of Clavijo – near of Logroño – 23 of May of the year 844.

Plaza Mayor de Simancas (Valladolid)
Clavijo (La Rioja)

After a disastrous first encounter, the Christians were in a very difficult situation. But they had the ability to withdraw without ever suffering a final defeat. During the night, King Ramiro had a vision of the Apostle James; In this the apheterus promised the monarch his help when he resumed the fight. The next day, when the fighting resumed, the Christian knights saw an impetuous warrior – riding a white horse – join the vanguard of the Leonese troops, leading them to an unexpected and forceful victory. At the end of the fighting the white knight disappeared without being recognized or thanked for his intervention. King Ramiro immediately thought that this knight was James the Apostle.

Very grateful for the help, Ramiro I established the Vote of Santiago. This consisted in the accomplishment of an oath by which from then the king’s army would reserve to the apostle a part of the booty that was obtained from the Moors in all the battles that were celebrated. This meant considering Santiago as another gentleman. In addition to symbolizing the gratitude for the help received in the Battle of Clavijo, the Voting could be understood as a kind of precedent of the current bonuses that are given to the executives of company for having obtained certain level of benefits; For when he was included in the distribution of the booty, further appearances of the Saint were promoted in the warlike stages. The establishment of such a singular Voto motivated that -as it is logical in every noble person, even more so if it is “saint- Santiago became fond of Castilian-Leonese, to the point of lavishing his saving apparitions from then on. The apostle lent his providential arm in other battles against unbelievers.It is believed that Santiago was the unknown knight who surprisingly helped the Christians during the sieges of the Muslim cities of Coimbra (Portugal) and Mérida. A white knight who had a brilliant performance during the battle of Simancas, although on that occasion he was accompanied by another unknown knight, who by some signs identified with his namesake “Castilian”: San Millán.

The interventions of the saint in the battles earned him the justified name of “Matamoros“. In the sixteenth century, with no infidels to kill on the Peninsula, Santiago decided to “make the Americas” with Los Conquistadores, assisting Hernán Cortés.

Since the saint made only fleeting apparitions during the combat and did not remain until the distribution of the booty, it was decided that the bishop of Santiago de Compostela – in the name of the Apostle – collected his share. To renew the agreement of military assistance, the fulfillment of the vote has been carried out until our days every 25 of July – day of Santiago – in a solemn ceremony. In the following centuries the Spanish armies conquered America and great territories of Asia and Africa, dominating European battlefields during centuries XV, XVI and good part of century XVII; This success caused Santiago to be expanded patronage, naming him patron saint of Spain.

Subsequently, with the intention of extending the Apostle’s aid to all kinds of needs and stabilizing it, it was decided to replace the part of the warrior booty with an additional tithing of the cereal harvest. This tithe was also a variable expense; Because it depended on the meteorology on which the Saint should influence. The patron Santiago provided the security of an annual periodicity, regardless of whether there were wars and possible booties. The new tax was added to the first fruits (the delivery of the first fruits) that already corresponded to the consecrated temples of each circumscription. Given that the Vow was collected in the parishes between Galicia and La Rioja, an enormous amount of cereal enriched for centuries the compostela diocese, contributing to finance the architectural and ornamental wonders that are enjoyed in the city of Santiago de Compostela (La Coruña).

The Vow lasted until 1812; When the Cortes of Cadiz abolished this and other privileges of the Old Regime. Even so, Santiago remains currently as Patron of Spain and every year a solemn ceremony is celebrated in the cathedral dedicated to him in the city of Santiago. This is the tribute of the hundred maidens and the apostle.

Text by Isabel Tejera-Sindell and illustrations by Ximena Maier. “Tribute of the hundred maidens and the apostle”

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