The tragic story of the Lovers of Teruel becomes a joyful popular festival
“The Marriage of Isabel de Segura” brings together thousands of people in a grandiose setting.
By Enrique Sancho
There are many love stories with tragic endings, some are real and others border on legend, some have given rise to masterpieces of literature, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Calixto and Melibea in La Celestina by Fernando de Rojas or to essential changes in history, such as Joan the Mad and Philip the Fair. There are those in the most remote places: Agnes and Pedro in Coimbra (Portugal), including the vassalage of Agnes’ corpse, the incestuous love of the Polish siblings Anna and Stanislaw Oswiecimowie that inspired a symphonic poem by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz or the Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai in 4th century China that continues to be remembered 1. 700 years later; and also those that have inspired great artistic works such as the one that the emperor Shah Jahan offered to his wife Mumtaz Mahal, which gave rise to the jewel that is the Taj Majal, in Agra (India), the tomb of Abelard and Eloise, perhaps the most beautiful of the more than 70. 000 in the famous Parisian cemetery Père Lachaise, the most visited in the world by almost four million people, or the no less beautiful alabaster and bronze mausoleum dedicated to the Lovers of Teruel in the church of San Pedro, a gift from the sculptor Juan de Ávalos, where the remains of Diego de Marcilla and Isabel de Segura currently lie, their hands never touching as a symbol of an unfinished love.
This romantic and tragic story has also given rise to a celebration that moves the entire Aragonese city and tens of thousands of visitors on dates always close to Valentine’s Day (14th February). The main moments of its history are represented by hundreds of actors and actresses in different places in Teruel and Teruel locals and spectators wearing medieval costumes who contemplate the representation of love and drama. The celebration has been declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest and aspires to soon become of International Interest. Teruel forms part of the Europe in Love network, a series of cities with love stories that have left their mark on their territory.
A thousand-year-old legend
Legend, or history, has it that Isabel and Diego grew up and played together in 13th century Teruel. They were both from noble families, she, the daughter of Don Pedro de Segura, a rich merchant; and he, from the Marcilla family, also of noble lineage but in decline. The two children grew up and adolescent love grew between them and they even thought of getting married, an idea that did not please Isabel’s father, who would not allow his daughter to marry someone from a lineage inferior to his own. At his insistence, an agreement was reached that Isabel would wait five years for Diego to obtain money and honours. Diego went to fight in the crusades against the Moors and took part in the famous battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212, one of the most important battles of the Reconquest, which the Christians won over the Muslims.
While Diego fought and won honour and wealth, Isabel was left alone for five long years, waiting and not knowing what Diego’s fate would be. It is said that the soldiers returning from the battle of Muret, in which Diego also took part, said that almost all of them had died, and one of them, apparently bribed by the Segura family who wanted to marry off their daughter as soon as possible, said that he had seen Diego fall with his own eyes, fighting at the front. Seeing that the agreed five years were up and that her father was urging her to marry, the young woman finally accepted the proposal of Don Pedro de Azagra, the powerful lord of Albarracín. On the day that the term of the promise that young lovers had made to each other expired, the whole city was decked out to celebrate a great betrothal.
On that very day, Diego managed to return to Teruel safe and sound and with the illusion of finally being reunited with his beloved Isabel. The ringing of bells, music and riots announced that the city was celebrating the marriage of Isabel de Segura to Don Pedro de Azagra. At that moment, Diego thought he was mad with rage because his beloved had not waited for him. Although, in reality, Isabel had not broken the agreement as the five years agreed had passed. He decided to go in search of her and ask her for the kiss he had longed for during the long, hard years of battles. He climbed onto the newlywed’s balcony and woke her up to beg her for this last proof of love. But Elizabeth refused because she did not want to offend her newly wedded husband. The refusal fulminated Diego’s heart, and he fell dead beside her.
It is said that his strange death shocked the whole city, which flocked to the services for Diego’s soul. Isabel, grief-stricken at having lost her true love, sneaked into the funeral so that she could give him the kiss she had denied him in life. She approached the body of her beloved and kissed him intensely, and again her heart failed and she fell dead on Diego’s corpse. The families of both and Isabel’s husband for a day, Pedro de Azagra, reconciled by the drama and the beautiful love story, decided to bury them together so that they would never be separated again. And in this way they rest to this day.
A historical reenactment
Although the festival is known as the Lovers of Teruel, in reality its title is “The Marriage of Isabel de Segura” and it is part of the Spanish Association of Historical Festivals and Recreations, which has more than 40 members from all over Spain. This celebration of love will be celebrated in 2023, a quarter of a century (in 2021 it became virtual) since it has been performed in Teruel as an initiative of Raquel Esteban, a Fine Arts student from Teruel who has researched and documented the customs of medieval times. Over the years, the Bodas de Isabel have improved and incorporated a complete programme that includes medieval markets, theatre, music, dances, exhibitions and other recreational activities.
As well as being able to witness passages such as the entrance of the troops of Aragon in the heart of the city centre, visitors can attend exhibitions, concerts, tastings of typical products, craft workshops, falconry or sword fighting demonstrations…
More than 120 groups of actors and actresses take part in the main scenes, Sandra Grijalba will be Isabel and Elías Hernández will play Diego. Marian Pueo is in charge of directing the scenes of the story of the Lovers, such as The Council of Teruel, Isabel’s Wedding, Diego’s Arrival or Isabel’s Funeral and Death, while Alfonso Pablo will be in charge of the “parallel” scenes, which take place around the representations of the legend and frame the historical and social context, as well as allowing for different registers and themes, such as La Disputa de Dueñas, Juicios de Amor, Huérfanos de la Madre Frontonia or El Conciliábulo, among others. The youngest children will also participate with scenes and animation activities, led by Sixto Abril, who also coordinates the medieval dance workshops. In total there will be more than 60 performances by amateur actors.
The Bodas de Isabel “was one of the last great festivals to be held in 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic, and this year we are returning to the way the festivals were, festivals that appeal to the senses because one arrives in Teruel and sees the colourful streets, the street parties, the theatrical performances, a medieval market and what attracts you is to see this city transformed into a 13th century town” said Emma Buj, the mayoress of Teruel at the presentation of this year’s edition of the festival.
A grandiose setting
An additional attraction of this recreation is the setting in which it takes place, the impressive city of Teruel, home to the best example of Mudejar art in Europe. The cathedral tower, as well as the towers of San Salvador, San Martín and San Pedro are the jewels of a monumental Mudejar ensemble that has been declared a World Heritage Site. From the viewpoint of the 13th century Torre del Salvador you can contemplate all the beauty and majesty of the landscapes that surround the city. You should also take a tour of the Escalinata, an architectural monument, and stroll around the Plaza del Torico, an emblematic site in the city, where some of the acts of the Wedding Ceremony are performed. Another place of interest is the Los Arcos Aqueduct, declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, or the popular Paseo del Óvalo. And nearby is the Dinópolis Theme Park, a unique experience alongside these mythical species.
But between visits, you must leave time to enjoy the rich gastronomy of this region, whose main source of inspiration is the pig, from which sausages and excellent hams are produced, protected under the Teruel Ham Designation of Origin. Also typical are migas made with bread and pork, garlic soups and roast lamb or ternasco, also with Designation of Origin, and other hearty dishes such as the traditional Gazpacho de Pastor, Caldereta de Pastor and the popular Madejas. Teruel’s confectionery includes the delicious suspiros de amante, a dessert made with cheese and eggs, as well as meringues, the famous pastel borrachos or the famous mudéjares braids.