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Palencia

[puh-len-shuh; Sp. pah-len-thyah]
Other use: Palencia, Guatemala.

Palencia is a city south of Tierra de Campos, in north-northwest Spain, the capital of the province of Palencia in the autonomous community of Castile-Leon. The municipality had a population of 80,801 in 2002.

Palencia contains a few historic sights. The Roman bridge across the Carrión river was replaced by the medieval one of three arches: the old section of the city is on the left bank, the modern suburban development is on the right bank: it seems likely that the first inhabitants settled on the right bank, and later moved to the left bank — set in higher ground — because of the frequent floodings. The old city walls more than 10 meters high can still be traced; the alamedas or promenades along them were laid out in 1778. The flamboyant Gothic Cathedral built from 1321 to 1504 and dedicated to San Antolín, stands over a low vaulted Visigothic crypt; its museum contains a number of important works of art, including a retablo of twelve panels by Juan de Flandes, court painter to Queen Isabella of Castile. The Archeological Museum contains Celtiberian ceramics. Palencia is also famous for the 13th-century church of San Miguel and the Benedictine monastery of San Zoilo, housed in an 18th-century rococo structure by Juan de Badajoz.

History

Under Rome The fortified Celtiberian settlement, was rendered as Pallantia (Παλλαντία) by Strabo and Ptolemy (ii. 6. § 50) and the Romans, a version possibly of the Celtic root pala, "plain". It was the chief town of the Vaccaei, although Strabo wrongly assigns it to the Arevaci. The city was starved into submission in the second century BCE and incorporated into the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis, in the jurisdiction of Clunia. Though the little Roman garrison city was an active mint, it was insignificant compared to the Roman villas of Late Antiquity in the surrounding territory. Archeologists have uncovered the remains of Roman villas at La Olmeda and at the "Quintanilla de la Cueza," where the fragments of mosaic floors are spectacularly refined. According to the fifth-century Galician chronicler Idatius, the city of Palencia was all but destroyed (457) in the Visigothic wars against the Suevi: the date falls in the reign of Theodoric II, whose power center still lay far to the east, in Aquitania. When the Visigoths conquered the territory, however, they retained the Roman rural villa system in establishing the Campos Góticos.

Under the Bishops. In the city itself, the Catholic bishopric of Palencia had been founded in the third century or earlier, assuming its bishop was among those assembled in the third century to depose Basilides, bishop of Astorga. With the arrival of effective Visigothic power, official Arians and opposition Catholics disputed the bishopric of Palencia. Priscillian's ascetic heresy, which originated in Galicia, spread over the Tierra de Campos ruled by the Arian Visigoths, and was opposed by Toribius, Bishop of Astorga. Maurila, an Arian bishop established in Palencia by Leovigild, followed King Reccared's conversion to Catholicism (587), and in 589 he assisted at the Third Council of Toledo. Bishop Conantius, the biographer of Saint Ildephonsus, assisted at synods and councils in Toledo and composed music and a book of prayers from the Psalms; he ruled the see for more than thirty years, and had for his pupil Fructuosus of Braga.

Under the Moors. When the Moors arrived in the early eighth century, resistance was fragmented among bishops in control of the small walled towns, and the territorial magnates in their fortified villas. A concerted resistance seems to have been ineffective, and the fragmented system crumbled villa by villa. Palencia was insignificant: Moorish writers only once cite the border city in the division of the provinces previous to the Ummayyad dynasty. The diocese of Palencia was but a name— a "titular see"— until Froila, Count of Villafruela, succeeded in retaking the area of the see in 921, but the true restorer of Christian power was Sancho III of Navarre. At Palencia El Cid married his Ximena in 1074.

Under the restored Bishops. The first prelate of the restored see (1035) is said to have been Bernardo, whom Sancho gave feudal command over the city and its lands, with the various castles and the few abbeys. Bernardo was born in France or Navarre, and devoted himself to the reconstruction of the original cathedral built over the crypt of the local Saint Antolín (Antoninus of Pamiers), the patron saint of Palencia, who is venerated here alone, with his Ferias, a moveable feast in September. The cathedral was rebuilt again three centuries later. Its principal treasures were relics of Antoninus, formerly venerated in Aquitania, whence they had been brought. Alfonso VI conferred many privileges on Bernardo's successor, Raimundo. Pedro of Agen in France, one of the noted men brought in by Bishop Bernardo of Toledo, succeeded Bishop Raimundo. A supporter of Queen Urraca, he was imprisoned by Alfonso I of Aragon. In 1113 a provincial council was held in Palencia by Archbishop Bernardo to quell the disorders of the epoch. The long and beneficent administration of Pedro was succeeded by that of Pedro II, who died in Almeria and was succeeded by Raimundo II. Bishop Tello took part in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, where Palencia won the right to emblazon the cross over its castle.

University of Palencia.The first university in Spain, the studium generale of Palencia was founded by Alfonso VIII in 1208; however, the school did not long survive him. It has been suggested that the 13th-century poet Gonzalo de Berceo studied at the University during its brief existence. The teachers from Palencia were drawn to the thriving University of Salamanca.

Later bishops. In 1410 Bishop Sancho de Rojas fought at the battle of Antequera, where the Infante Ferdinand, regent of Castile and León, defeated Mohammed VII, king of Granada, and in the Treaty of Caspe he aided Ferdinand to secure the crown of Aragon. Saint Vincent Ferrer preached in Palencia, so successfully converting thousands of Jews, the Catholic sources tell, that he was permitted to employ the synagogue for his new-founded hospital of San Salvador, later joined to that of S. Antolin.

Among the successive bishops of Palencia, who, as feudal lords, were invariably members of the noble families:

  • Munio de Zamora
  • Sancho de Rojas
  • Rodrigo de Velasco (died 1435)
  • Rodrigo Sanchez de Arévalo, author of a history of Spain in Latin (1466)
  • Iñigo López de Mendoza (1472-1485)
  • Bishop Fonseca (1505-1514)
  • Pedro de Castilla (1440-1461)
  • Fray Alonso de Burgos (1485-1499)
  • La Gasca (1550-1561)
  • Zapata (1569-1577)
  • Alvaro de Mendoza
  • Gabino-Alejandro Carriedo (1923-1981)

A short distance south of the city, in the village of Baños de Cerrato, is the oldest church on the peninsula, a seventh-century basilica dedicated to Saint John and built by the Visigoth King Reccaswinth (died 672).

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