“The Accused” by Emilio Diaz Rolando, translated from the Spanish by Ana Beard

Castillo de San Jorge (Sevilla)

Of all the cases that I have had the privilege to witness (in my long span of eighty-seven years) there is one in particular that furrowed deep scars inside my hardened heart.  I must have been in my forties when it fell to me to attend an unusual case in Seville.  I am certain that any other member of my order would have faced the task as merely one more amongst the many that define the life of a man consecrated to God’s service.  Nevertheless when all was said and done, that brief trial had dreadful consequences for me, far more than a life of monotonous tribunals had accustomed me to.

It was springtime. I remember it well, because the air enveloping Seville is particularly distinctive whenever that vigorous time of year emerges. I have always felt affected to the point of malady by the lushness, the uncontrolled proliferation. Nature appears to laugh at our expense, lost taciturn creatures that we are in this vale of tears. It seems to me that this expression of nature is one of the more tormenting forms of Satan’s mockery. For that very reason, I found Seville did not live up to its fame as a place of welcome. I spied the shrine on the roadside, marking the last phase of my long journey. By then, to be sure, the fresh gentle air approaching from the city, wreathed in exotic floral perfumes, provoked in me only a desire to flee.

In truth, I was not then going through the happiest time of my life. A few little matters in Toledo and certain low intrigues involving the higher orders had cast a shadow over the preceding few months of my career at the Court. In addition I recall that as I rode along, the spine of my mule was digging into certain recesses of my body, the situation further aggravated by a saddle of poor quality. For all that I offered up the discomfort as a mortification to Our Lord for my many sins, my flesh was determined to serve as a continuous reminder of the weak and base material from which mortals are made.

I was to stay in specially arranged accommodation at the Castillo de San Jorge. Only guests of inferior rank or middle rank such as myself could lodge there. Thinking about it, having the prisoners’ dungeons located directly underneath my apartment was perhaps not the best remedy for my sense of dejection. These signs did not bode well; with hindsight, they appeared to point towards a dismal conclusion to the trial that was to take place there.  Nevertheless, I made ready to judge with rigor and equanimity the facts of a case which deserved as much dedication as any other, trifling as it seemed at the time.

The next day, Holy Mass was celebrated and prayers were observed. Following a lengthy conversation with the Brothers, I descended to the dungeons with other members of the tribunal, Brother Jerónimo and Brother Juan.  After traversing an eternity of gloomy corridors and a giddying labyrinth of passageways we finally came to the prisoner’s cell. The accused had the usual appearance of one who has been subjected to the customary means of interrogation. The interrogator informed us that the prisoner’s initial intention of courageousness had presently given way to pleas for mercy. These had been followed by all kinds of incriminating details about his activities. His confession had prevented the need for a thorough application of torture.  He did not seem someone accustomed to or designed for hardship and adversity. His face was fine-featured and one could see that his manner and bearing were noble, in spite of the dense aura of pain and suffering that is characteristic of those accused.

His name was Gaspar de Sotomayor, descendant of conversos from Judaism (very much an apparent convert, indeed, but an errant one when all is said and done). He had amassed his fortune thanks to trading with the Indies. He had attempted to betray the good faith of his neighbors by feigning a life of decency, a life that supposedly abided by the commandments of Our Lord and the Holy Mother Church.  Even so, his true activities and inclinations had been discovered by good Christians. They were somewhat envious of his riches, that is true, but no less useful for that. To know how to exploit the weaknesses in human nature in order to best serve Christ is one of the paradoxes of the inquisitor’s calling. In my opinion this fact manifests the infinite wisdom of our Creator, who has demonstrated a profound truth within mankind’s many fallibilities. Someone more learned than me, and above all with time on his side and his life in front of him, should write a treatise on the subject. I believe that it would serve as a good explanation of the evil in humanity and reveal how the immeasurable goodness of our Savior outshines the relatively weak light of mortals. It could well be titled De utilibus vitiis, seu dissertatio de optima sapientia Dei.

Gaspar de Sotomayor (nothing in the world will make me forget that name) confessed to being in league with the Devil and practicing witchcraft in the winding hidden passageways that he had ordered to be excavated deep in the cellar of his house.  There, he had practiced alchemy and other arts of scarce use to the Kingdom of God.  The informant was a neighbor: Don Martín Diéguez, Notary of the House of Trade, an Old Christian and true Castilian from Burgos.  He had tired of hearing strange thundering noises originating from the accused’s house, blasts that could not but betray the existence of the hidden rooms where he devised his dark inventions and maintained a pact with the Devil. Furthermore, a subsequent investigation of the accused’s library shelves revealed a collection of dubious books by Erasmus of Rotterdam, Juan de Valdés, Miguel Servet and other heretics, would-be visionaries and assorted followers of strange doctrines.

Upon our return to the surface and happy to breathe fresh air again (I was able to appreciate the refreshing breeze from the river running next to the castle) we read with careful attention the records which Brother Jerónimo had written in the chamber of confessions. I also remember that the leg of lamb served for the occasion, washed down with a red wine of some unknown variety, left such a pleasant impression upon my stomach that it momentarily soothed my indisposed soul.

In summary, the accused was guilty by his own admission and was condemned to burn at the stake. There was nothing further to discuss. Everything was clear. This being decided, we signed the sentence. I thought perhaps such a small matter had not been worth the long and exhausting journey. But duty called and those were my obligations.

My departure was planned for two or three days later. I decided to rest before embarking anew upon the dusty road which led back to the Court and the vulgar intrigues that beset its slothful existence. To better pass the remaining time and given that I was not disposed to taking a walk around Seville, I buried myself in a manuscript that had been confiscated from the prisoner, apparently a record of his entanglement with the Devil.

Reading these succinct notes did not take much time. Chiefly I found ludicrous his attempt to prove, in difficult handwriting reminiscent of the complexities of Greek, that objects could be moved with the steam given off by cooking pots. No sooner had I smiled than I was overwhelmed by an immense feeling of despondency, as I realized what infinite misery the Evil One can wreak. How poor are the compensations for his slave disciples in exchange for their souls: that the steam from a pot should be the downfall of a man; that this should be the supreme reward for whomever wishes to possess a complete understanding of the miracle of Creation. It is worthy of pity at the very least.

With the candle snuffed out, my eyes closed in trust of God’s mercy and sleep about to approach, my mind began to wander. I recalled that as a child I was witness to the serious injuries suffered by a house servant, from a cooking-pot lid flying out of control. The poor wretch had covered the pot first with the lid and then a plank of wood on top, so that the vegetables or poultry – whatever the dish was – would cook more quickly in the trapped steam. The vessel expelled both lid and plank with such force that the unfortunate girl ended up with a frightful gash on her forehead. The enormous loss of blood resulted in her death, as the doctors did not know how to close the wound and stop the haemorrhage (the image of that flowing blood remains forever imprinted upon my memory).

I thought much that night and was afeared.  It was the Devil himself who was introducing those wicked ideas into my mind, and it was he who was rummaging in the moldy chest of my memories to win me over to his treacherous cause.  I did cast aside my thoughts and resolve to fall sleep saying the rosary. But my fate was sealed.

It must be said that from that time onwards rarely did I feel melancholy again, although I did feel a form of sorrow for my sins. My constant companion was the manuscript of Gaspar de Sotomayor, that errant converso who was burned at the stake. I kept it close and at certain times, whenever solitude coincided with inclination, I followed the investigations that he had sketched out. Nearly forty years have passed since then, with all the burden of the fates of innumerable executed prisoners upon my shoulders for unavoidably doing my duty.

During this time I have managed to produce a contraption, which uses the force of steam to easily move a small cart with four wheels along a track whose boundaries are marked on parallel sides with two beams of iron.  I think that it would not be very difficult to increase the dimensions of this mechanism, thus making it large enough to allow people to be seated and transported in it. This is a task that, nevertheless, is not granted to me to continue. Various details remain unresolved that are vital to the completion of Sotomayor’s scheme.  I have helped somewhat, but unfortunately my time has now come to an end.  For tomorrow, I too am condemned to burn. Yet my secret hope is that someone, as sold to the Devil as I am (to my deep regret, as God well knows) someone will take care of the manuscript that follows from this brief introduction, and their efforts will crown the work of many years and two wretched executed sinners.

My only hope is that God will have mercy on me and forgive my weakness, this unpardonable sin which compels me to trust that the legacy of my pact with the Devil will continue to perpetuate itself amongst mankind.


“El Reo”

Published in Francisco Umbral et al., Tatuaje, Madrid, Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles, 1991.

De todos los casos que mi larga vida (tengo ochenta y siete años) me ha concedido ver, existe uno que dejó hondas cicatrices en el interior de mi endurecido corazón. Tendría unos cuarenta y tantos, cuando en la ciudad de Sevilla me tocó asistir a un juicio singular. Estoy seguro de que cualquier otro miembro de mi orden hubiera afrontando la tarea como una más entre las muchas que jalonan la vida de un hombre consagrado a este particular servicio de Dios. Sin embargo, a la postre, el breve proceso concluyó para mí con consecuencias más terribles que aquéllas a las que me tenían acostumbrado los monótonos juicios.

Era primavera. Lo recuerdo porque Sevilla queda envuelta en un hálito especial cuando esa estación eclosiona con toda su potencia y porque siempre me ha afectado enfermizamente ese aflorar tan carente de equilibrio con que la naturaleza parece reírse de nosotros, taciturnas criaturas sumidas en este valle de lágrimas. Se me antoja una más de las dolientes burlas de Satanás. Por eso, precisamente, Sevilla fue para mí una ciudad menos hospitalaria de lo que se suele proclamar. Aseguraría que cuando avisté el humilladero y enfilé el último tramo de mi largo viaje, el tibio frescor que emanaba de la urbe, y que llegaba hasta mí envuelto en exóticos perfumes florales, me provocaba deseos de escapar.

Honrado es confesar que no pasaba mi existencia por los mejores momentos. Algunos asuntillos en Toledo y determinadas intrigas de baja estofa junto al superior de la orden habían nublado mis últimos meses de estancia en la corte. Por otro lado, recuerdo que la mala calidad de mi silla de montar era la causante de que el espinazo de la muía que cabalgaba se me clavara en ciertos recovecos de mi cuerpo. Por más que se lo ofrecí a Nuestro Señor como mortificación por mis muchas culpas, la carne se empecinaba en recordarme continuamente la baja y débil materia de la que estamos hechos.

Me alojé en unas estancias especiales preparadas dentro del Castillo de San Jorge Allí sólo se aposentaban huéspedes de rango inferior o medio como yo; de otro lado el tener debajo del catre los calabozos de los reos no me pareció el mejor remedio para superar mi melancolía. Parecían señales que auguraban (lo comprendí posteriormente) el final nada feliz del proceso que iba a tener allí su escenario. No obstante, me dispuse a juzgar con ecuanimidad y rigor las vicisitudes de un caso que, por irrelevante que fuese, merecía tanta dedicación como cualquier otro.

Al día siguiente, una vez celebrada la Santa Misa y las oraciones habituales y después de una extensa conversación con los hermanos, descendí a los calabozos en compañía de los otros miembros del tribunal, fray Jerónimo y fray Juan. Tras atravesar un sinfín de lóbregos corredores y marearme en un dédalo de confusos pasadizos llegamos junto al reo. Ofrecía el aspecto normal de quien ha sido sometido a los medios acostumbrados para confesar infamias, si bien el verdugo nos había informado de que sus primitivas intenciones de valor habíanse pronto trocado en ruegos de clemencia seguidos de todo tipo de detalles delatores de sus actividades, lo que había evitado la aplicación exhaustiva de tormento. No parecía persona curtida ni hecho a privaciones o adversidades. Su rostro era fino; sus modales y porte se adivinaban señoriales tras la espesa cortina de dolor y sufrimiento que siempre marcan los cuerpos de los acusados.

Era Gaspar de Sotomayor, descendiente de marranos (muy converso sí, pero marrano al fin), que había amasado su fortuna gracias al comercio con las Indias. Pretendió engañar la buena fe de sus vecinos simulando una existencia decente y conforme a los mandamientos de Nuestro Señor y de su Santa Madre la Iglesia. Sin embargo, sus actividades e inclinaciones habían sido descubiertas por buenos cristianos, un tanto envidiosos de sus riquezas, cierto es, pero útiles. Saber aprovechar las debilidades humanas para el buen servicio de Cristo es una de las paradojas del oficio de inquisidor; aunque en opinión mía, este hecho es muestra de la infinita sabiduría del Creador, que ha conseguido darles profunda validez a las pruebas de la falibilidad del hombre. Alguien más avezado que yo para las letras y, sobre todo, con más tiempo por delante en el sendero de su vida, debería escribir un tratado sobre este particular, pues para mí tengo que sería una buena justificación de las maldades humanas y expondría a la tibia luz de los mortales la inabarcable bondad del Salvador. Bien podría titularse De utilibus vitiis, seu dissertatio de optima sapientia Dei.

Gaspar de Sotomayor (por nada del mundo se me olvidará el nombre) confesó estar en tratos con el Diablo y ejercer de brujo en las recónditas sinuosidades que había mandado excavar por los sótanos de su casa. Allí practicaba la alquimia y otras artes de escasa utilidad para el Reino de Dios. El delator fue un vecino, el notario de la Casa de Contratación, don Martín Diéguez, cristiano viejo y castellano de Burgos. Estaba cansado de oír raros estruendos que tenían su origen en la casa del reo y cuyas sacudidas no velaba lo escondido de las estancias donde elaboraba sus ingenios y mantenía tratos con Satán. En las estanterías de su biblioteca, además, fueron hallados durante un posterior examen libros de Erasmo de Rotterdam, Juan de Valdés, Miguel Servet y algunos otros herejes, iluminados y demás gentes de raras doctrinas.

Una vez de regreso a la superficie de la tierra y tras respirar con gusto el aire fresco (al menos me era dado apreciar el vivificador talante de la brisa del río, junto al cual se levanta el Castillo de San Jorge), leímos con atención las actas que levantara fray Jerónimo en la sala de confesiones. También recuerdo que la pierna de cordero servida para la ocasión y regado con tinto de no sé qué cepas dejó tan agradables huellas en mi estómago que alivió momentáneamente la indisposición de mi alma.

El acusado, en suma, era culpable por propia confesión y merecía la hoguera. Poco había que discutir. Todo estaba claro. Así decidido, firmamos la sentencia. Pensé que asunto tan baladí quizás no hubiera merecido el largo y agotador viaje. Pero el deber se imponía y aquéllas eran mis obligaciones.

Mi partida estaba prevista para dos o tres días después. Me decidí, entonces, a descansar antes de echarme de nuevo al polvoriento camino que conduce hacia la corte y hacia las zafias conjuras con que se ve adornada su perezosa existencia. Para hacer más llevadero el tiempo que restaba y dado que no era de mi apetencia pasear por Sevilla, me enfrasqué en la lectura de un manuscrito que había sido confiscado al reo y donde, al parecer, quedaba constancia de sus enredos con el Diablo.

Poco tiempo me ocuparon sus anotaciones, que eran escuetas. Primeramente, me resultó risible pretender, como él exponía con apretada letra de reminiscencia y complejidad similares a la griega, que con el vapor que exhalan las ollas al cocer se pueden mover objetos. Luego de sonreír, me invadió una infinita ola de pesar, al caer en cuenta de la inacabable miseria que vierte el maligno. Pobres compensaciones da a sus esclavos por entregarle sus almas: que los vapores de una olla perdieran a un nombre y que esto fuera el supremo beneficio para quien desea poseer la comprensión total del milagro de la Creación, resulta, cuando menos, digno de lástima.

Antes de dormir, con la vela ya apagada y mis ojos cerrados en la confianza de la misericordia del Señor, mi mente comenzó a volar y a rememorar como en mi niñez fui testigo de las graves heridas que una tapadera sin gobierno había causado a una de las sirvientas de mi casa. La infeliz había cubierto una olla y había depositado encima una tabla de madera para que, sin posible escape de vapores, pudieran cocerse ante no recuerdo qué legumbres o aves. Con tanta fuerza expidió el recipiente los dos objetos que cubrían el guiso que la pobre muchacha acabó con una escandalosa brecha en la frente. La desmesurada pérdida de sangre (ver fluir su sangre es uno de los recuerdos más indelebles de mi vida) la condujo a la muerte, ya que los médicos no supieron cerrar la herida y detener la hemorragia.

Recuerdo que aquella noche pensé mucho y que sentí miedo. Era el Diablo quien me introducía esas perversas ocurrencias en la mente y quien revolvía el arcón mohoso de mis recuerdos para ganarme a su pérfida causa. Deseché mis pensamientos y me propuse dormir con el rezo del rosario. Mas la suerte estaba ya fijada.

Desde entonces raramente volví a sentir melancolías, es menester decirlo; aunque sí dolor por mis pecados. He llevado sin cesar el manuscrito de Gaspar d Sotomayor, el marrano que ardió en la hoguera, junto a mí y, en ciertas ocasiones, siempre que la soledad acompañaba mis deseos, he perseguido las investigaciones que él pergeñara en su obra. Al cabo de casi cuarenta años desde aquel acontecimiento y con una incontable multitud de ajusticiados a mis espaldas por haber cumplido inevitablemente con mi deber, he logrado fabricar un mecanismo que, aprovechando la fuerza del vapor, puede desplazar sin problemas un pequeño carro en miniatura a través de un camino que está limitado a sus dos costados por dos varas paralelas de hierro sobre las que corren las cuatro ruedas del vehículo. Creo que aumentar su reducido tamaño y fabricarlo en unas dimensiones que permitieran el acomodo de personas y su transporte no sería muy difícil. Es una tarea que, sin embargo, ya no me ha sido concedido a mí continuarla. Quedan numerosas nimiedades por resolver para concluir algún día con el proyecto de Gaspar de Sotomayor. Yo he ayudado en algo, mas, desgraciadamente, mi tiempo se acaba. Mañana voy a arder también yo. Y mi secreta esperanza es que alguien, tan vendido al Diablo como yo (bien sabe Dios que a mi pesar), se cuide del manuscrito que sigue a esta breve introducción y corone con sus desvelos la labor de muchos años y de dos míseros pecadores ajusticiados.

Sólo aspiro a que Dios me perdone y comprenda mi debilidad, esta imperdonable debilidad que me obliga a confiar en que el producto de mis tratos con el Diablo siga perpetuándose entre los hombres.

✶✶✶✶

Emilio Díaz Rolando was born in Seville in 1958. He holds a PhD in Classical Studies (Greek) from the University of Seville in Spain and was professor of Ancient Greek in secondary institutions in Seville. He received an Outstanding PhD Thesis Award in 1994. Dr. Díaz Rolando has published a wide range of work: articles, short stories, essays, and translations of Byzantine literature, notably Anna Komnene’s The Alexiad which won the National Award for Best Translation from the Ministry of Culture (Spain) in 1989. He is retired and lives in a village in the province of Córdoba, Spain. The author’s original Spanish story, ‘El Reo’ made the final shortlist in 1990 for the Antonio Machado short story prize, organised by the Spanish Railway Foundation.

Ana Beard is a freelance translator who grew up in London, UK in an Anglo-Spanish family. She wrote a play which was performed by a small theatre company. She spent a year in Mexico as part of an English/Spanish degree and read a paper on the poem ‘El Sueño’ by the Marquis of Santillana at a conference held by the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Subsequently Ana provided support to the Musicians’ Union. Recent work includes an English translation of José Pablo García’s graphic novel ‘Vidas Ocupadas’. She maintains a lifelong passion for literature, song writing and art. Contact https://colourwordtranslations.com