Novelist. Author of APSARAS and tales from the beautiful Saigh Valley. First person to quantify spiritual values.

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Thursday 18 March 2010

The Legend of San Martín Bridge, Toledo

Two centuries after the original San Martín bridge was destroyed in the devastating floods of 1023, the Archbishop Tenorio of Toledo ordered that it be rebuilt, thereby, re-establishing the route to the west.
The architect chosen to rebuild the bridge across the river Tagus (Rio Tajo) was a citizen of the town, Juan de Arévalo, a man of vision whose design incorporated a forty metre central span, one of the largest in the known world at the time.
The new bridge, built on the site of the old was eventually completed, despite the difficulties of working in the constantly raging waters of the river and Juan was satisfied that only the clearing away of the scaffolding and wooden building supports remained to be done. The bridge was magnificent and he was happy that the commanding structure would be a lasting testament to his skill and a fitting symbol of the power and majesty of his beloved city.
Juan wasted no time informing the Archbishop who decided to perform the opening ceremony the very next day, the fiesta to mark the Patron Saint of Toledo, San Ildefonso. He ordered that the opening be proclaimed throughout the town, and that all the church bells should be rung in triumphant expectation.
It was evening and the last of the builders had returned to their homes and Juan decided to take one last look at the works to ensure that all was ready for the grand opening the next day. He admired the bridge from a distance before climbing up the supports to take a look from the inside of one of the three arches. His eyes first took in the foaming waters far below and as he next scanned the arches, the colour suddenly drained form his face. In a mind shattering moment he realised that he had made an error in his calculations. He had underestimated the forces of the water and accordingly wrongly built the bridge. He knew that at the time of the next flood, the bridge would fail and inevitably collapse into the river. As he trudged back towards his home he couldn't shake off the despair; his dreams were destroyed, his reputation would be ruined and his name synonymous with failure. The shame for his poor wife and family would be unbearable.
As he reached his home and entered his kitchen, his happy wife Catalina, seeing his pale face,immediately knew something was wrong.
"Oh my God! What's happened? Are you ill?" she asked, as her usual smile disappeared from her lips.
Juan sat down and wept as he told his wife what he'd done and despite her soothing and encouraging words he couldn't be consoled. Nor would he take anything to eat or drink.
"I'm not even sure if I have an appetite to live any longer," he told her.
By now it was getting late and Catalina told him that nothing more could be done and they should go to bed.
"Trust in the Lord," she told him. "He will find a way."
Appreciating the sense of what his wife said, he retired to bed and tired by stress and work he fell into a fitful and troubled sleep. Meanwhile, Catalina, who had pretended to be asleep, carefully slipped out of bed. She first went to the kitchen and put a still burning ember from the fire into a box before putting on her big coat and going outside. A fog had descended and visibility was already restricted as she crossed the yard to the stables for some straw. It was a kilometer's walk to the bridge, across some exposed waste land and she set off, frightened by the clinging fog and the thought of what she had to do. Eventually she reached the bridge and stood on the edge of the ravine. By now a wind had blown up and although the fog had disappeared it had been replaced by light rainfall and Catalina could hear thunder as a storm approached from the west. She was terrified; the sound of the river raging below added to her fear of heights, but she knew she had to ignore her own demons and somehow make her way to the water's side. Sometimes stumbling, she scrambled down the slope tightly clutching her box and the bag of straw until the reached the foot of the pine joists that filled the arches.
The lightning was beginning to flash, illuminating the arches in a harsh bluish light and allowing her to see where to place her straw kindling. She applied the still glowing ember and the rising wind allowed it to take hold, so that within a short time the flames were licking up the structures. Catalina backed away and watched as the fire became an inferno and satisfied that her job was done reclimbed the slope, now well lit by the flames, and returned home. She was pleased to find her husband still asleep and unaware as she slipped into bed next to him.
Next morning Juan was woken by the sound of banging on his door as neighbours came to tell him the news. The storm had destroyed his bridge and the opening was to be delayed.
Catalina smiled to herself. Never before in her life had she committed a naughty deed, but filled with love and concern for her husband she would have consorted with the devil rather than see him suffer.
Juan set to work to repair the damaged bridge, believing he had been saved by the Lord, making sure that his re-calculations were incorporated in the new structure. Twelve months later, the bridge was finally opened to great acclaim by the Archbishop on the day of the fiesta of San Ildefonso. The architect, Juan de Arévalo, was fêted as a great architect throughout Toledo, never knowing that without the love and determination of his wife it would have been so very different.

The story was originally written by Antonio de Trueba and this adaption was taken from a book of Spanish short stories compiled by MB Shaw. Adapted and translated by the author.

To view the original newspaper layout, please click on the link below.

Kevill Davies is author of 'Apsaras'. Available at most on line book shops.
Read more on his Indaloblog at

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