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The Cave of Salamanca

21/12/2017

Salamanca, capital city of the province of the same name, in Spain, is known worldwide for its historical and cultural heritage. The façade of the University, for example, is well-known in the history of art, as well as being the third oldest university in Europe. But between monumental facades and Gothic cathedrals, a small tourist attraction that can be found going up Carvajal street can go unnoticed. This is the so-called Cueva de Salamanca, Cave of Salamanca, the old crypt of the Church of San Cebrián (Saint Cyprian), closed to the public in 1580 due to its dilapidated state, where it is said that there was a school of magic. Interestingly, San Cebrián is the Castilian invocation of Saint Cyprian of Antioch, who was a practitioner of magic before converting to Christianity, and who has been considered by many as the patron saint of magicians.

The history of the Cave has its first literary reference in the work Recueil des Histories des Troyes (1464), where the mythical Hercules taught the locals the arts, sciences and magic, and where he would have left a sculpture of him that spoke in his name so that this knowledge was not lost.

The legend was evolving, losing its classic value and getting closer to popular thought. There was talk of apparitions of talking heads, of a sacristan who made extra money through these hidden teachings, Clemente Potosí; but it gained strength that the teacher in said school was none other than the demon Asmodeus or Satan himself, and that he admitted to his bosom seven disciples, whom he instructed in the magical arts for seven years.

At the end of this period of time, one of the disciples was the "lucky" winner to stay there with him forever. But, as in any good popular story, the resourcefulness of one of them will discover to save himself from such a fateful fate, deceiving the devil and giving him only his shadow. However, everyone recognized him as a necromancer due to the absence of his shadow. There are various versions of who this disciple was, some attribute it to a Navarrese priest named Pierre de Axular, most of them to the Marquis of Villena, a legendary individual inspired by the figure of Enrique de Aragón the Astrologer (1384-1434), his books they were burned by order of the Bishop of Cuenca Lope de Barrientos, when he was accused of sorcery.

The truth is that this crypt or sacristy of the church of San Cebrián was ordered to be walled up by Isabel la Católica to prevent illicit meetings and covens. The church ended up in disuse and destroyed, and in the 16th century it was used as a storage room and warehouse, both for palace affairs and for local businesses, but in 1734 there was still a memory of the magical history of this Cave, and the Portuguese Francisco Botello narrates a brief story that takes place on this stage, where the Celestina (literary spanish witch) appears, with a monstrous appearance and a demoness named Mariálvara, with a feminine figure except for her feet, which were goat's feet. Rojas Zorrilla, from Toledo, once again introduces the Marquis Don Enrique into Salamancan university life, until he decides to enter to study what is not taught there in the Caves, by the hand of the magician/devil Fileno. It is also the scene of works by Calderón de la Barca, Ruiz de Alarcón (La Cueva de Salamanca) or Quevedo, which do not explicitly mention the legend of the Marquis or the devil, but they do highlight the esoteric value of the place.

Although many have tried to match Enrique studying in Salamanca to attribute the role in the legend to him, in the 16th century, Father Feijoo, in his Teatro Crítico Universal (Universal Critical Theater), indicates that the dates of such an event were in 1322, half a century before the birth of the Marquis. However, in the case of a legend, playing with dates is not necessary. Nevertheless, also in this century a small grimoire called Libro de San Cipriano (Book of Saint Cyprian) gained fame.

The fame of the Cave also crossed European borders. Washington Irving and Walter Scott shaped the news of these stories about the Cave of Salamanca, mentioning powerful sorcerers who lived there. Scott, in fact, tells us that he was so powerful that when he waved his wand, the bells of Notre Dame rang, and while this is obviously literary license, it accounts for the magnitude of the Cave's recognition.

Likewise, the news had reached the American colonies, where the caves and grottos where magic practitioners met were called "salamanca", of course, in part these practices were nothing more than native traditions in an attempt to survive.

Returning to the archaeological question, it was not until the beginning of the 1990s that the area was excavated and the deserved attention and care was given to it. Divided into three parts, the Torre de Villena (in honor of the legend of the Marquis), the church and the cave, since 1993 one part has been open to the public and the other closed due to the risk of damage to the excavation. Throughout the year, different performances are held in the cave, especially the theatrical works mentioned above, as well as false covens and magical rituals on dates such as Saint John's Eve (Noche de San Juan) or the Night of the Dead, which highlight the attractiveness that this phenomenon continues to suppose.

Recently, new excavations began that cooled a network of underground tunnels that extended through certain key areas of Salamanca, such as the Pozo de las Nieves, the old Dominican Convent, or the Dueñas Convent, the Cathedral, the University or the House of The Shells. This reinforced the theory that the stairs by which the demon was said to go to and from hell could indeed lead to this network. The most probable use was transport and goods, although the existence of tunnels in such different places makes many think that these communication routes were given another use. In addition, coincidentally, they began to be walled up and sealed also in the time of Isabel la Católica. Although their use was not far from being classrooms for necromancers, it is likely that they were also escapes and transfers for spies, fugitives, vagabonds, thieves and other "bad living" people, whose lives were not empty of secrets either. 

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada - pietrocarracedo@gmail.com

Bibliography:
-Egido , Luciano G.. La cueva de Salamanca. Gráficas Varona. 1994. Salamanca
-Domínguez Berrueta¸ Juan, Salamanca: Guía Sentimental. Diputación provincial, 1952.
-Andrés Pérez, Raúl. La Cueva de Salamanca y la magia del Marqués de Villena: análisis de un mito hispano a la luz de las tradiciones esotéricas. Ediciones Atlantis, 2013