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El Cid's crucifix, Cristo de las Batallas. (Garciadelosbarros / CC BY-SA 4.0)       Right: Representation of a knight. (Marla / Adobe stock)

Ancient Letter Reveals Clues to Spanish Warlord’s Battle Crucifix

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A Spanish professor has established that a historic crucifix in a Christian cathedral was owned by one of medieval Europe’s greatest warriors. Based on documentary evidence, the professor has proven that a precious cross was once the possession of El Cid. He was a legendary warlord who remains an icon in Spain.

In the Cathedral of Salamanca, north-west Spain, there is a crucifix in the Romanesque style, which is believed to date from the 10th century AD. It is known as the Cristo de las Batallas, and it has long been associated with the Reconquista, that is the Christian reconquest of Spain and the expulsion of the Muslims.

It is known that the cross was brought to Salamanca from Valencia by a bishop. And in the 16th and 17th century, a cult grew around the worship of the crucifix and at least one miracle was attributed to the cross by believers.

Letter from a King Reveals Clues

“The crucifix was suspected to have been linked to El Cid,” reports The Daily Mail . However, there was no evidence to prove that this was indeed the case. That was until Alberto Montaner, a professor of Spanish literature at the University of Zaragoza, came across a letter in the British Library in London.  This letter was written by one of the most powerful medieval Spanish monarchs King Alfonso XI.

Cristo de las Batallas crucifix before restoration (Fundación Joaquín Díaz / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cristo de las Batallas crucifix before restoration (Fundación Joaquín Díaz / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

“A 14th-century letter of King Alfonso XI explains that El Cid carried a crucifix when he went out to fight,” the professor told The Times .  This was typical of the time, when it was a common belief that religious objects offered warriors protection in battle. The professor is quoted by The Times as saying that “it would have been a kind of talisman for him.” It is also theorized that the cross was given to him by his wife, Dona Jimena, before he rode off into battle.

Medieval Warlord Made Famous Across the World

El Cid was perhaps the most famous warlord in medieval Spain if not Europe. His real name was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, he came from the minor nobility in Castile and was a veteran of many battles. The name El Cid means ‘The Lord’, and it was given to him by the Muslims of Spain, whom he fought many times.

His most famous victory was his capture of Valencia in 1091, a key event in the Reconquista and this made him a hero in Christian Spain. Prof. Montaner told The  Daily Mail that “El Cid has been the subject of a devotion that transcends that of an epic Hispanic hero.”

The enduring fame of El Cid is mainly due to the medieval epic, The Poem of Cid . This tells the adventures of the warlord and his many battles. In the modern era, the 1961 Hollywood movie El Cid popularized the story of the knight around the world. However, many of the tales told about the warlord are almost certainly myths. Unlike many warriors, El Cid died peacefully at home in his old age.

Ransacked Tomb of El Cid

The professor was motivated in his research by a desire to identify the relics of the Spanish hero, many of which have been lost or destroyed.  In 1102, El Cid’s “remains were moved from his original tomb in Valencia cathedral to a monastery in San Pedro de Cardeña and buried beside his wife,” reports The Daily Mail .

During the Peninsular War, (1808-1814), the Spanish and their British allies fought the occupying army of Napoleon. French soldiers ransacked the monastery where El Cid was buried, and his relics and remains were scattered all over Europe. The Daily Mail reports Montaner as saying that “his feet, hands and pieces of his skull also remain missing.”

The Spanish Army's triumph at Bailén was the French Empire's first land defeat during the Peninsular War. (José Casado del Alisal / Public domain)

The Spanish Army's triumph at Bailén was the French Empire's first land defeat during the Peninsular War. (José Casado del Alisal / Public domain )

Anything connected with the great warrior is extremely valuable and one of his swords fetched £1.5 million ($1.8m). Today a replica of the crucifix is suspended above an altar in one of the chapels of the basilica. However, the original is not on public display. It was restored in the 2000s when centuries of dirt was removed from the figure of Christ.

Top image: El Cid's crucifix, Cristo de las Batallas. (Garciadelosbarros / CC BY-SA 4.0 )       Right: Representation of a knight. ( Marla / Adobe stock)

By Ed Whelan

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