Do good luck charms and talismans work? Consider the case of El Cid – perhaps the greatest warrior of medieval times. The so-called “Master of the Battlefield” was said to have carried a crucifix into numerous fierce battles for both Christian and Muslim rulers for over a period of 30 years … and yet survived all of them to die of old age. The lucky crucifix was allegedly buried with him, but one resembling it appeared later in a cathedral. Now, the crucifix has been verified by a letter from King Alphonso IX. Is it still lucky? (Photos of the crucifix can be seen here.)
Rodrigo himself, often called Mio Cid,
Of whom it is sung that he was not defeated by enemies,
Who dominated Moors, also dominated our counts.
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was born in 1043 in Vivar del Cid in northern Spain. His family was minor nobility and he served Sancho II, the son of Ferdinand the Great, becoming his commander when Sancho became king of Castille and Leon. Rodrigo led successful military campaigns against Sancho’s brothers, Alfonso VI of León and García II of Galicia, and the Muslim kingdoms in al-Andalus. The Muslim Moors gave him the nickname El Cid, which loosely translated to “the Lord,” while his home team called him El Campeador, which was Spanish for “Outstanding Warrior.”
In 1072, King Sancho was killed and Alphonso took over, banishing his former enemy from the kingdom. Not one to waste a lucky crucifix, El Cid switched teams and helped the Muslim rulers of Zaragoza win against Aragon and other enemies. When Castille lost a battle with the North African Almoravids, Alphonso recruited him back to the home team. El Cid helped defeat the Almoravids in the Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia and placed himself in charge, ruling over both Spanish Christians and Muslims. While he occasionally continued to battle with the Almoravids, El Cid died of old age in 1099 and his wife, Jimena Díaz, succeeded him. Unfortunately, the lucky crucifix was buried with Cid, and Jimena lost Valencia in 1102. The crucifix and El Cid’s remains were moved from his original tomb in the Valencia cathedral to a monastery in San Pedro de Cardeña in Burgos and buried with Jimena.
Or was it?
In the Cathedral of Salamanca, north-west Spain, there is a crucifix in the Romanesque style, which is believed to date from the 10th century AD. It is known as the Cristo de las Batallas (Battle Christ), and it has long been associated with the Reconquista and El Cid, to the point that a 16th century cult worshiped it and credited at least one miracle to the icon – even though a direct link to El Cid was unproven. In a country whose revolutionary beliefs to this day are tied to the Reconquista, that was still enough for the masses — but not for the historians.
“A 14th-century letter of King Alfonso XI explains that El Cid carried a crucifix when he went out to fight.”
That letter remained unnoticed in the British Library in London until recently when Alberto Montaner, a professor of Spanish literature at the University of Zaragoza, discovered it. King Alfonso XI was yet another powerful Spanish king, but does that make him a reliable source when it comes to establishing this as the actual lucky crucifix of El Cid? According to The Times, that seems to be enough for Montaner. If you need more proof, consider that without the lucky cross, the tombs of El Cid and his wife were ransacked in the Peninsular War of 1808-1814 and his feet, hands and pieces of his skull are still missing. However, someone found his sword, which sold at auction for £1.5 million ($1.8 million). We all know where our true priorities are.
The movie “El Cid” was produced in 1961 and starred American (of Scottish-English descent) Charlton Heston as El Cid and Sophia Loren (100% Italian) as his wife. Sounds like Jimena Diaz had the luck there, even without the crucifix.