Not far from the Garden of the Widows, in Burgos, lived a cobbler who was so poor that he had not even smiled for many years. Every day he saw the widow ladies pass his small shop on the way to and from the garden; but in their bereavement it would not have been considered correct for them to have bestowed a glance on him, and they required all the money they could scrape together, after making ample provision for their comfort—which, as ladies, they did not neglect—to pay for Masses for the repose of the souls of their husbands, according to the doctrines of the faith which was pinned on to them in childhood.
The priests, however, would sometimes bestow their blessing on Sancho the cobbler; but beyond words he got nothing from the comforters of the widows and of the orphans.
Some of the great families would have their boots soled by him; but being very great and rich people, they demanded long credit, so that he was heard to say that a rich man’s money was almost as scarce as virtue.
Now, one night, when he was about to close his shop, a lovely young widow lady pushed her way by him into the shop, and sitting on the only chair in the room, she bid him close the door immediately, as she had something to say to him in confidence.
Being a true Spaniard, he showed no surprise, but obeyed orders, and stood before the young widow lady, who, after looking at him carefully for a minute, implored him to go upstairs and see that the windows were secure and the shutters barred and bolted.
This done, he again stood before her, when she showed signs of fear, and requested him to ensure against the doors being burst open by piling what furniture he had against them and against the shutters; and then, assuring herself that she was safe, she exclaimed—
“Ah, friend Sancho, it is good to beware of evil tongues. I come to you because I know you to be honest and silent. To-night you must sleep on the roof; get out through the skylight, and I will rest here.”
To refuse a lady’s commands, however singular they may be, is not in the nature of a Spaniard, so Sancho got out through the skylight, when the young widow began screaming, “Let me out, kind people—let me out!”
The cobbler was now very much afraid of the consequences, especially as the night watchmen were banging against the street door, which they soon forced, knocking all the furniture which had been placed against it into the middle of the room.
When inside, they discovered the lovely young widow, who exclaimed—
“Good men, I am Guiomar, of Torrezon, widow of the noble Pedro de Torrezon, and because my late husband was owing Sancho for soling a pair of boots, I came here to pay the debt; but Sancho would have detained me against my will. He is concealed on the roof of the house, and if you leave me here he will murder me.”
Then she naturally fainted and screamed for so long a time that the street was soon full of people who, hearing what had happened, cried out against Sancho.
The watchmen having secured him, he was led before the alcaide, and, being a poor man, he was sent to prison until such time as Donna Guiomar should feel disposed to pardon him.
At the end of a year Donna Guiomar obtained his liberty, but on the condition that he should forthwith proceed to Rome and do penance, which was to count for the benefit of her deceased husband.
This act of piety on her part was very much approved of by the priests, who required of Sancho that during the whole of his pilgrimage there he should not shave, nor have his hair nor his nails cut. He was, furthermore, to wear a suit of horse-hair cloth next to his skin, and was to subsist solely on onions, garlic, maize bread, and pure water.
But liberty is so sweet that Sancho did not mind his hard fare, and he went on his way to Rome repeating penitential prayers, while his hair and beard grew until his head and face were nearly hidden.
Arrived at Rome, the people wondered much to see such a strange-looking being; but when he opened his mouth to inquire his way to St. Peter’s, so strong was the smell of onions and garlic that the people, accustomed as they were to these vegetables, could not stand against it, and as Sancho spoke in a foreign tongue they could not have understood him very easily.
At last he met a priest who was kind enough to listen to him, and he said he would be allowed audience of the Pope next morning with other pilgrims, but that meantime he had better confess what his fault had been.
Sancho recounted all about the lovely young widow, and the priest very properly admonished him for having dared to frighten a lady whose anxiety respecting her deceased husband was quite enough of sorrow without having it added to by being forcibly detained by a cobbler.
“It is a pity,” said the worthy priest, “that you were not handed over to the inquisitorial brothers, for they would have burned you before you were allowed to import the odour of all the fields of Spanish onions and garlic into the Eternal City. It is a sign of the bad times that are approaching when errant cobblers are allowed to vitiate the precincts of St. Peter’s with their pestilential breath. To-morrow you will be regaled with a view—mind, only a view—of his holiness’s toe, and then you must depart this city.”
Sancho recognized the truth of what the good priest said, and, having refreshed himself with some more onions and a glass of water, he lay down to sleep behind one of the large stone pillars and slept until next morning, when the large bell of the cathedral awoke him. He then hurried in to the presence of the Pope, nor had he much difficulty in so doing, for the other pilgrims were glad to get out of his way. Bowing low before the golden chair, he exclaimed—
“One weary soul, though cobbler he by trade,
Comes here to seek a pardon for his sin;
Most holy father, ere the daylight fade,
Oh, let me in!
“From sunny Spain, where runs the Arlanzon,
To thee, oh, father, come I now to crave
That thou wilt raise Don Pedro Torrezon
From restless grave,
“And to his widow him restore again.
This done, dismiss me to my home in peace,
To be thy servant as a priest in Spain,
And faith increase.”
To which the Pope replied—
“We smelt thee from afar, oh, son of Spain;
We know thy errand, and we grant thy prayer.
Where onions shed their perfume, son, remain,
Thy presence spare.
“Yes, spare us all thy Spanish odours strong;
Return unto thy country, Sancho—go;
And as a blessing on thy journey long,
Stoop, kiss our toe.”
And when Sancho got back to Burgos he was met by Don Pedro de Torrezon, who, half in anger and half in sorrow, exclaimed—
“Good Sancho, I would spend eternity
Surrounded by the pains of purgat’ry,
Than be restored unto this mortal life,
Where purgat’ry is but the name for wife.”
The Cobbler of Burgos – Tales from the Lands of Nuts and Grapes