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The Lovers of Teruel: A Spanish love story to rival Romeo and Juliet

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The Lovers of Teruel: A Spanish love story to rival Romeo and Juliet
All photos: Depositphotos
08:52 CET+01:00
Forget Romeo and Juliet. This Spanish love story which according to legend took place in the Spanish city of Teruel in 1217 is at least as tragic as the famous Shakespeare play. And might yet carry a twist in the tale.

A tale of star-crossed lovers

As legend has it, there were two wealthy families in Teruel in the early 13th century: the Marcillas and the Seguras. Beautiful Isabel belonged to the latter while her childhood playmate and soon-to-be lover Juan Martinez, also known as Diego, was a Marcilla.

But, by the time they were old enough to marry, the Marcillas had hit upon hard times and lost all their wealth and Isabel's father therefore forbade the engagement with Diego. However, the young lovers convinced him to grant Diego five years to head out into the world and make fortune and become eligible marriage material.

Alas, five years later on the very day of the deadline, and with no word from Diego, Isabel was betrothed to another.

And of course, arriving too late to stop the wedding, Diego now a wealthy man and as eager to marry his beloved Isabel as he was on the day he left, turned up at the city gate.

Isabel marries another at the traditional festival in Teruel.

That night, a distraught Diego climbed into his sweetheart's room where she was sleeping next to her new husband and asked her for a kiss, which she declined. A married woman, kissing another? An unthinkable sin for pious Isabel.

Diego then asked her again, only to be turned down once more. Not being able to bear the pain, he died on the spot.

At the burial on the following day, Isabel wore her wedding dress. When she bent down to give Diego's body the kiss that she had denied to the living man, she died as well, collapsing over the corpse of the man she had loved all her life.

The tombs of Isabel and Diego

The legend is thought to have evolved after the discovery of two mummified corpses in 1553, one female and one male. The townsfolk believed them to be Isabel de Segura and Diego de Marcilla and claimed they should be buried together, to lie in eternity by each other's side.  Which they then were.

The hands of the sculptures are almost touching, but not quite: It was considered inappropriate for a married woman to touch any man but her husband.

Nothing but fiction?

The carved tombs that host the bodies can still be visited in Teruel and have become a popular tourist attraction, even though, not surprisingly, there is some controversy about their authenticity and the historical truth behind the legend.

In 2015, the historian Fernando López Rajadel who specializes on the middle ages carried out an archaeological study which included the examination of the supposed bodies of the famous couple. What he found was quite unexpected: It seems, the female had given birth to a child before she died, making it impossible for her to be Isabel. The reason for this assumption was the width of her pelvis that was untypical for such a supposedly young woman.

The re-enactment of the burial ceremony of Diego de Marcilla. Is all of this based on false assumptions?

López Rajadel instead suggested that the remains in the tombs are not those of lovers, but those of mother and son.

He is convinced that the legend of Isabel and Diego is in fact only that: a legend, made up by members of the Marcilla family in the 15th century in order to extol their family history.

Another fact that supports the thesis that the love story is fictional is that the Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a suspiciously similar tale in 1353.

READ MORE: Were legendary lovers really mother and son?

Las Bodas de Isabel de Segura

But never let fact get in the way of a good story. Or the chance for a town to throw a fiesta! 

Every year around February 14th, Teruel hosts the festival of Las Bodas de Isabel de Seguraa re-enactment of Isabel and Diego's tragic love story.

So, while there might not be a definite answer about the degree of fiction and truth of the legend - romance needs neither historical certainty nor a happy ending to be romantic.

So for anyone who is still looking for a unique way to celebrate Valentine's day this year or who simply would like to experience a Spanish culture tradition, Teruel might just be the place to be.

READ MORE: How to speak the Spanish language of love

By Leslie Fried / The Local Spain

 

 
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