The enigma of the bees of San Torcuato de Santorcaz


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About 50 kilometers from Madrid, near Alcalá de Henares, is the small town of Santorcaz of less than 1,000 inhabitants. Few know that there was a fortified compound there that served as the summer residence for the archbishops of Toledo and that Cardinal Cisneros and Ana de Mendoza de la Cerda, the princess of Éboli, were imprisoned there. The current castle, with its seven stone towers, dates from the 14th century and was built by order of the bishop and warrior Peter Tenorio, who served the Trastámara in their fight for the Crown of Castile. There was an old Carpetano town in this enclave in pre-Roman times and, later, a Muslim fortress. After

be defeated the Arabs around the eleventh century, the templars they arranged a network of fortifications in the area, including that of Santorcaz.

Inside its walls, the church of San Torcuato was built at the beginning of the 13th century. The saint was bishop of Guadix and was the evangelist of the region. Little remains of the original building, which was remodeled in the 16th century. Of Mudejar inspiration, the temple houses a baroque altarpiece, three naves and three apses, corresponding to the main chapel and two oratories. The enclosure is accessed through a portico, covered by Arabic tiles. At the head, there is a quadrangular brick tower that can be seen from a long distance.

Temple dedicated to San Torcuato in the Madrid town of Santorcaz
Temple dedicated to San Torcuato in the Madrid town of Santorcaz – ABC

One of the dissonant elements of the temple is the representation next to the altar of two priests with censers, dressed in Jewish clothing. Both polychrome figures are part of two small doors, almost invisible to the eye. Perhaps its authors wanted to highlight the sacred nature of what was inside.

One of the doors leads to a short corridor, parallel to the altar, which ends in a vaulted room, illuminated by the window of one of the apses. On the side walls, there are twelve niches excavated in the wall that contained relics of saints. Before entering this place, there is in the corridor two paintings in which bees appear as a central element without its dating having been possible.

In one of them, you can see two stars of david with a bee in the middle, framed by a horizontal diamond. The other is similar and shows that insect with greater detail and quality, which leads one to think that they were painted at different times. There is evidence that in the place there was a hive, whose honey was used to make candles. Apparently the ground was covered with bee carcasses. It is difficult to find the causes of the existence of these beehives inside a temple, although it is known that these insects were considered by the Jews as a metaphor for the human community. In the ‘Book of Judges’, Samson finds a hive in the skeleton of a lion, takes its honey and says that sweetness is characteristic of strong men. Also in the book of Isaiah, bees are described as an instrument at the service of Yahweh’s wrath, while in Ecclesiastes they are equated with the human race.

There are scholars who have pointed out that the castle and the temple of Santorcaz was for several centuries a enclosure of the templars, an order whose founder was Bernardo de Claraval, a Cistercian monk and a key figure in its customs. Bernardo believed that bees represented the knowledge of transcendent truths.

But all this remains speculation because it is impossible to know what the purpose of those who painted these figures was, one more enigma of the magical Spain that we know so little about.

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