Miracle on the Vineyard

03/03/2017 10:04

La Viña – vineyard - neighbourhood, one of the most popular in Cadiz old town, was named so for an obvious reason, vines grew up there, one of the lowest areas in the city. On Sundays noon, some restaurants set up their tables out. Customers enjoy fried fish and other delicacies of Cadiz cuisine, sardines, shrimps, seasoned roe…

Overpassed the rows of tables, at the end of Palma Street, now a pedestrian area, there’s Nuestra Señora de la Palma church, built between 1693 and 1696 as the seat of the Compañía del Rosario del Ave María founded by the Capuchin Friar Pablo de Cádiz. The bright white baroque interior with double balconies leans toward the altar, chaired by an Immaculate Conception. On the left, the Brotherhood of Mercy chapel, store a crucifix and a banner with the image of the Virgin with an uncommon history. This begins in the Atlantic Ocean, near San Vicente Cape.

On All Saints morning, 1755, at 9 and 50 minutes, the fault ranging from Azores to Gibraltar repeatedly shook the earth with an intensity that reached 8'7 degrees in Richter scale. Shook once again at 10 and even had another replica at noon. Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, one of the top cities in eighteenth-century Europe, was devastated, losing nearly a quarter of its residents. More than 50,000 people dead. The earthquake was followed by fires and a large tsunami. In Spain, earthquake effects reached Madrid and Seville, where damaged 89 percent of the homes. Even Giralda tower cracked. In the Andalusian coast, Ayamonte suffered the loss of more than one thousand lives. Lepe just four. In the Isle of Leon - today San Fernando - there were 26 victims, and also affected Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda towns.

The tsunami reached Cadiz in three consecutive waves. They reached, as it’s said, up to sixty feet high, breaking stretches of the city walls and moving pieces of masonry weighting up to ten tons more than 130 feet away into the city, from the creek to the dock. Parishioners took pictures and figures out their parishes and churches in a desperate attempt to calm the waters. At Our Lady of La Palma, monk Bernard of Cadiz and priest Francisco Macias left the chapel carrying a crucifix and a banner, those remaining inside the church on the left window. They say that the friar nailed the banner on the floor preaching: -So far, my Mother. After, the pleading waters meekly receded leaving the parish harmless. Today, in the restored Palma Street, near the church, a plaque nearly nine feet from the ground shows the level reached by the huge tide. Another one recalls the event in Spanish and English, and an older one third relates the facts as follows: Vn sacerdote saca feruoroso el Guion de la Ymagen de la Palma. De aqui no pases dice, al mar furioso. Y al punto el mar se vuelve, y todo calma. Por caso tan notable y prodigioso. Esta ylustre Hermandad con vida y alma de Dios y de Maria en honra y gloria erigio en gratitud esta memoria. (A fervent priest took out the Inage of la Palma. Don’t go further says to the furious sea. Immediately the sea turns back and everything calms down. For so notorious and prodigious matter. This Illustrious Brotherhood with life and soul of God and Mary in honour and glory herein erected in gratitude.) Since then on, every first of November, in La Viña neighbourhood, Virgen de la Palma is taken out in procession.

But the Lisbon earthquake had more consequences. In Spain, Ferdinand VI ordered the Supreme Council of Castile a report to assess as accurately as possible the effects of the cataclysm. An extensive survey was conducted receiving 1273 answers from the towns that suffered the earthquake detailing enough about its scope. In fact, it is the first study ever made about an earthquake aftermath and was preserved in full in the National Historical Archive in Madrid. However, it wasn’t published until 2001 by the Ministry of Development, and it was so thanks to the work of José Manuel Martínez Solares, Geophysics head of the National Geographic Institute.

In the years following the earth movement, at the height of the Enlightenment, raised important philosophical discussions, particularly about theology and theodicy, hardly trying to justify such manifestation of divine wrath. Scientific reasoning and natural explanation exempt responsibilities to allow supernatural arguments. Voltaire treated the subject in Candide and in the Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne, written the year after the earthquake, exclaiming: Erroneous Philosophers who claims: everything is right! / Run, behold these terrible ruins / these wastes, these rags, these unfortunate ashes / These women, these children stacked one onto another / These limbs scattered all over these broken marbles / hundred thousand unfortunates devoured by earth. Between 1755 and 1759, German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote three pamphlets on the Lisbon earthquake being published in the local Königsberg newspaper, Köningsbergische wöchenlitche Frag Nachrichten, in which he meditated on the great events that affect the fate of all men and causing the laudable curiosity awaken to all that is extraordinary and that raises the question of its causes. He thought it was mandatory to scientist disclose the knowledge gained through observation and analysis, even though he kept to derive these scientific issues to moral considerations.

More than two hundred fifty years have gone since the disaster. Cadiz has lost most of the walls that reduced the tsunami, so in case of a new one Virgen de la Palma should be used thoroughly. Anyway, the only tides that occur in La Viña neighbourhood are human and usually happen in Carnival days.

© J.L.Nicolas


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