A little more than a week ago, we were in Toledo, that ancient city where Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish faiths and cultures flourished and intermingled between the years 1000 and 1500. We spent the day wandering into cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues and along winding alleys that concealed lush patios. The driving wind carried wet snow.
My endurance for this kind of thing can be a bit greater than my family’s, so at dusk, I proceeded alone to the Hospital de San Juan Batista, a vast Renaissance structure on the outskirts of town.
I turned out to be the hospital’s sole visitor. I found my way to the chapel and then down into the crypt. Here, several stories underground, are buried grandees from the Spanish ducal house of Medinaceli, one of the most ancient in Europe. They include a duke who was shot by Republican forces in Madrid in the 1930s and his widow who lived alone in the Hospital–in grim splendor–for many postwar decades.
I took three steps toward the marble sarcophagi. Someone else took three steps behind me. I turned, expecting to see a guard: no one. I took two more steps, and two more sounded as clearly behind. You know that it was an echo. I knew it, too, but it was quite hard to believe it, hundreds of feet beneath this city of inquisitors, heretics, martyrs, and ghosts. The hair stood on the back of my neck, and I retreated before I could read the names on those tombs.