Who inspired Cervantes to create the character of Dulcinea? Was it the same woman complimented by Cervantes in an act that cost him jail in the Medrano Cave in Argamasilla de Alba?
These are some of the questions that he has been trying to answer for years Pilar Serrano de Menchén. This writer and researcher is an expert Cervantist who looked at a painting in the church in this town of Ciudad Real to document part of her extensive research.
It is a painting of the Virgen de la Caridad de Illescas (Toledo) donated by Rodrigo Pacheco Avilés, whom the Cervantist identifies as “a possible transcript of Don Quixote” (the real character that Cervantes could draw inspiration from for his’ knight of the sad figure ‘). Pacheco himself appears portrayed with his sister Magdalena under the image of the Virgin. And the analogy between Don Quixote and the legend that appears in the lower part of the painting, with which Cervantes described the hidalgo’s madness, is curious: “From a little sleep and a lot of reading, his brain dried up so that he lost his mind”. It is also “interesting” the coincidence in the date of the exvoto table, year 1601, with the publication of the first part of the Cervantes work, 1605.
Part of his research has just been reissued, in book format, with some updates and with the title ‘The lady from the exvoto box of Don Rodrigo Pacheco’ (Ediciones C&G, 2021) which is now in its second edition. The text corresponds to the entrance speech of Pilar Serrano, in 2015, at the Institute of Manchego Studies, which is part of the CSIC.
The enigmatic Magdalena Pacheco Avilés
The lady in the painting in question was Magdalena Pacheco Avilés, a 17th-century noblewoman portrayed with her brother Rodrigo and who can currently be seen in the church of Argamasilla de Alba (Ciudad Real). The painting is the only thing that remains of a larger altarpiece that was burned during the Spanish Civil War.
“According to popular belief, she was the protagonist of the oral tradition sustained in Argamasilla de Alba for centuries, coinciding in turn with the compliment that Cervantes apparently said to a local lady at the exit of the Church; This is the reason why, offended by the mayors and councilors who ruled the municipality at that time for daring to compliment a lady of prosapia (…), they decided, and because at that time there was no public jail in the town, to lock up the author of Mr. Quixote in the house or cave of regidor Medrano ”, Pilar Serrano relates in her research.
The writer acknowledges that “there is no scientific evidence” on this issue and recalls that there are those who point out that Cervantes was never in Argamasilla de Alba. “I draw the conclusion that it was possible.”
And it is that, argues the researcher, Miguel de Cervantes traveled to Esquivias (Toledo) in 1584 to meet with Juana Gaitán, the widow of his friend the poet Pedro Laínez, along with whom he had fought in Lepanto. He wanted to publish his posthumous work, the ‘Cancionero’.
“It was Cervantes’s mentor, the one who really encouraged him to write. On that trip he found that the widow had remarried Diego de Hondaro. This man is the one who introduced Cervantes to the office of tax collector. There are documents that say that both traveled together and did it to Argamasilla ”. It is just one example of Cervantes’s bond with this municipality, where a “bastard” branch of the Pacheco family lived.
The researcher assures that her intention is “to make known a series of historical events that occurred at that time” and she does so through family relationships between the different branches of the Pacheco that, in what is now Castilla-La Mancha, had been installed in Toledo, Cuenca, Belmonte, San Clemente, Illescas, Alarcón, El Pedernoso, La Alberca or Villaescusa de Haro, among other places.
“They all sought to rise up,” says the researcher. A social relevance that was determined, for example, by the construction of chapels in churches with the man of the family.
“The Pachecos had relatives in Illescas, near Esquivias. It was a very extended family and there was a lot of relationship between them. Magdalena’s brother offered the Virgin of Charity of Illescas, considered miraculous, a silver lamp and the painting we are talking about to cure a pain in her brain… It is all so obvious ”.
Hence, the writer wonders if “is it any wonder that Cervantes, who lived two leagues from Illescas, did not know this powerful family? All his life he was looking for someone to publish things for him! ”, He asserts.
The cadre that the Republican Left protected during the civil war
The Argamasilla de Alba City Council protected the painting during the civil war. Not surprisingly, it is in the Cave of Medrano where it is believed that Cervantes began to write ‘Don Quixote’.
A legend (true or not) rooted in the culture of this municipality to the point that in the extraordinary session of the Plenary on December 31, 1936, in the middle of the civil war, a document reflects how the mayor of the time gave an account to the Municipal corporation of a document that was subsequently approved “Presented by Izquierda Republicana requesting that the painting collected in the Church of this town not be allowed to leave this town, which in its legend eloquently shows what was the inspiration of Cervantes to bring the character of Don Quixote to his great work; as the Ministry of Public Instruction is also interested in declaring the house that was the prison of the immortal Cervantes a National Monument ”.
The painting became part of an exhibition in 2005 at the Cultural Center of the Villa de Madrid under the title ‘The world that Cervantes lived’ on the occasion of the IV Centenary of the first part of Don Quixote, at the request of the Society State of Cultural Commemorations, dependent on the Ministry of Culture.
The 17th-century woman who asked to build a grammar school for neighbors
Who was Magdalena Pacheco Avilés? With the publication, Pilar Serrano de Menchén also wants to make visible the role played by this woman who she says “had a very independent character, taking into account the time, of course.”
It was a time when “women were subordinate to their parents and were married to whoever was convenient for the family. Above all, in the families of the so-called pre hidalgos, who thus sought to improve their social position and consolidate their title to avoid paying taxes. It was one of the benefits besides having access to a certain social space ”.
The case of Magdalena, the author believes, is remarkable because in her second testament, which dates back to 1622, “she decides nothing more and nothing less than to leave money for a priest to found a school in Argamasilla and teach grammar to the neighbors. In a lost town and far from the Court? What influence had this woman had to do it? The hidalgas could not read and they signed wrong. Why was it deleted from the family tree? For me it has been a discovery “.
The unknowns are many around his figure. And we hardly know any information about this woman “who asked to be buried with the habit of the Order of San Francisco. Just like Cervantes ”. For Pilar Serrano it is a “real puzzle” that, she acknowledges, “just sheds a little light on what could have been. I think he could have had much more prominence or at least aspire to have it ”.