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Thursday, April 28, 2011

El Alacran de Fray Gomez

El Alacran de Fray Gomez

Ricardo Palma
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In diebus illis—that is to say, when I was a boy—I often heard old women say, in praising the beauty or value of a piece of jewelry: “It’s as valuable as Fray Gómez’s scorpion.”
I’ve got a little girl who is a treasure, everything that is winning and delightful, with a pair of eyes that are more roguish and mischievous than a couple of notaries:

A girl that is like
The morning star
At the break of day.
In my paternal besottedness I have nicknamed this flower of mine “Fray Gómez’s little scorpion.” And now I am going to explain the old wives’ saying and the tribute to my Angélica by relating this tradition.

I

Once upon a time there was a lay brother who lived at the same time as Don Juan de la Pipirindica, the silver-tongued, and San Francisco Solano. This lay brother lived in Lima, in the convent of the Franciscans, where he performed the duties of refectioner in the nursing home or hospital of the devout friars. The people called him Fray Gómez, Fray Gómez he is called in the conventual records, and tradition knows him as Fray Gómez. I believe that in the petition for his beatification and canonization that was sent to Rome this is the only name he is given.

Fray Gómez performed miracles night and left in my land, without even knowing that he was working them, and as though against his will. He was a born miracle—worker, like the man who talked in prose without suspecting it.

One day the lay brother happened to be crossing a bridge when a runaway horse threw its rider on the flagstones. The poor fellow lay there, stiff as a board, his head as full of holes as a sieve, and blood gushing from his mouth and nose.

“He’s fractured his skull. He’s dying. Go quick and bring a priest from San Lázaro to administer the last rites.” The noise and confusion were indescribable.

Fray Gómez walked calmly over to the fallen man, touched his mouth with the cord of his girdle, pronounced three blessings over him, and without further doctoring or medication the dying man got to his feet as though nothing had happened.

“A miracle! A miracle! Long live Fray Gómez,” shouted the multitude that had witnessed the scene. And in their enthusiasm they wanted to carry the lay brother in a triumphal procession. But the latter, to avoid this demonstration, started off at a run for his convent and shut himself up in his cell.

The Franciscan chronicle gives a different version of what happened at this point. It says that Fray Gómez, to escape from his admirers, rose in the air and flew from the bridge to the belfry of his convent. I neither deny nor affirm this. Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t. In questions of miracles I do not intend to waste ink either defending them or refuting them.
That must have been Fray Gómez’s day for working miracles, because as he came out of his cell on his way to the hospital, he found San Francisco Solano stretched out on a bench with a terrible sick headache. The lay brother felt his pulse and said to him:

“Father, you are very weak and you ought to have something to eat.”
“Brother,” answered the saint, “I’m not the least bit hungry.”
“Make an effort, Reverend Father, and take something, even if it’s just a bite.”
And the refectioner kept at him so long that the sick man, to stop his nagging, hit upon the idea of asking him for something that it would have been impossible even for the Viceroy to get, because it was out of season then.

“Well, brother, the only thing I’d like to eat would be a couple of smelts.”
Fray Gómez put his right hand into the left sleeve of his habit and pulled out a pair of smelts that were as fresh as though they had just come out of the water.

“There you are, father, and let’s hope they make you feel better. I’ll cook them for you right away.”

And the fact of the matter is that the blessed smelts cured San Francisco like a charm.
These two little miracles I have mentioned just in passing do not seem to me chaff And I am leaving in my inkwell many others this lay brother performed, because I do not propose to relate his life and nuracles. Nevertheless, to satisfy the demands of the curious, I shall jot down that over the door of the first cell of the small cloister that is still used as a hospital, there is an oil painting depicting the two miracles I have described, which bears the following inscription:

“The Venerable Fray Gómez. Born in Extremadura in 1560. Took the habit in Chuquisaca in 1580. Came to Lima in 1587. Was a nurse for forty years, displaying all virtues, and was endowed with celestial gifts and favors. His life was a continuous miracle. He died on May 2, 1631, and was held to be a saint. The following year his body was laid in the chapel of Aranzazñ, and on October 13, 1810, was placed beneath the high altar in the same vault where the remains of the priors of the convent are interred. Doctor Don Bartolomé Maria de las Heras was a witness to this transfer. This venerable painting was restored on November 30, 1882, by M. Zamudio.”

II
Fray Gómez was in his cell one morning, given over to meditation, when a couple of timid knocks sounded on his door, and a plaintive-toned voice said:

Deo qratias Praised be the Lord.”

“Forever, amen. Come in, brother,” answered Fray Gómez.
And the door of the humble cell opened to admit a ragged individual, a vera efigies of a man crushed by poverty, but whose face revealed the proverbial forthrightness and honesty of the Old Castilian.
The entire furnishings of the cell comprised four rawhide chairs, a table that had seen better days, a cot without mattress, sheets, or blankets and with a stone for a pillow.
“Sit down, brother, and tell me frankly what brings you here,” said Fray Gómez.
“Well, father, I want to tell you that I am an honest and decent man
“That is plain, and I hope you will continue that way, for it will give you peace of heart in this life, and bliss in the next.”
“You see, I am a peddler, and I have a big family, and my business does not prosper because I am short of capital, not because of laziness or lack of effort on my part.”
“I am glad, brother, for God helps a man who works as he should.”

“But the fact of the matter is, father, that so far God hasn’t heard me, and He is slow in coming to my help
“Don’t lose heart, brother, don’t lose heart.”

“But the fact of the matter is that I have knocked at many doors asking for a loan of five hundred duros and I have found them all locked and bolted. And last night, turning things over in my mind, I said to myself:
‘Come, Jerónimo, cheer up and go ask Fray Gómez for the money, for if he wants to, a mendicant friar and poor as he is, he’ll find a way to give you a hand.’ And so here I am because I have come, and I beg and request you, father, to lend me that trifling sum for six months, and you can be sure that it will never be said of me:
The world is full of folks
Who reverence certain saints,
But whose gratitude ends
When they’ve answered their plaints.”

“What made you think, son, that you would find such a sum in this poor cell?”
“Well, father, the fact is that I wouldn’t know how to answer that; but I have faith that you will not let me leave empty-handed.”
“Your faith will save you, brother. Wait a minute.”
And running his eyes over the bare, whitewashed walls of the cell, he saw a scorpion that was crawling calmly along the window-frame. Fray Gómez tore a page out of an old book, walked over to the window, carefully picked up the insect, wrapped it in the paper, and, turning to his Visitor, said:

“Take this jewel, good man, and pawn it; but don’t forget that you are to return it to me in six months.”

The peddler could hardly find words to express his gratitude; he took his leave of Fray Gómez and like a flash was on his way to a pawnbroker’s shop.

The jewel was magnificent, worthy of a Moorish queen, to say the least. It was a brooch in the shape of a scorpion. A magnificent emerald set in gold formed the body, and the head was a sparkling diamond, with rubies for eyes.

The pawnbroker, who understood his business, greedily examined the jewel, and offered the peddler two thousand duros on it; but the Spaniard insisted that he would accept only five hundred duros for six months, at a Jewish rate of interest, of course. The papers or tickets were made out and signed, and the moneylender comforted himself with the hope that after a time the owner of the jewel would come back for more money, and that with the compound interest that would pile up, he would be unable to redeem it. and he would become the owner of a jewel so valuable in itself and because of its artistic merit.

With this little capital the peddler’s affairs went so well that, when the time was up, he was able to redeem the jewel, and wrapping it in the same paper in which he had received it, he returned it to Fray Gómez.

The latter took the scorpion, set it upon the windowsill, blessed it, and said:

“Little creature of God, go your way!”

And the scorpion began to crawl happily about the walls of the cell.