Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Castile and Aragon

Click to enlarge

Castile and Aragon, the united kingdom which came into existence by the marriage (1469) of Isabella, heiress of Castile, with Ferdinand the Catholic, King of Aragon. Columbus made his voyages of discovery as the agent of “the Catholic Kings” (los Reyes Catdlicos) of this united kingdom, which in the course of history became the Kingdom of Spain—or, more precisely, of the Spains.

CASTILE.—The origin of the name Castile is a matter of dispute, but it is more than probably derived from the fortified castles (castillos), built first by the Romans to protect themselves from the Cantabrians whom they had not completely subjugated, and afterwards by the Christians to defend the northern regions which they had conquered from the Moors. At the present time this name is given to the extensive region which forms the central portion of Spain, and is bounded on the north by the Bay of Biscay (the ancient Sinus Cantabricus), on the east by the Basque Provinces, and the provinces of Navarre, Aragon, and Valencia, on the south by Andalusia, and on the west by Estremadura, Leon, and the Asturias, and is divided into Old Castile and New Castile.

Old Castile (Castilla la Vieja).—It is asserted by some (Fernandez Guerra, Cantabria) that Old Castile was called Vellegia and afterwards Vetula, whence Vieja, but the most probable explanation is that it was called Vieja, or Antigua, to distinguish it from Castilla la Nueva—the New Castile formed from the lands which since the eleventh century had been reconquered beyond the mountain chain of the Carpetano-Vetonica. Old Castile is in outline an irregular triangle, the western frontier bordering on the ancient Kingdom of Leon, the southeastern boundary being the Sierras de Credos, Guadarrama, and the Moncayo (Mons Caunus), and the northeastern, the river Ebro. In the political division of Spain the ancient province of Cantabria, which is included in Castile, does not belong to it either ethnographically or geographically, but forms a separate district called by those who inhabit it de Penns al Mar, or more commonly La Montana. In the present political division Old Castile comprises a territory of 22,415 square miles, with a population of 1,654,585, and since the division of 1833 it has included the eight provinces of Burgos, Palencia, Valladolid, Avila, Segovia, Soria, Logroflo, and Santander. Old Castile forms the highest plateau of Spain, perhaps of Europe, the mean height being 880 feet. The mountain streams of this region feed the river Ebro in the northeast, the Duero, which flows through the center, and the Pisuerga, which is a tributary of the Duero. Owing to its situation it has the most extreme climate of Spain, both as to cold and heat, and its fertile soil produces wheat and other cereals. The most important cities are: Burgos, population 29,683, famous for its Gothic cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful in the world; Valladolid, population 52,181, which was the capital of Spain until the time of Philip II; Santander, population 41,021, capital of Cantabria, a maritime city with an extensive commerce; Segovia, population 11,318, where the ancient Alcazar and the artillery school are situated; and Avila, population 25,039, the city of St. Teresa.

New Castile.—As has already been said, this name was given to the territory reconquered from the Arabs, from the time of Alfonso VI to that of St. Ferdinand. This region also forms a great tableland, not quite so lofty as that of Old Castile, and is bounded on the north by the mountain chain of the Carpetano-Vetonica, on the south by the Sierra Morena, on the east by the mountains of Cuenca; the mountains of Toledo, which merge into the Sierra de Guadalupe in Estremadura, run through the center and separate the two great valleys into which New Castile is divided, that of the Tagus to the north, and that of the Guadiana to the south. The river Jucar, which flows through the southeast, rises in the mountains of Cuenca. The climate is not so cold as that of Old Castile, and the soil not so fertile, there being a scarcity of water, especially in La Mancha. Its present limits comprise an area of 28,017 square miles, with a population of 1,777,506, and is divided into the five provinces of Madrid, Toledo, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, and Guadalajara. The principal cities are: Madrid, population 518,442, the capital of Spain since the time of Philip II, noted for its royal palace, picture gallery, containing specimens of Velasquez, Murillo, etc., and armoury (Museo de la Real Armeria); Toledo, population 20,239, ancient capital of the kingdom of the Visigoths, honored by Charles I with the title of “Imperial”, and noted for its cathedral, one of the finest monuments of Spain, and the see of the cardinal primate, as well as for its military school; Guadalajara, which has a military school for engineers; Aranjuez, where one of the favorite country residences of the Spanish royal family is situated; and Alcala, the seat of the university founded by Cisneros, which has since been transferred to Madrid. The Escorial, near Madrid, contains the famous mausoleum of Philip II, and is one of the historic monuments of New Castile.

HISTORY.—(I) The Courtship (Condado) of Castile.—The territory of Old Castile began to be reconquered in the time of the first three Alfonsos, who entrusted to several counts the repopulation and defense of these cities; thus Ordono I entrusted the repopulation of Amaya, on the Pisuerga, to Rodrigo, a Goth by extraction, and his son, Diego Porcellos, fortified and repopulated Burgos under the orders of Alfonso III. Nuno Nunez de Roa, Gonzalo Tellez de Osma, and Fernan Gonzalez de Sepulveda appear also in the same role. In 910 a Count of Castile, Nuno Fernandez, assisted the sons of Alfonso III in their rebellion against their father, and Ordono II of Leon (924) was defeated by the troops of Abderraman in Valdejunquera because the Counts of Castile did not come to his assistance; in punishment of their disloyalty, Ordono had them imprisoned and executed in Leon. Tradition hands down the names of these counts as Nuno Fernandez, Abolmondar el Blanco, his son Diego, and Fernando Ansurez. Further on mention is made of the judges of Castile, Lain Calvo and Nuno Rasura, established to facilitate the administration of justice, but who fostered the spirit of independence. The hero of this movement was Count Ferran Gonzalez, to whom legendary lore has attributed all manner of heroic achievements. It is, however, known that, after having fought with Ramiro II against the Arabs, and after the battle of Simancas and the retreat of Abderraman, this count, dissatisfied, as it appears, because the King of Leon distributed his troops in the frontier towns, rose in rebellion against him. He was, however, vanquished and made prisoner. He became reconciled with his sovereign, giving his daughter Urraca in marriage to the king’s son, Ordono, who afterwards became Ordono III. Notwithstanding this alliance, Ferran Gonzalez continued to foment trouble and discord in Leon, aiming to secure his independence. He successively aided Sancho against his brother, Ordofo III, and Ordono, son of Alfonso IV (the Monk), against Sancho the Fat (el Graso). After the death of Ferran Gonzalez (970) there followed the campaigns of Almanzor, in which all the reconquered territory was at stake. In 995 the King of Navarre and Garcia Fernandez, the son of Fernan Gonzalez, made an attempt to oppose him, but were defeated at Alcocer. Sancho Garcia, grandson of Fernin Gonzalez, took part in the victory of Calatanazor, which put an end to the campaigns of the victorious Moslem hhjib (1002). This Count Sancho Garcia was called El de los Fueros (literally, “He of the Rights”, or “of the Charters”), because of the rights or charters which he granted to the various cities. His son, Garcia Sanchez, gave one of his sisters, Elvira, in marriage to Sancho the Great of Navarre, and another, Jimena, to Bermudo III of Leon, and was himself about to marry Sancha, Bermudo’s sister, when he was assassinated by the Velas, Counts of Alava. At his death Sancho of Navarre reclaimed the countship of Castile, and took possession of it, notwithstanding the resistance of Bermudo III.

(2) The Kingdom of Castile.—Sancho the Great divided his possessions among his sons. Castile, with the title of king, was given to Ferdinand, who had married Sancha, the sister of Bermudo, who was to have married Garcia Sanchez, the last independent count. Ferdinand I, of Castile, united Castile and Leon, the latter having fallen to his wife upon the death of her brother, Bermudo III. Thus reinforced, Ferdinand extended his conquests as far as Coimbra; but he committed the fatal error of dividing his possessions among his three sons and two daughters. Sancho, who inherited the Kingdom of Castile, began encroaching upon the rights of his brothers, but was assassinated at the siege of Zamora, which he was trying to take from his sister Urraca, and was succeeded by Alfonso VI. This monarch began to reunite the estates of his father, and carried the war of reconquest beyond the mountain chain of the Carpentano-Vetonica, capturing Madrid and Toledo, and thus laying the foundations of New Castile. He gave his daughter Teresa in marriage to Henry of Burgundy, forming for them, with the western territory reconquered from the Moors, the Countship of Portugal, which was the beginning of the Portuguese monarchy. His daughter Urraca succeeded him, the first queen to reign in the kingdom where Isabella the Catholic was later to hold the scepter. Alfonso VII bore the title of emperor, and extended his conquests as far as Almeria, but he, also, at his death in 1157, divided his possessions among his children, giving Leon to Ferdinand II, and Castile to Sancho, in whose short reign the Military Order of Alcantara was founded. Alfonso VIII (1158-1214) conquered Cuenca and defeated the Almohades in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), which definitively freed New Castile from the Mussuhnan yoke. This decisive victory is annually commemorated by the Church in Spain on the 16th of July, under the title “El Triumfo de la Santa Cruz” (The Triumph of the Holy Cross). After the brief reigns of Henry I and Dona Berengaria, Castile and Leon were definitively united under St. Ferdinand III (1219-52), who conquered the greater part of Andalusia (Jaen, Cordova, and Seville, 1248), leaving the Mohammedans only the Kingdom of Granada. The cathedral of Burgos occupies the first place among the monuments of his greatness. His successors failed to carry on the reconquest. Alfonso X, “The Wise” (el Sabio), was too much taken up with his vain pretensions to the imperial crown of Germany, Sancho the Brave (1248-95) and Ferdinand IV, “the Cited” (el Emplazado), with their domestic struggles. In the time of Sancho IV the celebrated defense of Tarifa took place, giving to Alonzo Perez de Guzman, to whom it was entrusted, the title of “The Good” (el Bueno). Alfonso XI (1310-50) in the battle of Salado annihilated the last of the Mussulmans who attempted the reconquest of Spain. The irregularity of his private life, however, paved the way for the disorders and cruelties of the reign of his son Pedro, the Cruel, who met death at the hands of his bastard brother, Henry II (1369-79). Bertrand du Guesclin, with his famous companies, was the ally of Henry II, John I attempted to obtain possession of Portugal, but was defeated by the Portuguese at Aljubarrota (1385), and his grandson John II, turned over the government to his favorite, Alvaro de Luna, whom he afterwards caused to be decapitated (1453). Henry IV, “The Impotent”, was the tool of the nobles, who forced him to declare illegitimate his daughter Juana, known as la Beltraneja (the daughter of Beltran), and the succession thus passed to his sister Isabella the Catholic (1474).

ARAGON.—Aragon derives its name from the river Aragon, a small tributary of the Ebro near Alfaro, and forms an irregular ellipse, bounded on the north by the Central Pyrenees (Pic du Midi), on the east by Catalonia and Valencia (Provinces of Lerida, Tarragona, and Castellon), on the south by Valencia and New Castile (Provinces of Valencia and Cuenca), and on the west by Navarre and Castile (Provinces of Guadalajara and Soria). It is one of the most mountainous regions of Spain, perhaps of Europe, surrounded as it is on the north by the Pyrenees mountains and the Sierras de la Pena and de Guara, on the west by the Moneayo and the mountains of Cuenca, and on the south by the Montes Universales and the Sierra de Giidar. From northwest to southeast it is traversed by the River Ebro, of which almost all the rivers of this region are tributaries, the Aragon, Gallego, and Cinca emptying into it from the north, and the Jiloca, the Jalon, and others of lesser importance from the south. The Guadalaviar and the Mijares, however, are fed directly from the mountains of Teruel. These topographical conditions make the soil of Aragon very fertile; the mountains are covered with great forests, and fruits grow abundantly, but, on account of the isolation of the mountains and the scarcity of water on some of the high tablelands, some regions are but thinly populated. According to the modem division of provinces (November 30, 1833), Saragossa, Huesca, and Teruel belong to Aragon. The principal cities are Saragossa, famous for its sieges in the War of Independence and for the ancient shrine del Pilar, where from very remote times the Blessed Virgin has been venerated, and Huesca (Osca), where Pedro IV established, in 1354, a university to which was given the name of the Sertorio, in memory of Quintus Sertorius, who, in 77 B.C., founded here a school for the sons of native chiefs.

HISTORY.—We must depend principally on legend for information about the origin of the Aragonese monarchy. It is certain that a portion of the Goths driven northward by the Mussulman invasion sought refuge among the mountaineers, who were never completely subjugated by any conqueror (indoctus juga ferre—Horace), and there formed certain independent countships, principally those of Sobrarbe, Aragon, and Ribagorza. The legend designates the Montes Uruel or S. Juan de la Pena as the spot where the patriots assembled, and from a cross which appeared over a tree the name, Sobrarbe, and the coat of arms were derived, just as Aragon took its name from the river which flows west of Jaca, which appears to have been its capital. About 724 mention is made of a Garcia Jimenez who was Count of Sobrarbe, and further on we find that Garcia Iniguez bestowed the Countship of Aragon upon a knight named Aznar, who had obtained possession of Jaca. This countship then embraced the valleys of Canfranc, Aisa, Borao, Aragues, and Hecho. After Aznar (d. 975) we find the names of several Counts of Aragon—Galindo, Jimeno Aznar, Jimeno Garcia Aznar, Fortunio Jimenez, and Urraca, or Andregoto, who married Garcia of Navarre, thus uniting Navarre and Aragon. The Countship of Ribagorza, established under the protection of the Franks, was reconquered by Sancho the Great of Navarre, who at his death left Aragon to his son Ramiro, and Sobrarbe and Ribagorza to his son Gonzalo (1035), but at Gonzalo’s death Ramiro was elected to succeed him, the Aragonese monarchy being definitively founded. Sancho Ramirez (1069-94) took a great part of the deep valley of the Cinca from the Moors, with the strongholds of Barbastro and Monzon, and died while besieging Huesca. His son Pedro I, after vanquishing the Moorish auxiliary army in the battle of Alcoraz, took possession of the city. His brother, Alfonso the Fighter (El Batallador, 1104-34), who succeeded him, captured Saragossa (1118), but died from the effects of wounds received in the siege of Fraga, willing his estates to the military orders of Jerusalem, thinking that they would be best able to bring the war of reconquest to a successful close. His subjects, however, would not accept this, and obliged his brother Ramiro, who was a monk in the monastery of Saint-Pons de Tomieres, to accept the crown. Dispensed by the pope from his vows, he married Agnes of Poitiers, and when the birth of a daughter, whom he married to Raymond Berengar IV, Count of Barcelona, assured the succession, he returned to his cloister. Thus a permanent union was effected between Aragon and Catalonia. Raymond Berengar reconquered Fraga, and his son Alfonso II finished the reconquest of Aragon, adding Teruel. Pedro II, “The Catholic” (El Catalico, 1196-1213), made his kingdom a dependency of the Holy See, although not with the consent of his subjects, but died in the battle of Muret, in which he took part to aid his kinsman, the Count of Toulouse, in the war against the Albigenses. Jaime the Conqueror (El Conquistador) successfully terminated the conquest of Valencia (1238) and Majorca (1228), and aided Alfonso X of Castile to reconquer Murcia, thus accomplishing the reconquest of the western part of the Peninsula. Pedro III, “The Great” (El Grande, 1276-85), after the Sicilian Vespers took possession of Sicily as heir of the Hohenstaufen, and the wars and disputes which followed in Italy, and the dissensions of the Aragonese nobles occupied the reigns of Alfonso III (1285-91), Jaime II, Alfonso IV (1327-36), and Pedro IV (1336-87). John I and Martin (1395-1410) dying without heirs, the Compromiso de Gaspe (a commission of nine members, three from the Cortes of each province) was assembled and gave the crown of Aragon to Ferdinand of Antequera, Infante of Castile. Alfonso V, his son and successor, renewed the wars in Italy. As the adopted son of Joanna of Naples, he laid claim to the throne of Naples, and obtained possession of it (1416-58). John II disturbed the peace of his reign by the unjust persecution of his son the Prince of Viana, and at his death was succeeded by Ferdinand the Catholic, who by his marriage to Isabella the Catholic definitively united the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.

RELATIONS BETWEEN CASTILE AND ARAGON.—The will of Sancho the Great of Navarre had in 1035 separated these two kingdoms; in the twelfth century they were temporarily united by the marriage of Dona Urraca to Alfonso I, “The Fighter”, but this unhappy marriage caused a war which ended in the separation of the couple (1114), and Alfonso VII was afterwards obliged to recover the strongholds of La Rioja, which had remained in the possession of the Aragonese monarch (1134). At the death of Alfonso I of Aragon Alfonso VII reclaimed and occupied part of his estates, but Alfonso II aided by Alfonso VIII in the siege of Cuenca (1177) obtained for his kingdom freedom from the dependence on Castile, to which it had been subjected since the time of Ramiro the Monk. The two great warriors, St. Ferdinand III and Jaime el Conquistador, were contemporaries and lived in harmony. Jaime helped Alfonso X in the conquest of Murcia, which remained to Castile. Later, however, the relations between Castile and Aragon again became involved, on account of the claims for the succession to Alfonso X, which the Infantes of la Cerda, aided by Philip III of France and Alfonso III of Aragon, put forth. The Compromiso de Caspe placed the crown of Aragon on the head of an Infante of Castile, Ferdinand of Antequera (1412), and the marriage of Isabella, heiress of Henry IV of Castile, to Ferdinand, the heir of John II of Aragon, finally united these kingdoms and formed the beginning of the Spanish monarchy.

The linguistic unity of Castile and Aragon is a very notable fact, because although Aragon and Catalonia, united since the twelfth century (1137), possess two very different languages, Castile and Aragon, although they had an entirely independent historical development until the sixteenth century, have the same language with the exception of some minor dialectical differences. After the union the political individuality of Aragon was lost in that of Castile, and in the time of Philip II, on account of the Antonio Perez incident, the ancient kingdom lost part of its fueros, or political liberties. In the War of Succession it sided with the Archduke Charles, and the victory of Philip V served still more to increase its dependence.

CIVIL AND ECCLESIASTICAL DIVISIONS.—It is difficult, on account of the different epochs in which they were formed and the different principles which governed them, to give an exact idea of the relations between the civil and ecclesiastical divisions of Castile and Aragon.

The Judiciary Divisions consist of the five district courts of (I) Burgos, (2) Valladolid, (3) Madrid, (4) Albacete-Murcia, and (5) Saragossa, which are subdivided as follows: (I) Provinces of Burgos, Santander, Logrono, and Soria; (2) Valladolid and Palencia; (3) Madrid, Avila, Guadalajara, Segovia, and Toledo; (4) Ciudad Real and Cuenca; (5) Saragossa, Huesca, and Teruel. The Burgos district comprises thirty-seven Courts of First Instance and as many Property Registries; that of Valladolid, seventeen of each; that of Madrid, forty-nine Courts of First Instance and forty-two Property Registries; Albacete-Murcia, eighteen Courts of First Instance and the same number of Property Registries; Saragossa, twenty-one Courts of First Instance and thirty Property Registries.

For Military Purposes there are four districts, sub-divided into sixteen provinces, as follows: Old Castile, subdivided into the provinces of Avila, Palencia, and Valladolid; Burgos, with the provinces of Burgos, Logroilo, Soria, and Santander; New Castile, with the provinces of Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, and Guadalajara; Aragon, with Saragossa, Huesca, and Teruel.

Education.—For university and secondary instruction the four districts are: Old Castile, with the University of Valladolid and four centers of secondary instruction at Valladolid, Burgos, Palencia, and Santander; New Castile, with the University of Madrid, and centers of secondary instruction at Madrid (S. Isidro and Cisneros), Ciudad Real, Guadalajara, Segovia, Toledo, and Cuenca; Aragon, with the University of Saragossa, and centers of secondary instruction at Saragossa, Huesca, Teruel, Logrofio, and Soria; Leon, with the University of Salamanca and a center of secondary instruction at Avila. Primary instruction is under the care of one first-class inspection at Madrid, the four second-class inspecciones of Valladolid, Burgos, Toledo, and Saragossa, and the eleven third-class inspections of Avila, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Lo roflo, Guadalajara, Palencia, Santander, Segovia, Soria, Huesca, and Teruel.

Ecclesiastical Divisions.—This is in many respects not in conformity with the civil, and still subject to the changes made by the Concordat of 1851, which suppressed some sees and transferred others. In Old Castile there are the two Archdioceses of Burgos and Valladolid, the former of which has for its suffragan dioceses Palencia, Santander, Calahorra (Lo rofio), and Osma (Soria), while the latter has Avila and Segovia. In New Castile the Archdiocese of Toledo has the four suffragan dioceses of Madrid-Alcala, Cuenca, Siguenza (Guadalajara), and Ciudad Real. In Aragon the Archdiocese of Saragossa has for its suffragans Jaca, Huesca, Tarazona, Barbastro, and Teruel.

Religious Instruction.—There are seminaries in all the dioceses, and besides a number of colleges for youths intended for the priesthood (colegios de vocaciones eclesiaisticas). There are also numerous colleges under the direction of the Society of Jesus, the Piarists, the Marists, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and the Salesians. The statistics of these independent schools have never been published.

Charitable Institutions.—Although charitable work is carried on extensively throughout Spain, especially by the religious orders, both of men and women, which devote themselves exclusively to such work, it is difficult to give exact figures, as some are under government control, while others are purely religious, and the statistics are very incomplete. Thus, official statistics, which place the total number of institutions at 356, give to Saragossa only two charitable institutions, whereas the “Anuario Eclesiastico” makes the number twenty-eight.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!