Within the high walls In these degenerate days Saragossa has taken to itself a suburb—the first and deadliest sign of a city’s progress. Thirty years ago, however, Torrero did not exist, and those terrible erections of white stone and plaster which now disfigure the high land to the south of the city had not yet burst upon the calm of ancient architectural Spain. Here, on Monte Torrero, stood an old convent, now turned into a barrack. Here also, amid the trees of the ancient gardens, rises the rounded dome of the church of San Fernando.
Close by, and at a slightly higher level, curves the Canal Imperial, 400 years old, and not yet finished; assuredly conceived by a Moorish love of clear water in high places, but left to Spanish enterprise and in completeness when the Moors had departed.
Beyond the convent walls, the canal winds round the slope of the brown hill, marking a distinctive line between the outer desert and the green oasis of Saragossa. Just within the border line of the oasis, just below the canal, on the sunny slope, lies the long low house of the Convent School of the Sisters of the True Faith. Here, amid the quiet of orchards—white in spring with blossom, the haunt of countless nightingales, heavy with fruit in autumn, at all times the home of a luxuriant vegetation—history has surged to and fro, like the tides drawn hither and thither, rising and falling according to the dictates of a far-off planet. And the moon of this tide is Rome.
For the Sisters of the True Faith are a Jesuit corporation, and their Convent School is, now a convent, now a school, as the tide may rise or fall. The ebb first came in 1555, when Spain threw out the Jesuits. The flow was at its height so late as 1814, when Ferdinand VII—a Bourbon, of course—restored Jesuitism and the Inquisition at one stroke. And before and after, and through all these times, the tide of prosperity has risen and fallen, has sapped and sagged and undermined with a noiseless energy which the outer world only half suspects.
In 1835 this same long, low, quiet house amid the fruit-trees was sacked by the furious populace, and more than one Sister of the True Faith, it is whispered, was beaten to the ground as she fled shrieking down the hill. In 1836 all monastic orders were rigidly suppressed by Mendizabal, minister to Queen Christina. In 1851 they were all allowed to live again by the same Queen’s daughter, Isabel II. So wags this world into which there came nineteen hundred years ago not peace, but a sword; a world all stirred about by a reformed rake of Spain who, in his own words, came “to send fire throughout the earth;” whose motto was, “Ignem veni metteri in terram, et quid volo nisi ut accendatur.”