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Hermits in Sierra Morena are a tradition as old as Christian Faith in Spain; some even say that the hermit tradition in Europe started there and then spread. It was the bishop Hosius of Córdoba the one who after meeting Saint Antonio Abad officially introduced this Christian tradition for the first time in Western Europe. However, the 13 small white shrines crowning the mountains of Córdoba come from a more recent past.

In the year 1703, at the request of Francisco de Jesús the City Hall of Córdoba granted the Church some lands in what was known as the Cerro de la Cárcel, a barren and idle land in the mountains, so that the hermits scattered throughout the region could have a place for their uses.

1703 was the year in which the Ermitas of Córdoba were established. During the following six years the chapel, the thirteen shrines and the Dessert fence or the Our Lady of Bethlehem fence were built. But what was the reason behind the name?  Well, Bartolomé Sánchez de Feria explained it very well in a book published in 1782 under the title Memorias sagradas de el Yermo de Córdoba (Sacred history of the Córdoba Yermo) where the author states the following:

Page 361:

His hope was not in vain as it is shown in the following case: the Honorable Francisco was determined to finished the Cells planned for the Dessert Church and Choir and with that objective in mind the Brother Ignacio de San Francisco and him traveled to Sevilla to raise funds. On their travel they encountered a man that moved by the will power and determination of the two men asked how much money would they need to finish the construction. The Honorable Francisco told him two hundred pesos would suffice. And this humble man replied that their worries had ended as he would take care of that money: use what little you have I am soon to receive a vast sum of money, come back in four months with Brother Ignacio and you shall return plentiful. And so it happened, and they returned with the two hundred pesos needed to end the construction and brought also a stained glass window of Our Lady of Bethlehem, most beautiful and devoted Image, and that the Honorable Francisco placed in the chapel with his own hands, thus, giving honor, glory and beauty to it. From that day onward the so called Cerro de la Cárcel was renamed as Cerro de Belén (Bethlehem Hill).

Unfortunately there is no trace and no record of that stained glass window, the ones that are nowadays in its place show the image of Saint Antonio Abad, Saint John and the Holy Family but they all date from the XXth century. The causes and dates in which the original stained glass window was lost are unknown but perhaps during the confiscations in 1836.

How did this rare and unknown stained glass window look like? 

In order to build a possible image of the lost stained glass window we must go back to the first known images depicting the Bethlehem Virgin of Córdoba. The oldest one was crafted by Bartolomé Vázquez in 1795 when, says Sánchez de Feria in its book, the stained glass window was yet to be carried to the Ermitas. It seems reasonable that this design would have probably been made into the final image.

Then there is also an old medal dating from 1825, as of today a piece within the National Archaeological Museum’s collection, that reproduces the same image as the previous engraving design.

And now my personal bet!

This image could very well be depicting the original stained glass window since its composition makes it extremely simple to divide into clean parts where the glass would be easy to cut and then assembled to create the color patterns of this stained glass window original from Sevilla; there the exquisite guild of glass workers worked in the Cathedral.

NOTE: all the designs of the Bethlehem Virgin employed by the hermits, even the stained glass window itself, follow the famous design that Francisco Camilo (Madrid 1615 – 1673) made for the church of Saint Anton in Madrid and that became very popular in Spain for its “magical” attributes.



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