St Alban’s Spanish Culture and History specialist GREGORY STARKEY examines some of the changes English-speaking students can expect to experience when they arrive in Valladolid…
Taking in a different culture is undoubtedly an enrichment as it widens understanding in our simple daily lives, offering different perspectives of people and things which otherwise would appear one-dimensional.
It helps us to grow in tolerance, and through tolerance comes love and mercy. The student coming to College in Valladolid is brought into contact with two cultures: that of Spain itself, and that of the great Jesuit missionary movement that produced St Alban’s Martyrs in the 16th and 17th century.
One wonders what an impression Spain’s culture made on those early students, against a backdrop of persecution at home. Did Spain’s Catholic culture resonate with their own recusant experience?
What, on a more mundane level, did they make of the differences of climate, of language, of food? Today’s College students may come from a far more interconnected world, where central heating brings Mediterranean warmth to our winter homes, and a whole host of languages are to heard in our streets, but cultural differences between Spain and England have not disappeared altogether.
This year, we began teaching a course to explore the geography, history and customs of Spain. Designed to complement the students’ Spanish Language Course, it is primarily intended to deepen their understanding of Spain, the context for their Propaedeutic year.
In contrast to the other short, more concentrated courses, this course is continuous through the nine months. There is a limit, however to what can be covered in 20 classes.
I thought that living in the College would take care of the 16th and 17th century, so I concentrated on ancient, mediaeval and contemporary history.
Some found the classical period dry but there was a chance to bring in some fascinating Spanish Church peculiarities such as the connections of Spanish Christianity with North Africa with the Mozarabic Rite, or the Galician Church, home to exiled Britons fleeing from the Saxons.
The students loved the sections on food and wine, and even asked for one on bullfighting, a very delicate topic nowadays! In groups they investigated the many aspects of Holy Week, its art and history in the last weeks of Lent when things speed up in College for the year’s high point: the Paschal Triduum. Time was too short this year for literature and art, and that must fit in next year to help students understand the greater picture. But the College arranged trips to help students absorb what they had learned – to Avila for St Teresa, Segovia for St John of the Cross to Segovia and to León for the Roman city and its Gothic cathedral.
Sharing and enjoying culture must be flexible and its teacher, one hopes, has learned as much as the students he has taught. So after the planning, preparing, and delivering this year comes the harrowing task of pruning and choosing from the vast depths of Spanish history and culture for 2018- 2019 in line with feedback from this year’s group.
Inevitably in every student’s mind at some point or other comes the question: Why Spain? Each will have to decide his own answer, of course, as happened in the past. I hope I have helped them answer it in a favourable light.
Past students were told to get on and make the most of it. Many answered that question later on by going deeper into Spanish culture and putting their language knowledge to use as Fidei Donum priests in South America. Let’s hope that what Valladolid sows may flower likewise with these men, if not there, then at least to appreciate better their own home culture.
For many, Valladolid was their first experience of Spanish culture and history, unfamiliar ground, a journey into the unknown, totally on the periphery of their own experience.
That word in itself should ring bells: Pope Francis shows how this is necessary: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel”. That answers the Why Spain? The Pope could have been writing about the Propaedeutic Year in Valladolid!