IT’S early evening and we call at the Andalucian spa town of Lanjaron because we’ve heard a fiesta is taking place tonight. We discover a mediaeval fair with stalls selling trinkets, soap, candles, wickerwork, implements of torture and barbecued meat, plus music and dancing. It’s all very interesting but curiously familiar . . .
While wandering through the street market and listening to the minstrels, it occurs to me that I’ve always considered the mediaeval period to be a uniquely British chapter in the history of Europe – Ivanhoe; Robin Hood; Richard the Lionheart; bad King John; Runnymede; the legends of King Arthur; Richard Green laughing heartily in the boughs of an oak. That sort of thing.
I’ve obviously fallen into a trap, cunningly disguised with leaves by ITV programme planners back in the 1950s, and assumed we had the monopoly on knights and castles and heraldry, and that once you ventured beyond the Channel there was something else – I don’t know what exactly, just something else. Similar stuff but different, and with a Continental flavour that set it apart.
But here in Lanjaron there are Spanish knights who resemble English knights. There are Spanish ladies who might be English ladies. There are Spanish musicians playing drums and Spanish bagpipes. There’s a Spanish falconer who would not look out of place beneath a bleak grey sky on a windy English heath. Robin Hood could melt into this crowd and disappear. So long as he didn’t start slapping his thigh.
The mediaeval period was dominated by the Crusades, that series of crazy wars when warriors from across Europe flocked behind Christian banners and marched and sailed for thousands of miles to wrest Jerusalem from the hands of Islam.
This part of Spain was, in those distant times, firmly in the grip of the Moors (mostly Arabs and Berbers). It was an integral part of the Islamic world and remained so until the 15th Century. Andalucia was the front line, not a quiet backwater where ladies awaited the return of their lords and ruffians caroused in the greenwood.
It’s interesting to note that the Islamic past and the Christian present appear to have fused together almost seamlessly. This is still very much a land of mixtures and dovetailed traditions. Yet it works, and it feels positive. And that can’t be a bad thing.
So this is Lanjaron’s mediaeval festival – as familiar and as entertaining as mediaeval festivals right across Europe, I suppose. We leave before the end, just in case Sean Connery’s been booked to gallop on for the grand finale with the cross of St George emblazoned on his tunic. Mind you, that always gets a cheer.