Images of the Here-and-Now in Gonzalo de Bercero’s De los signos que aparecerán ante del juicio
Capuano, Thomas M.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 10 (1993)
Until the thirteenth century, the poetry of medieval Spain was dominated by two main genres, the mester de juglaría (minstrels’ craft) which produced the great epic poems celebrating the feats of the conquistadores, and the love lyrics exemplified by the Mozarabic jarchas and the Galician-Portuguese cantigas. Gonzalo de Berceo (c. 1190-1264), the first Spanish poet known by name, helped usher in a new school of poetry, imitative in part of the minstrels’ appeal to a broad audience, but priding itself on its much more demanding metrical scheme and loftier subject matter: the mester de clerecía (clerics’ craft).
By Berceo’s times, the pilgrim route from France to the shrine of Saint James in Compostela was a well-traveled one indeed, and passed just ten miles north of the monastery of San Millán de Suso, at the foot of the Sierra de la Demanda mountains, where the poet was raised from boyhood. It has often been suggested that Berceo’s poetic activity was connected with this pilgrim route and that his audience consisted of travelers interested enough in the sepulcher of Saint Emilianus (or San Millán de la Cogolla, co-patron with Saint James of the Spanish Reconquest) to stray from the pilgrim route as it passed between Nájera and Santo Domingo de la Calzada. These pilgrims might have attended recitations of Berceo’s poems on the Virgin Mary, her miracles, on other local saints (Saint Dominic of Silos, Saint Oria, or Saint Emilianus himself) or on other devout subjects, such as the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, or on the end times and the last judgment.