When it comes to tragic romances, the famous Romeo and Juliet is considered as a major reference. The heart breaking story of two young lovers whose relationship was forbad by their feuding families, and how the couple's death in each other's embrace would put an end to the ongoing war between the two sides. Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare's most performed plays even centuries after his death. The success was huge that the names of the play's protagonists became a trademark of the sufferance and sacrifices made in the name of love.
It is not really known if the play is just a work of imagination or based on a real story. However, while Shakespeare's masterpiece is set in the Italian city of Verona, there is a similar yet allegedly real romance tragedy which took place in the city of Teruel in the neighbouring Spain. Whether it is real or not is a matter of debate. But in this article, we will be discussing the popular Spanish tale known as "Los amantes de Teruel"
The alleged story goes back in time to the beginning of the 13th century, when the Marcilla and Segura were the wealthiest families with most influence in the Spanish city of Teruel. The two families, unlike Shakespeare's play, were at peace at the time. Juan Diego de Marcilla, the "Romeo" of this legend, and his "Juliet", Isabel de Segura, were madly in love. They grew up together and were inseparable since their childhood. However, when both lovers were at the eligible age to wed, Isabel's father, Don Pedro de Segura, forbade the marriage.
There are two versions Of why Don Pedro rejected Diego as a husband for his daughter. The first one claims that the Marcilla, Diego's family, was having a hard time and financially struggling when he proposed to Isabel. The second version suggests that while Isabel was the only child of her wealthy, nobleman father, Diego was the second son and unlikely to inherit much of his family's fortune. Regardless of which version is the correct, it is clear that Don Pedro wanted a wealthier man than Diego to be his son-in-law.
Both lovers knew that Isabel's father's blessing was essential to get married. And unless the young Marcilla could prove himself worthy to the nobleman, the couple's relationship was doomed to end. To forbid that, Diego was able to make a sort of an agreement with his lover's father: Juan Diego would have to leave Teruel for five years in a journey to become a man of his own wealth. If he succeeded, then Isabel would be his to marry. Otherwise, he would had to bear the brunt of losing his love to another man. Diego promised his woman that he would come back to her triumphant and told her to wait for him.
Isabel was up to her word and kept waiting for Diego to make his return to their hometown; she rejected countless suitors for the sake of him, and she had to make stalling pretexts to procrastinate her father who did not have much faith in Diego and wanted to marry his daughter off. One of the excuses she made was that she still had to learn how to manage a household before getting married. Obviously, Isabel's task was not any easier than her traveling lover's mission, especially when the latter was not heard from for the whole five years.
The time limit was up, and much to Isabel's despair, there was no sign of Diego. Her father wasted no time at all, and on the day the five years closed, he married his daughter to another nobleman named Don Pedro de Azagra. Running out of excuses, Isabel had no choice but to oblige. However, little did she knew that the day after the wedding ceremony was held, Juan Diego de Marcilla would be walking through the gate of Teruel, laden with gold and riches of his own to ask for her hand in marriage.
Probably words can not describe how shattered Diego was. Imagine going through all the struggles he encountered only to learn that the woman he loved most had became another man's wife one single day before his arrival to town. He did his best to fulfill his promise to Isabel. He even had to involve in wars to build the wealth Don Segura required to give his consent to the marriage. Yet, it was all in vain. The reason? Well, as silly as it may sound, Diego had not counted the day he petitioned Isabel's father, but as fate would have it, the Seguras had. Therefore, Juan Diego was one day late, and he had to deal with the agony of his Isabel being with another man but him.
The heartbroken Marcilla could not beat the urge to see his newlywed lover one last time. He sneaked into Isabel's quarters at night, and pleaded with her to kiss him one last time. However, not willing to deceive her husband, Isabel flatly denied him. Diego begged her once more, saying that he was dying and kissing her was his last wish. Again, Isabel rejected his request, telling him that she was another man's wife in front of God and people. She also asked the man to move on with his life, forget about her and find another woman. Those words plus the separation from his beloved were like arrows piercing Diego's heart. Not able to bear the pain, the poor man drew one last breath and collapsed on the floor, at the feet of whom he dearly loved, dead.
The following day, during Diego de Marcilla's funeral in the local chruch, Isabel, who showed up wearing her wedding dress, got up from her seat and pushed back the coffin's veil gazing upon her deceased lover. She then leaned on Diego and gave him in death the kiss she had denied him in life. When the Requiem Mass was over, Isabel did not budge and was still lying on her dead childhood playmate. The funeral attendants thought she was grieving the late man. But the truth was that Isabel was lifeless as her limp body embraced Diego's in an eternal embrace.
Inspired by the tragic romance, the citizens of Teruel demanded for the wretched lovers to be buried side by side, so they could be reunited in death after life had separated them. The request was granted by the local church and the supposed mummies of Diego and Isabel were placed where they now rest in the church of San Pedro.
As we have seen, the story is very sad, emotional and even symbolic. But did it really happen ?
Well, in my opinion, that is of no importance because what really matters is the story itself, and this one is as good as any. But it is worth noting that there some evidence that suggests the story is indeed real. Somewhen around the middle of the 16th century, two mummies were found buried in San Pedro's church with a documentation asserting that the bodies belong to Diego and his Isabel. The documentation in itself was not enough to confirm the mummies' identity. However, science was able to carbon date them to the 13th century. Furthermore, one of the bodies was confirmed as male, while the other was actually a female. A coincidence? Maybe, and maybe not.