“Franco’s ban on women’s work was a historical anomaly”

“During the first period of Francoism, women were forbidden to work, it is a historical anomaly because women have always worked in everything, in the same trades as men but for half the salary. And it is not an invention, there are thousands of documents that refer to the work of women in all kinds of jobs, ”says Araba researcher Isabel Mellén Rodríguez, historian, professor at UNED and specialized disseminator in the Romanesque art of Álava and on paper interpreted by women in the Middle Ages in the fields of culture and artistic heritage.

“Francoism was the state-level culmination of a process of gradual elimination of medieval women’s rights that began with Alfonso X El Sabio and the recuperation of Roman law, so detrimental to women’s freedoms, and which continued with the Restoration. and especially with the Enlightenment which squandered the role of women, even if curiously they avoided the freedoms which they enjoyed in a Middle Ages which the enlightened did not like”, maintains the author of the book Tierra de Damas in which a gender perspective is responsible for recovering women, nobility, yes, but women, who simply “were hidden”.

Yesterday Mellán impressed those attending the Church of San Nicolás de Bari in Pobeña – the temple was too small – where he spoke about his research into the role women had in relation to the Romanesque and the Romanesque churches that were erected in the Basque Country.

“First, the very images that we have in the churches speak, which are full of ladies, nobles too of course, but everything alludes to a social class, the nobility, and then on the other hand the documentation. All this allowed me to come to the conclusion that those who had actually favored, created, built… had put their money to make these churches had been above all ladies of the nobility. We can find churches in the Basque Country made by a bishop, we have others that were founded by kings and queens but above all in the Basque Country what predominated were the churches built by ladies”, reveals the gazteiztarra.

According to her, this important contribution would obey a question of gender role and social class, that is to say that this role corresponded to her. “The nobles spent a lot of time in war and returned dead and apart from that they were already educated from an early age for many social and political tasks, we would say today, within the lineages, and one of them was to create these churches,” says Isabel Mellán.

Company and lineage

These ladies treated the church buildings as if it were a mill because they used it in the same way, beyond the involvement of worship. “It is a place that receives income, it is a business in which they receive income because here they usually had relics, which attracted the faith of certain people who came to donate. All that money had repercussions on the managers who owned the temple,” says Mellán. However, the researcher points out that the churches were also places of worship and had some of their most important heritage collections in possession of relics of saints, ecclesiastical books or ecuaristic elements.

“Here they also gave religious services and for that they engaged a priest – contract according to today’s terminology – but the priest was placed here according to their own interests. So part of that money that was collected went to pay that priest, like in a mill, ladies weren’t in churches all day. If they had a mill, they put someone to take care of the business but it was theirs, ”adds the writer, who proclaims that the Basque Country novel is an art conceived for women.

In this line, having pointed out in his study that behind the construction of these own churches -also called monasteries- there is an economic reason, which has been realized like any other good, “there is a very important symbolic function” . “Mostly because they served as family cemeteries where the lineage was buried and that’s what gave it prestige. The older your line is, the more it will have an official place where it can be buried, where you can expose it, you can show it, it will give social prestige”.

A question not least that was a recurring element in the costumes of nobility of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in which on several occasions, to show that a family had been important throughout life, they referred to the existence of the family pantheon. “There we also learned several times from later documents that this church originally belonged to this family and we keep some epitaphs. Today all the tombs have disappeared, they have been eliminated from the temples, but in exchange we are left with the Romanesque iconography in which these noble ladies appear, and above all this funerary function associated with women,” says Mellán.

On the portals of the Romanesque churches, their corbels or capitals hardly appear the usual religious images which abound in this type of temple; here, on the contrary, proud ladies with rich headdresses, perfectly dressed knights, castles on high hills and processions of obscure significance emerge from its stones and pigments.

From this medieval period is Elo Bellacoz de Puveia (1102), who donated a church. However, discovering the women who were in charge of these churches or were those who exercised their “matronage” is today complicated. “On the one hand, there are the documents which are what they are. I wish we had more now but they arrive very skewed in the Middle Ages and of course we don’t have all the ones we would like and they give us an overview of only a small part of the Basque temples, those whose incomes have were donated at some point to a monastery. Of all those who did not give any income to the monastery and kept it for themselves, we have no idea, because the documentation did not come into our hands, there is no trace. “We have very biased information and there are names of women but we have not always kept the church with which it is associated”, laments Mellán, who, on the other hand, carried out an analysis of the implications of the women of the powerful De Haro family that “they built pantheons both in San Millán de la Cogolla and in Santa María de Nájera”.


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