SOUL OF DE ARAGÓN

By Prof. Dr. Guillermo Fatás *

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The contribution of Aragón to the Spanish culture can be regarded, generally speaking, in two ways.

-On the one hand, we must consider the contribution of the Aragonese outstanding figures, there have been many in spite of the limited population of Aragón at all times, who have strongly influenced the Spanish culture. Just to name a few real Aragonese characters, we have the first great statesman of the Modern Age, the most relevant heterodox character of our Renaissance, persecuted by the Inquisition and burned at the stake by Calvin, in Geneva; the most refined and sound Spanish historian of the XVIth century, Jerónimo Zurita the most important thinker of the Baroque period and one of the top figures of Baroque philosophy of the XVIIth century, Baltasar Gracián, whose reading is always fresh and up-to-date; the two writers in the most refined Castilian of the Golden Age (according to the great Lope de Vega), the brothers Leonardo de Argensola José de Calasanz, founder of the first school free of charge in Europe, at a time when this idea was at the same time utopian and feared; the most extraordinary artistic genius of the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, Francisco de Goya, probably the most well-known Spanish figure, even above Cervantes; the two most representative thinkers of "Regenerationism", the lawyer Joaquín Costa and the geologist Lucas Mallada ; Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the top Spanish scientist and neurologist of the XXth century (today one of the most frequently mentioned in the specialized world bibliography, a hundred years after his discoveries); and one of the most unclassifiable, incisive film directors of all times, Luis Buñuel Portolés.

-On the other hand, we can also perceive some type of collective contribution, more complex and difficult to define, which could be summarized in two outstanding aspects. The first one is a special way of considering the rights of the individual people. The Aragonese legal tradition, which springs from custom and then takes the status of law, presents astonishing characteristics, due to its precociousness. Right in the Middle Ages a minor, assisted by a council, can make decisions from the age of fourteen, and a widow can not be forsaken by her children; from the Gothic times on, Aragonese citizens, if they are under the protection of the charter of Aragón, can not be subjected to the torture usually applied in the penal cases all over Europe, they can make use of a Court of Appeals even to the King himself (the Court of Justice of Aragón), something totally unusual, and they can apply for "habeas corpus". Also striking is the principle, nearly one thousand years old, that the law can not prevail over the decisions agreed upon by private individuals, if they were free to make those decisions: that is the meaning of the old aphorism "let papers speak and beards be quiet", that is to say, where there are papers signed by two free people, judges and lawyers (beards) have nothing to say. And, also, something that in the Middle Ages was an exceptional breakthrough: no one can be forced to do what is impossible ("ad impossibilia nemo tenetur"). This fondness of the Aragonese people for their personal freedom has deeply marked their history and, through its influence, the history of Spain, since many of these Aragonese institutions have been included, often with the explicit mention of the Aragonese traditions, in the different Spanish Constitutions, even though today they look like natural, logical principles. From this fondness for their freedoms the Aragonese people have acquired a reputation for being stubborn, and occasionally they have become the target of easy, gross jokes, simply because people have forgotten the real reasons for their character. Notwithstanding all of this, already in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, politicians and writers in and out of Spain, such as Voltaire, the Founding Fathers of the American Constitution, De Amicis, Menéndez Pelayo, and the Catalan Víctor Balaguer, admired this unflagging determination of the Aragonese people in the defense of their laws and liberties.

-Secondly, we find that, derived from this attitude of the Aragonese people, they had a peculiar way of conceiving politics. The kingdom of Aragón was ruled by a dynasty with the same name, the House of Aragón, "the Aragons", which absorbed the dynasty of the countship of Barcelona in 1150, in compliance with a marriage and adoption pact signed in 1137. The king, who later became the head of an extraordinary group of States (the so-called "Crown of Aragón"), was quite restricted by the laws ("the charter") of the Kingdom of Aragón, to which he had to swear allegiance, before succeeding to the throne and becoming sovereign of other kingdoms, countships, marquisates, and lordships which made up his "Crown". The Aragons, who reigned over half the Mediterranean, behaved toward their subjects of all origins (Catalan, Balearics, Valencians, Neapolitans, Sicilians, Corsicans, Sardinians, Roussillonese, etc.) according to a system very respectful with the "constitutions" of their States, who always maintained their personality, their laws, currencies, etc. Occasionally, the king (always one from the Aragón dynasty) called on a great universal parliament (Cortes Generales of his Hispanic States), where the bases of their joint policies were laid down through a pact: this "pactism", very different from the authoritarian rule of the kings in the rest of Europe, was taken to the Crown of Spain by Ferdinand II of Aragsn and V of Castile, whose marriage to Elizabeth I of Castile did not mean the "castilianization" of the Crown of Aragón, where each State maintained its peculiarities. In this sense, and keeping in mind the distance in time, the political talent of Aragsn and its "Aragsn" dynasty has today, in the State of Autonomies and in the European Union, a scent of great modernity.

 

* Prof. Dr. Guillermo Fatás. Professor Chairman of Ancient History, University of Zaragoza. Director of the Journal "Heraldo de Aragón" .

Zaragoza - December-2000

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