The Story of the Holy Child of Atocha

The Mathis collections at Villa Finale contain so much religious art that one would naturally think Walter Mathis, its collector, was a very religious man.  In fact, his collecting of such items was for the mere admiration of the items as art, and they can be found throughout the house.  Of course, he displayed all of them together in different parts of the house according to their provenance like with the Spanish colonial “retablos” found in the upstairs hallway.

20160324_114804

Retablos in Villa Finale’s upstairs hallway.

A “retablo,” called a  “lamina” in Mexico, is an oil paiting of a Catholic saint painted on wood or tin, and sometimes on bronze.  These retablos, which means “behind the altar,” mostly adorned altars in people’s homes.  As a kid, I remember my grandmother in Tijuana, Mexico having many of these images at home.  There were some that were quite frightening – like one of the devil coming to pick up a man on his deathbed … but I guess they were meant to scare kids straight – and one that always caught my attention, as it did my other cousins, of the Holy Child of Atocha or El Santo Niño de Atocha.  One of my cousins asked my grandmother one day what made this child a saint.  My grandmother, in what was her usual comedic way, answered simply, “Beats me, but he’s a very saintly child!”

20160324_114704

Walter Mathis’ Holy Child of Atocha

When I came to work at Villa Finale in 2008, the image of the Holy Child of Atocha in my grandmother’s house popped in my head when I saw that Mr. Mathis had an Atocha child retablo in his upstairs hallway collection.  Of course, I was very excited because this saint has always been one of my favorites!  Funny thing was, just like my grandmother, I didn’t know what made this child a saint until I began researching the collections for my interpretive duties at Villa Finale.  Well, now I can tell you what makes the Holy Child of Atocha a saint!

It all begins back in 711 AD with the invasion by the northern African Moors of the Iberian Peninsula, which included most of modern Spain.  In the 13th century, after the Moors took over the town of Atocha, a central suburb in today’s Madrid, they encarcerated Catholic males and prevented their families from giving them food and water. The only exception to that rule was children under 12 who were allowed to visit and feed family members.  This left jailed men without young children – or children altogether – in quite a quandary.  Their relatives began to pray for help from Our Lady of Atocha, the local name of the holy Virgin Mary and Christ Child located in the town’s chapel.

One day, the local children who were out feeding their captive relatives returned with reports of an unidentified boy who the Moors were allowing to feed all the men who had not been previously attended to.  This boy, reported the children, appeared to be under 12 years old, was dressed in pilgrim attire (with a plumed hat and cloak) and carried a basket of food and gourd full of water.  The miraculous thing was no matter how many prisoners the child fed, his gourd and his basket remained full.  As sightings of the child continued, the people of Atocha ran to the chapel to give thanks.  There, they discovered that the little sandals worn by the Christ Child figure in the arms of Our Lady of Atocha were worn and dusty.  They replaced the sandals only to find them worn and dusty again as the child feeding the prisoners continued his rounds day after day.

The Muslim rule by the Moors finally ended in 1492, but by then the miracles of the Holy Child of Atocha were well known and revered throughout Iberia.  Eventually, the reverence of the Holy Child of Atocha made its way to the New World with the arrival of the Spanish.  By 1554 there was a statue of the Child brought from Atocha to Zacatecas, Mexico where the villagers immediately began reporting sightings of the boy.  And thus the Santo Niño’s adventures in the Americas began.

Santo_Niño_de_Atocha,_traditional_portrayal

Traditional portrayal

In religious art, the Holy Child is typically depicted wearing a large-brimmed plumed pilgrim’s hat, cloak, and sandals.  Sometimes he is barefoot to denote the wearing out of his sandals from walking.  He carries a basket in one hand and staff in the other.  The gourd for water is fastened to the end of the staff.  Other symbolism associated with the image are stalks of wheat, flowers and scallop shell meant to represent holy pilgrimages.  Today, there are two main shrines in the Americas to the Holy Child of Atocha: one in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico and the other is in the Sanctuario in Chimayo, New Mexico.  The Holy Child is the patron saint of the unjustly imprisoned, the protector of travelers and rescuer of those in danger.

santuario-de-plateros

Holy Child of Atocha in Zacatecas, Mexico.  (From screen capture, YouTube user Viajero981)

 

Next time you come to Villa Finale, take a good look at all the religious art in the collection.  What kind of symbolism do you see?  What part of a story do you think it tells?  And make sure you look for El Santo Niño de Atocha in the upstairs hallway now that you know what makes him a “very saintly child.”  My grandmother would be proud!

Advertisements

San Antonio and the Rise of Chili

As you may or may not have heard, San Antonio and Austin have been involved in what has been called the Texas Taco War.  The “first shot” was fired when the Austin Eater’s website published a story that gave Austin credit as the “home of the breakfast taco.”  For San Antonians, it may as well have been the shot fired at Fort Sumnter because there are several things sacred to the people of this city, among them are its baskeball team, its river and its food.  Mayors from both cities met for a “Taco Summit” in which they both brought 50 tacos from their favorite taco joints.  Personally, I would declare San Antonio the winner of this battle in the Texas Taco War.  The Alamo City’s Mayor Taylor presented tacos made with hand-made tortillas as opposed to the tacos made with store-bought tortillas brought by Austin’s Mayor Adler.

As the Texas Taco War continues – there will be a “taco throwdown” where a chef representing each city will bring their best taco-making skills to the table – it made me think of not only the importance of food to a place and its people, but also of cultural appropriation.  In the past, the people of San Antonio have “accused” Austinites of taking credit for Tex-Mex food made popular here.  Now, this “taking credit” for food isn’t a new phenomenon.  One instance happened several generations ago and it involved chili.

No one can say for sure who “invented” chili, it is most likely a delicious fusion of cultures that came together.  The indigenous people of Mexico and South America, like the Incas and Aztecs, were known to cook dishes mixing meat, herbs and peppers long before the arrival of the Spanish.  For their part, the Spanish had been creating spicy meat dishes with pungent smells in their country long before arriving in Texas.  When the Canary Islanders settled in San Antonio, they devised a way to continue making the dishes they so enjoyed using local spices, onions, garlic, peppers and meats.  And so a cooking tradition came to be!

chili tables

Chili market, San Antonio, ca. 1890s.

Long before Texas joined the Union, groups of women called “Chili Queens” could be found throughout San Antonio’s plazas serving up their own spicy creations and hand-made tortillas to locals and visitors alike.  From dusk until dawn, these women worked hard to serve the hungry masses; and when darkness came, their patrons were more than happy to eat by the faint light of oil lamps.  Many visitors to San Antonio were “charmed” by the young ladies and their savory fare.  Author O. Henry wrote in his story “The Enchanted Kiss” about the city’s Chili Queens.  He wrote, “Drawn by the coquettish senoritas, the music of the weird Spanish minstrels, and the strange piquant Mexican dishes served at a hundred competing tables, crowds thronged the Alamo Plaza all night.”

 

william g tobin

William G. Tobin

Enter William Gerard Tobin, a great-grandfather many times over of Walter Mathis, the last private owner of Villa Finale.  A native of South Carolina, Tobin arrived in San Antonio at age 20 in 1853 and two months later met, fell in love and married Josephine Augusta Smith, daughter of the city’s first American-born mayor John W. Smith and the lastmessenger to leave the Alamo.   In 1855, Tobin was city marshal before joining the Texas Rangers in 1859.  When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the Confederate Army where he was made a captain.  Although Tobin had a long career in law-enforcement and the military, his true calling was in the business world.  In the 1870s, he leased the Vance Building – which had been headquarters of the Confederacy during the war – near the corner of Travis and St. Mary’s Streets.  He turned the building into a hotel he named Vance House (today it is the site of the Gunter Hotel).  However, Tobin’s business ventures didn’t end there.

By this time, Tobin had spent nearly 30 years in San Antonio assimilating and taking in the local culture, including the food.  His wife’s family, who no doubt had some influence in his newly acquired tastes, could trace its roots to the Spanish Canary Islanders that arrived in San Antonio in 1731.  It is no surprise that Tobin took a great liking to Tex-Mex food and was an early supporter of its consumption.  In the 1880s he had a bright idea: to can San Antonio’s famous chili con carne for sale.  In 1881, he negotiated a contract with the United States government to sell his canned chili to the army and navy.  In 1884, he began to organize an aggressive venture with the Range Canning Company located in Fort McKavett, Texas for the manufacture and canning of chili con carne and other “Mexican” delicacies.  Now, this is where the “Americanization” of chili began for understandable business reasons.

Tobin chili labels

Reproduction of Tobin’s Chili-con-Carne labels in Villa Finale’s kitchen.

“Carne” is meat in Spanish.  While beef or pork were the meats of choice for the Chili Queens, Tobin opted to use goat and more than likely, made changes to the recipe and ingredients to better suit the American palate.  While the people of San Antonio welcomed and were used to the many colorful herbs, aromas and higher levels of spiciness, as far as the business, the food had to be attractive to consumers from all over the nation.  On July 28, 1884, just days after Tobin’s dream got off the ground and the manufacturing process began, he died at home never seeing his venture fulfilled.  The development of the project also died with Tobin.

lyman davis

Lyman Davis

It wasn’t until 1893 that the rest of the world was introduced to chili con carne at the San Antonio Chili Stand during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  But it wasn’t until 1921 that an attempt to can chili con carne, by then simply known as “chili”, was reattempted by Lyman Davis of Corsicana, Texas who developed his recipe in the 1890s and sold it to oil workers for .5 cents per bowl from the back of a horse-drawn wagon.  Davis’ early canning machinery was simple, but by 1923 his improved operation was producing 2,000 cans per day.  Davis’ chili became known as Wolf Brand Chili, named after his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill … and the rest is chili history!

So while San Antonio and Austin duke it out during the Texas Taco War of 2016, let’s remember the Chili Queens and people like William Gerard Tobin whose interest in filling our tummies with tasty Tex-Mex dishes eventually helped make chili the official Texas State Dish.  “Viva chili con carne!”

Here is a recipe for “Original San Antonio Chili” (from a Chili Queen) taken from the Institute of Texan Cultures research library, with updated changes by the International Chili Society for shopping convenience:

2 pounds beef shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup suet
¼ cup pork fat
3 medium-sized onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 quart water
4 ancho chiles
1 serrano chile
6 dried red chiles
1 tablespoon comino seeds, freshly ground
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
Salt to taste

Place lightly floured beef and pork cubes in with suet and pork fat in heavy chili pot and cook quickly, stirring often. Add onions and garlic and cook until they are tender and limp. Add water to mixture and simmer slowly while preparing chiles. Remove stems and seeds from chiles and chop very finely. Grind chiles in molcajete and add oregano with salt to mixture. Simmer another 2 hours. Remove suet casing and skim off some fat. Never cook frijoles with chiles and meat. Serve as separate dish.

 

Her generosity lives on: Myra Stafford Pryor

myra pryorAmong the many people who owned 401 King William aka Villa Finale were Colonel Ike Pryor and his wife, Myra. The couple purchased the home in 1896 from E. B. Chandler and Thomas H. Franklin who bought the property after it went up for auction in December 1895 following the foreclosure on Edwin Polk. What was interesting about the transaction from Chandler and Franklin to the Polks is that the deed states Myra paid $2,500 in cash upfront “out of her separate money given her by her mother.” This bit always intrigued me and it didn’t make complete sense until I looked further into the life of Ike Pryor.

At the time they purchased the home, Colonel Ike’s career as a cattle merchant was in transition. He and his brother were left penniless after the severe winter of 1886 – 1887 decimated their herd. After losing his livestock, he borrowed $70,000 on his good name to invest in the Texas and Colorado Land and Cattle Company and settled in San Antonio. While he continued to be a respected businessman, there was very little wriggle room financially as far as it came to major purchases, and this is why it makes sense having Myra’s name as the source for the home’s downpayment as clearly stated on the deed. My fascination with Myra Pryor didn’t end with the purchase of the property.

One day while taking a jog along the River Walk, I noticed her name on a plaque by the AT&T Lock and Dam, under Brooklyn Avenue: this is when I knew there was more to her story. Ike Pryor married Myra in 1893 after his first wife, Sarah, passed away. Myra was born in Columbus, Ohio to a well-to-do family. Myra had married once before but was left widowed after the passing of her first husband, George Early, in 1888. She lived with her second husband, Ike, in King William (at what is now Villa Finale) until 1901 when they purchased 100,000 acres in Zavala County, a property they called “77 Ranch.” After the lifting of the blockade of Cuba following the Spanish-American War, Ike made a fortune by shipping cattle on speculation to Havana for “spot sale” (cash for goods delivered on the spot). In 1908, they founded the town of La Pryor, roughly 20 miles south of Uvalde. Ike died in 1937 leaving his fortune primarily to Myra. Myra died in 1943 leaving Frost National Bank as the trustee of her estate valued at $750,000 (over $10 million today) for the purposes of “a trust created for charitable purposes in perpetuity.” It was Myra’s last will that all net income remaining with the Trustee should be used solely for charitable purposes at the Trustee’s discretion.

This last provision and others in Myra’s will and testament were challenged by some of her family members in court. While they won a case in District Court that invalidated the creation of a trust, the Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio in 1945 reversed that decision upholding her last wish to create the Myra Stafford Pryor Charitable Trust. Today, this Trust has over $25 million in assets and annually gives over $1 million to charities and non-profit organizations. Among the many wonderful initiatives funded by Myra’s generosity are full time tutors and mentors for San Antonio’s underpriviledged youths, funding for trainers for Guide Dogs of Texas, and new state-of-the-art technology for the Mays Business School at Texas A&M. Her legacy in San Antonio lives on!

Villa Finale visits San Antonio’s historic Milam Building

There are many beautiful historic buildings throughout downtown San Antonio.  Many have more history than we realize!  One of those is The Milam Building located at 115 E. Travis in the heart of the city’s business district.  Villa Finale’s staff had the honor of receiving a personal tour from Sam Trevino and Diane Coliz who are part of the building’s staff.

IMG_7681Built in 1928 and designed by architect George Willis, The Milam was not only the tallest brick and concrete-reinforced structure in the United States when it was built, it was also the first air-conditioned commercial high-rise in the world (21 stories).  It was named after Colonel Ben Milam who led 300 volunteers into San Antonio in December 1835 in an attempt to take it from the Mexican army.  According to our guide Sam Trevino, the building was a hub of activity after it opened.  Businesses were found on the ground level, including a barbershop and the Milam Drugstore & Diner (that closed its doors in 2011), and other shops, including a bridal boutique on the basement level.  People from all over the city and tourists would come into the building to get away from the heat and wonder at The Milam’s engineering feat.

The original air conditioning engineer, Willis Carrier, designed a system that steadily delivered just IMG_7629over 300 tons of cooling capacity to all the businesses on the ground and basement levels plus the 750 offices throughout the building.  The temperature throughout was kept at 80 degrees in the summer with 55 percent humidity and in the winter 70 degrees with 45 percent humidity.  Although the system has been updated twice, in 1945 and 1989, one can still see the original footprint in the mechanical room located at the basement level. The basement level also contains an area which the Milam staff would like to one day connect to the River Walk located adjacent to this part of the structure.  Of course, being a historic building, much planning and working with the Historic Design Review Commission is needed to accomplish this construction.

IMG_7675In addition to the milestone in climate control achieved at The Milam, visitors could also marvel at the beautifully hand-carved wood in the lobby which displays a lot of the charm found in business structures in Chicago and New York.  The allure of the lobby is carried through to its elevators and mail-carrying system which can still be seen and remains in use.  One of the highlights of our tour was seeing the incredible view of San Antonio from the roof-top … simply amazing!

Today, The Milam remains a commercial structure – we were told the building is at 72 IMG_7648percent occupancy – it also hosts special events, pop-up shops, art exhibitions and charitable events like the Texas Special Olympics “Over the Edge” event where donors can rappel down the side of the building beginning at the 22nd floor!  (See a video of the event by clicking here.)  Guests are always welcome to visit Lula’s Mexican Cafe (which opened in the summer of 2011 at the original site of the Milam Drugstore & Diner), tour the building, ask about hosting a special event or rent office space with 24-hour access.  While modern office buildings may have amenities not found in historic structures, none can compare to the charm and nostalgia found at places like The Milam!  Next time you’re in downtown San Antonio, walk into the building and experience it for yourself!

A special thanks to Sam Trevino of Milam maintenance and Diane Coliz of Red Star Property Management, Inc. for their hospitality!  For information about rental space within The Milam, visit www.themilambuilding.com or www.redstarproperties.com.  (Photos by Orlando Cortinas)

Happy New Year! Villa Finale announces upcoming programs for 2015

Although the first month of the new year is nearly ending, it’s never too late to wish you all a happy 2015!  Since this is the our first blog post of the year, I would like to take some time to tell everyone a little bit about our programs in February, beginning with our signature Music for Your Eyes tour on Thursday, February 5th!

IMG_5081Now in its fourth year, this specialized tour has been one of our most popular programs.  Not only do guests have an opportunity to see the home in the evening (the tour begins at 6:30pm), they are hosted by two of our paid staff who engage the audience about music, art, humorous anecdotes and so much more.  The staff provides demonstrations of the music machines in the house – not performed during our regular guided tours – ending the tour with a sit-down performance by our 1921 Bechstein-Welte reproducing piano located in the home’s Napoleon Parlors.  If you haven’t taken this tour, it is definitely a must!  (The program is repeated several times throughout the year.)

drawing 2Our first family oriented program will be on Saturday, February 7th, Drawing on Experience: For the Love of Art.  The Drawing on Experience program began in England as a way for educators in museums, galleries, science centers and teachers to provide a framework for using drawing as a medium for learning from collections and exhibitions — Villa Finale’s curator, Meg Nowack, brought a version of the program here to Villa Finale to share with children and their parents.  The children and parents will get a brief tour of the home after which they will select an object to draw together inside the house!  This is a great bonding experience for kids and parents or even grandparents!

DSC3043copy2webcopy5Finally, we get in a “loving mood” on Friday, February 13th with “Isn’t It Romantic?” at Villa Finale featuring the vocal talents of Ken Slavin.  The intimate concert of popular love songs made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter, to name a few, will take place inside Villa Finale’s Napoleon Parlors.  Mr. Slavin will be accompanied on our 1921 Bechstein-Welte by pianist, Barry Brick.  Guests on this special evening will enjoy appropriate refreshments – we can’t forget the champagne –  prior to the concert and at intermission.  Treat your sweetheart, family member, best friend or treat yourself — many of us are just romantic at heart!  For more information about Ken Slavin, click here.

There is much more to come at Villa Finale, including our popular programs for French Cultures Month in March.  More information about the programs mentioned above is located at the end of this post.  Thank you for your support, and stay tuned for more exciting programs and events in 2015!  (Please call Villa Finale Visitor Services for more information or for admissions at 210-223-9800.  Admissions must be paid in advance.  No refunds or exchanges.  Space is limited for these programs.)

Music for Your Eyes tour – 2/5/15 (6:30pm – 7:30pm)
$20.00 general admission; $15.00 members / students

Drawing on Experience: For the Love of Art – 2/7/15 (10:00am – 11:30am)
$5.00 for one child & parent, $2.50 each additional child, general admission
$4.00 for one child & parent, $2.00 each additional child, members

“Isn’t It Romantic?” at Villa Finale featuring the vocal talents of Ken Slavin – 2/13/15 (6:30pm – 8:00pm; gate opens at 6:00pm)
$27.50 general admission
$25.00 members / students

You can always visit our wesbite www.VillaFinale.org for more information.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with a Mexican Classic

HHCTX SEAL LogoIn honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Villa Finale will be collaborating with the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas in an outdoor screening of the 1948 Mexican classic, Los Tres Huastecos (The Three Men from Huasteca), on Friday, September 12, 2014.  The movie was made during the golden age of Mexican cinema (1936 – 1969).  The films of this time were of high quality due to superior script-writing, directing, film production, originality and on-screen talent.  One of the most famous actors during this period was Pedro Infante, who plays the lead in Los Tres Huastecos.

img_art_12021_4084

Pedro Infante (1917 – 1957)

Born in November 1918 in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, Infante showed great natural talent for music.  He learned to play strings, wind and percussion instruments from his father – a musician – at a very early age and also had a rich singing voice to round out his talents.  His first wife convinced him to move to Mexico City where he could be discovered and in 1943 he made his first recording for Peerless Records; that same year he also had a small part in his first film.  Recognizing his natural acting ability and Infante’s incredible singing voice, it wasn’t long before he was one of the most sought-after performers in Mexico.  Because he came from humble origins, was charismatic and played the “everyday man” in his films, he quickly became a favorite with Mexican audiences.

 

In 1948, Pedro Infante was approached by Ismael Rodriguez, one of Mexico’s top filmakers and directors, to star in Los Tres Huastecos (The Three Men from Huasteca).  A comedic / musical drama co-written by Rodriguez, the film’s story involves triplets separated at birth after their mother dies during child birth.  treshuastecosEach of the boys is raised by their individual godfather in different areas of Mexico’s Huasteca region (located along the Gulf of Mexico) and grow up with their own personalities: one is a priest, the other a military man, and the last a rough gambler and bar owner.  The three brothers come together in the hunt for “El Coyote,” a thief and murderer who is terrorizing the region.  In addition to original huapango musical selections included in the soundtrack (huapango music highly influenced today’s Texas conjunto sound), the film features creative special effects (state-of-the-art for that time) as Infante plays all three of the brothers.

 

Blanca_Estela_Pavón

Blanca Estela Pavon (1926 – 1949)

Always up for a career challenge, Infante gladly accepted playing three different characters with their own unique personalities.  His brother, Angel, played Infante’s body double and stand-in for some of the scenes featuring more than one brother.  The film co-starred Blanca Estela Pavon – who played opposite Infante in many of his most memorable films and who was “Mexico’s sweetheart” – as the love interest of one of the brothers.  Comic Fernando Soto – aka Mantequilla (“butter”) – played the hapless sacristan (the keeper of the local church’s sacristy) and four-year-old new-comer, Maria Eugenia Llamas (aka “La Tucita,” diminutive for tuza meaning pocket gopher) played the gambler brother’s daughter.  Llamas steals scene after scene in the film as the little girl being raised as a tomboy with poor manners.  Her pets include a snake and tarantula which she handles very naturally.  Llamas later recalled that director Ismael Rodriguez treated the film shoot as a game so it was very easy for her to act and handle her on-screen pets.

tucita-1---z

Maria Eugenia Llamas “La Tucita” (1944 – 2014)

The film was a hit and received several Ariel award nominations (the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Award) including best director, actor, child performer and original screenplay.  It remains one of Infante’s most memorable and best known films.

Sadly, only one year after the release of the film, Blanca Estela Pavon died in a plane crash near the Popocatépetl volcano.  Pavon was only 23 and at the height of her career.  It is said that Infante, who co-starred with Pavon in several films, was inconsolable at the news.  Only eight years later, Pedro Infante also perished in an aerial accident when a B-24 Liberator he was piloting crashed only five minutes after takeoff; he was only 39.  Pavon and Infante are buried in the same cemetary.  Maria Eugenia Llamas, who would be known by her Tres Huestecos character name of La Tucita for the rest of her career, died on August 31, 2014 at the age of 70.

statue-de-pedro-infante-_7546763

One of many Infante statues throughout Mexico.

For many who grew up watching Pedro Infante films thanks to the influence of our parents – myself included – this is one movie that is near and dear to our childhoods.  And for those who are not familiar with Pedro Infante or Mexican films of this era, Los Tres Huastecos is a great movie to get a feeling for the quality of the country’s cinema at this time.  (Note: Pedro Infante’s talent was not lost to people in the United States.  Walter Mathis has an album by Infante in his record collection.  Infante was in talks to make his cross-over debut in the United States prior to his death.)

Come join Villa Finale and the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas for an outdoor screening of this Mexican classic on Friday, September 12th!  Admission is FREE.  Picnics, lawn chairs, blankets and pets on leash are welcome.  The HHCTX will be providing complimentary snacks.  Villa Finale will be having a raffle for free guided tour admissions to the museum.  Gates open at 6:00pm.

 

Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico

Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico

We are also happy to welcome the Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico who will be performing at 6:45pm prior to the film screening.  See you at the movies!

 

What:
Screening of the Mexican Classic Los Tres Huastecos (The Three Men from Huasteca) 1948 – running time: 2 hours
Presented with English subtitles, co-sponsored by Villa Finale and the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas

When: Friday, September 12, 2014

Times:
Gates open at 6:00pm
Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico performance at 6:45pm
Film begins at approximately 7:35pm

Admission:
FREE

For more information, please call Villa Finale Visitor Services at (210) 223-9800.  Click here to learn more about the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas.

Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska: A Triangle for the Ages

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

The woman most associated with Napoleon Bonaparte is Josephine, whose real name was Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie.  Apparently, Napoleon did not like the name “Rose,” which is what Josephine’s family and friends called her, telling the attractive widow: “I don’t like your name; from now on I will call you Josephine.” (1) The pair met in 1795 when Napoleon was just beginning to make a name for himself in the French military and was seen as one of its greatest up-and-coming officers.

There are several stories as to how and where the two met, but it is most likely it happened at a social event.  At the time, Josephine – who was a well-known figure in French society – was the mistress of Paul Barras, Napoleon’s mentor and “de facto” governor of France.  Realizing that she was not getting any younger (Josephine was 32 in 1795) and with Barras’ attention being directed toward another woman, Josephine knew she was facing the possibility of losing financial support for herself and her two children, Eugene and Hortense.  Ever the smart and captivating woman, she set her eyes on the unrefined Napoleon, who, young and inexperienced, immediately fell for her advances.  Josephine could see that the young officer was destined for greatness.  The pair was married in March 1796 with Napoleon receiving a promotion to commander-in-chief of the army of Italy as a wedding present from Paul Barras. (2)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Three days after the wedding, Napoleon left for Nice leaving his beloved bride behind.  His love letters to Josephine at this time are quite passionate and reveal how love-sick he was without her.  However, Josephine, who unlike her new husband married as a matter of convenience, was back in Paris enjoying the companionship different lovers, most notably a lieutenant named Hippolyte Charles.  The news of Josephine’s indiscretions were eventually revealed to Napoleon who had remained completely devoted to his wife refusing to take on a mistress, like many of his officers had done.  After finally taking on a mistress while in Egypt, he resolved to divorce Josephine but when he returned to France in 1799, she again used her charms to reconcile with her husband.  Josephine, an infamous spender, had gone into deep debt while Napoleon had been away and she realized it behooved her to stay married.

Even though the couple seemingly worked things out, Napoleon’s initial passion for his wife was gone.  This is quite ironic as Josephine’s love for the man blossomed and grew.  This set the stage for a number of mistresses Napoleon would have over his career.  Being a man of growing power and eventually Emperor of France, he had no problems getting any woman he wanted.  At the height of his power in 1807, Napoleon met the Countess Maria Walewska in Warsaw, Poland.  The beautiful 20-year-old Maria quickly caught the wandering eye of Emperor Bonaparte who was quick to ask for a private meeting with the young noble woman.  Maria was married to 71-year-old Count Anastase Walewski who, allegedly, encouraged his young bride to do whatever it took to ingratiate herself to Napoleon with the goal of helping Poland become in independent state.

Marie Walewska (public domain image)

Maria Walewska (public domain image)

And so it was that Maria Walewska, much to Josephine’s chagrin, became not only Napoleon’s friend and confidant, but mistress.  In fact, she joined him for several weeks in Paris and then Vienna.  In May 1810, Alexandre Florian Joseph Walewski was born to Maria.  The baby was allegedly the illegitimate son of Napoleon, although Alexandre claimed in later years that his father was Count Walewski who had legally recognized him as his son.  Be that as it may, the birth of Maria’s son was seen as further proof that Josephine, and not Napoleon, was physically incapable of bearing a child.  This would eventually lead to the couple divorcing in 1809 so he could marry the young and fertile Marie-Louise of Austria who would give birth to a son in 1811, Napoleon François Joseph Charles.

Maria claimed her relationship with Napoleon was born solely out of patriotic duty.  Despite this, Maria’s devotion and love for Napoleon – however it began – was clear to all; Maria even visited Napoleon when he was in exile in Elba.  Although Poland did not reach the large independent state it hoped, it did reach independence as the smaller, but free, Grand Duchy of Warsaw, thanks to Emperor Bonaparte.

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

The final outcome of this triangle is very interesting and history-making.  Although it was proven, through the birth of Maria’s son, that Napoleon was not infertile thus making the case for his divorce from Josephine and the birth of a legitimate heir, Napoleon lost his most arduous supporter and “good luck charm” in Josephine.  Napoleon’s Grand Armee suffered extraordinary losses in Russia in 1812 and never fully recovered until he was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  The once great Emperor of France died in exile on the British island of St. Helena in 1821.  But what of his son, Napoleon II, the King of Rome, as he was called?

After his father abdicated in 1814, Marie-Louise escaped with the boy to Austria and was given the title Duke of Reichstadt by his maternal grandfather.  Marie-Louise remarried Austrian General Count von Neipperg in 1821, only a few months after Bonaparte’s death.  Apparently, Marie-Louise had two illegitimate children by Count von Neipperg prior to their marriage, a fact that the young Napoleon François saw as a weakness in his mother allegedly saying, “If Josephine had been my mother, my father would not have been buried at Saint Helena, and I should not be at Vienna.  My mother is kind but weak; she was not the wife my father deserved.” (3)  Clearly, Josephine’s reputation as a strong woman preceded her, not being lost even in the eyes of the boy who was the reason for her divorce.  The young Napoleon II would die at age 21 of tuberculosis.

Napoleon II (public domain image)

Napoleon II (public domain image)

As far as Maria Walewska, she divorced Count Walewski and married a Count d’Ornano in 1816.  She died shortly after giving birth to a son in 1817.  Maria’s legacy is two-fold: first, her success in convincing Napoleon of Poland’s need to be independent.  Second, her giving birth of Napoleon’s illegitimate son, Alexandre.  It is through Alexandre that Napoleon Bonaparte’s direct lineage continues … ironically, it’s through several descendants of a child he had out-of-wedlock with an actress, Rachel Felix and whom he later adopted.

At Villa Finale’s upcoming La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era, costumed actors portraying Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska will be in attendance greeting and interacting with guests.  Now that you know how this triangle affected the course of history, what would you ask?

La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:00pm.  Admissions begin at $200 per person.  Proceeds support Villa Finale’s ongoing community efforts.  Call (210) 223-9800 for admissions or further information.

End Notes:
1. Proctor Patterson Jones, Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy (San Francisco, California: Proctor James Publishing Company, 1992), xxxiii.
2. Ibid.
3. Felix Markham,
Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents (New York, New York: Signet, 1966), 249.

Sources:
Jones, Proctor Patterson.  Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy.  San Francisco: Proctor Jones Publishing Company, 1992.

Markham, David J.  Napoleon for Dummies.  Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2005.

Markham, Felix.  Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents.  New York: Signet, 1963.