It was 1992. Spain had organised, at great expense, a splendid international exhibition in Seville to celebrate the 500th anniversary of its discovery of the Americas. All over the city, a multitude of demonstrations, exhibitions, and performances took place.
We requested, in particular, to visit an exhibition that brought together works of art, paintings, furniture, sculptures, and objects from all over the world, from every continent, dating back to the essential year of 1492.
It was held on an island in the middle of the Guadalquivir river that watered Seville. It was a long, flat, and deserted island, which up until then was inhabited only by weeds and a few snakes.
Makeshift bridges had been built on the island, as well as a large, canvased wooden building to house these works of art. We had the privilege of a private visit, guided by a charming young Spaniard, as cultured as she was kind.
From the start, Marina and I were amazed at the quality, diversity, ingenuity, and beauty of the objects exhibited, which, allow me to remind you, came from every continent, with only one common trait – the year of their creation, 1492. The exhibition also portrayed the important events and significant characters of this fatal year.
We were in the grand gallery when my attention was brought to a recognizable portrait of the monk Savonarola. Now, he was a character I hated for his fanaticism, and especially for having organised the destruction of so many works of art, and so many books he had stacked high upon pyres he then set on fire. Thus, among the flames, so many incomparable masterpieces and collections of human knowledge were lost forever.
As we walked by his portrait, I couldn’t help but mention to our charming guide, “I hate this person.” “So do we,” she responded. “And why is that?” I asked her, surprised she shared my opinion. “Because we see him every night,” she answered. I stopped. “Let’s sit down, and tell me all about it now,” I said to her. We found three chairs, sat down beneath the portrait, and she began to explain.
“I haven’t seen him myself, but all the night guards complain that after midnight, they see the subject of this portrait walking around the gallery. They are so frightened that they don’t want to work here anymore and have all asked to be transferred,” she recounted. I asked her to explain further. What was it that these guards had seen?
“They don’t exactly see his face, but they see a monk wearing precisely the same clothing as the man in the portrait, with the same hood draped over his head, walking the length and breadth of the gallery, the very sight of which fills them with terror.”
I did not doubt for a moment the veracity in the night guards’ statements. I was indeed convinced that they had seen the ghost of a monk walking around the gallery, but I very much doubted it was the ghost of Savonarola. He had no connection to Seville. Why would he manifest in this town? Simply because his portrait was on display, it was unthinkable. Moreover, according to the guide, the night guards did not recognize his face, but merely his outfit. This story intrigued me. The building of canvas and wood had only just been built, it could not possibly contain ghosts. A ghost from elsewhere? Again, I seriously doubted it.
Then, it came to me. I asked the young guide if perhaps there had been, sometime in the past, a building here that had since been destroyed. “Yes, of course, there was a monastery. That is why the island is called “The Island of Cartuja”, in other words, of the Chartreuse,” she answered.
And where there’s a monastery, there is bound to be a monk. The monastery had been destroyed, but the monks, or at least one monk, who had lived there during the Renaissance had not left, and believing their home still existed, continued to walk around it at night. As a matter of fact, this was not a unique case. Sometimes, a building disappears but its tenants remain.