Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional | Annotated Tale

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St. Martin in Spain

ABOUT the time that the Pedro Jiménez vintage was coming into growth, a favourite old vintage of Spain was just becoming exhausted, or for some reason going out of fashion,--the white wine of San Martin, so called from the locality of its production in Castilla la Vieja, not far from Toledo.

               Now it happens that in Spain--where Christianity has woven itself more familiarly perhaps than any where else into the home traditions of the people, and every class and state of man has assigned to it a special patron--that St. Martin is counted the patron Saint of drunkards. "Patron Saint of drunkards!" you will perhaps exclaim; "what have Saints got to do with drunkards?" But think a little, and remember how mercifully our Lord associated "with publicans and sinners," that He might reclaim them, and then you will say it is not so strange after all. Drunkards are very few in Spain, so few that there is no idiomatic word to call them by--nothing but the popular mocking expression borracho, which is simply formed by putting a masculine termination to the word borracha, a wine-skin; for you know it is the common practice in Spain, to store all the wine that is intended for use within a short period, in skins instead of barrels. And very curious it is, I assure you, when you are travelling in Spain, to see great skins of pigs and goats, sometimes with the hair still on, hanging up in the wine-shops, swelled out to their utmost extent with wine.

               I was curious to find out how St. Martin came to be reckoned the male-wineskin's patron; and in course of my inquiries, came upon two or three little traditions which may amuse you.

               One was, that in a church much frequented by large numbers of the poorer peasantry, there was, among other pictures, one representing St. Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar, according to the legend you have all heard. But it happened that the painter, in the plenitude of his idealism, had made a slight alteration in the usual treatment of the figures. Instead of putting a beggar kneeling by the wayside and sturdily asking alms, he had drawn one lying down in the extremity of exhaustion, and with scarcely a rag to cover him. St. Martin, instead of being in the act of cutting his cloak in halves with his sword, as you usually see him, was tenderly placing the already severed portion of his garment over the shivering form of the beggar. But the execution of the picture was not equal to the conception: the livid face, with its red and purple lines, by which the painter had thought to depict the effect of cold and want, was taken by the people to show forth the swollen features of a drunkard, and the attitude of exhaustion, for one of helpless intoxication. St. Martin's part in the picture was reckoned to be the saving him from the ridicule of the passengers, by covering him up. This act of patronage, so assumed, was reckoned to extend to all victims of drunkenness.

               Another story told me, was, that it arose from a waggish remark made by an Andalusian on another and more normal picture of St. Martin. Andalusians are famous for their wit. It is said that the soil of Spain is adapted to produce every thing required for both the necessity and luxurious enjoyment of human life, except spices; but that this is supplied by the spice of Andalusian wit, for an Andalusian hardly opens his mouth but to say something witty.

               An Andalusian, then, being asked what he thought of a certain picture of the legend of St. Martin replied, it represented such a piece of folly that none but a drunken man could have committed it. And the connexion thus once set up between a Saint and the condition of inebriety, though in jest, was sufficient to fasten on him the patronage of the inebriate.

               But for my own part, I am inclined to think that the vintage of San Martin, though now seldom spoken of, having at one time been regarded all over Spain as the first vintage of the world, popular tradition naturally ascribed the care of those who partook of it to the Saint whose name it fortuitously bore.

               In inquiring thus about St. Martin, I found that Spaniards have a jesting way of calling one San Rorro also, patron of drunkards; and this puzzled me, as I could find nothing like San Rorro in the Calendar. Then I learnt that rorro means a child just beginning to walk. Now a drunken man staggers much in the same way as an infant first learning to support its own weight; and thus "San Rorro" is merely a punning allusion to this similarity. But the Spaniard, who, as I have said, weaves his Christianity and--I may add--his innocent jest into every thing, remembering that the Divine Infant must have tottered too in His first early efforts to walk, sees a connexion here which may suggest an occasion for Divine pity and patronage. Certainly the common immunity from bad consequences of their falls, has led all countries to fable about a "special Providence for drunkards."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: St. Martin in Spain
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Book Title: Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1870
Country of Origin: Spain
Classification: unclassified

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