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SPAIN: Saints and the Spanish Language

Keeping track of obscure Spanish saints is a difficult task. San Millan de la Cogolla (cogolla is an old word meaning monkish hood) was an obscure hermit whose shrine is in San Millan de la Cogolla,a once great Benedictine monastery southwest of Logrono. It is near another great convent, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, la Calzada being the pilgrim's road to Santiago de Compostela. The region, known as La Bureba, is said to be the birthplace of the Spanish language, vulgar Latin modified under Basque influence. It has in recent years been promoted as the cradle of Spanish language and culture.

This should make people curious about San Millan, especially those who like Millan Astray have his first name.I am indebted to Stanford Libraries' information specialist Phyllis Kayten for making San Millan lower his cowl. She consulted

"Emilian Cucullatus, Abbot (RM) (also known as Aemilian, Emilianus or Millan of Cucullatus or La Cogolla or de la Gogolla) Died 574. A shepherd at La Rioja, Navarre, Spain, he became a hermit when 20. After a brief stay at home, he spent the next 40 years in extreme solitude as a hermit in the mountains around Burgos, when he was ordained. He became a parish priest at Berceo but because of his excessive charity was forced to leave.With several disciples he resumed his eremitical life. He died at the age of 100. Tradition says the mountain hermitage he occupied became the site of the Benedictine monastery of La Cogolla. San Millan is represented as a monk on horseback fighting the Moors, and sometimes as a Benedictine on horseback holding a banner and sword."

All this doesn't sound to me like an excess of charity, an expression which would have annoyed St Paul, he great advocate of charity. San Millan would be surprised to learn that the Benedictines now have their own website. Just to confuse you, Millan is a variant of Emiliano. Dont get mixed up. San Emiliano was a martyr burned alive in 362. And don't forget San Emilio, who was martyred in 205. These were the so-called good old times.

Anyhow, Spain and the Spanish language owes a lot to saints. Castile was the land of "santos y cantos." (saints and boulders, not songs). Charles V said he spoke Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to his horses. I listen to foreign TV news for several hours a day, and I am struck by the sonorous beauty of spoken Spanish as compared with the grating English of most of our own TV speakers. It was preaching friars who brought Spanish to the New World. They were trained in oratory. English was brought to the New World by people lacking that training.

Antonio de Nebrija published his Spanish grammar in 1492 because "language is the instrument of empire." The present-day Partido Popular is trying to restore the prestige of old Spain, so it has just held a conference in Logrono, with a special session in the monastery, honoring its place in the history of Spanish culture. Naturally opposition parties accused the Partido Popular of making propaganda out of politics. Certainly the Jose Maria Aznar government is doing all it can to promote Spanish around the world.

John Wonder has kindly sent me an article from El Pas (7/9/00), wth statistics provided by Eurobarometer on the importance of various languages and the place of Spanish in Europe. It willingly admits that in the world and even in Europe English is the most spoken international language. German is second, French third, followed by Italian and Spanish.

The Spanish government's concern for the Spanish language has been heightened by developments in the European Union. Up till now any European Union language could be used. This costly chaos could get worse when East European countries are admitted. It is therefore probable that a few languages will be chosen as Community languages. The obvious choices are English, French and German. Will there be a fourth? Will it be Italian or Spanish? Aznar will call on the legions of Spanish-speaking Americans to battle for his cause. Will the Italian response be sweetly feminine? I doubt it. I have noticed that in the last few years, Italian has developed a snarling tone, not the tone to use when you are answering the language of God.

Ronald Hilton - 7/14/00