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The co-redemptive role of Mary in Gonzalo de Berceo's El Duelo de la Virgen.

Much work has been done to debunk the perception of Gonzalo de Berceo as a "folksy" or rustic poet so admired by the Generation of 1890. (1) James Marchand and Brian Dutton, (2) among others, have shown Berceo to be a learned man whose sources were varied and rich. Marchand states that "Berceo... may seem at first glance to be a primitive, but there is a thread of learned theological symbolism throughout his work" ("Berceo the Learned...," 293). And, in another article, this critic challenges us to take note of the intertextuality inherent in Berceo's writings, i.e., "his use of learning and theological lore" ("Putting the Bite on Hell...," 93) and reminds us that, for the Riojan poet, the path to salvation was more nuanced than heretofore recognized: "Like most people in the Middle Ages, Berceo believed in a scheme of salvation which was simple in its conception, but complicated in its working out..." (93).

One of the complicated facets of Berceo's view of salvation is found in his El duelo de la Virgen. In this treatise Berceo offers his particular take on the theme of the mater dolorosa and the role(s) of the Virgin in redemption. The origins of El duelo can be traced ultimately to the Byzantine poetry of the Lamenting Virgin which, in turn, owed its theme and structure to the classical threnody, or funeral song, of the lamenting woman (Pelikan 128-29). In some texts, especially the Tractatus beati Bernhardi de planctu beate Marie virginis, attributed, as its title indicates, to Saint Bernard, the Virgin speaks about her suffering with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. This version is very close to that of Berceo's as is a provencal version published by Muschacke in 1890 but, in the latter, Mary speaks with Saint Augustine, rather than Saint Bernard, the saint who appears in the Spanish El duelo (Dutton 7). (3) But even if Berceo's work is derivative to some extent, it also contains some significant variations such as the extensive use of Saint Matthew's gospel.

Berceo in his other Marian treatises, Los Milagros de Nuestra Senora and the Loores de Nuestra Senora, also deals with Mary's role in the scheme of redemption but in El duelo he comes the closest to assigning her a near-equal status with Her divine Son. For example, in Los Milagros, Berceo emphasizes Mary's perpetual virginity: "virgin de verdat, / illesa, incorrupta en su entegredat" (565, vv. 20cd) ["she truly was a virgin, illesa, incorrupta in her integrity") (15). (4) He also gives a litany of epithets often applied to Mary: "estrella de los mares" (569, v. 32b) ["Star of the Seas"] (17); "tiemplo de Jesu Christo" (569, v. 33b) ["Temple of Jesus Christ"] (17); "de los cielos reina" (569, v. 33a) ["She is Queen of Heaven"] (17); "es nuestra talaya, nestra defension" (569, 37b) ["she is our watchtower, our defense"] (17), etc. Although lavish in his praise and admiration for the Virgin, in Los Milagros he falls short of equating Her part in salvation with that of Christ. Similary, in the Loores Berceo emphasizes Mary's role as Mother of Christ, essential for salvation but not actually the redeemer, a role reserved for Jesus. The Loores is a lengthy exegesis on Old Testament prefigurations of Mary and a detailed recount of the life of Christ. In the latter section, Jesus takes center stage. In the final stanzas of the Loores, Berceo reiterates many qualities of the Virgin he also identified in Los Milagros. She is "estrella de la mar" (921, v. 197a) ["Star of the Sea"] (180); "por ond' la salut vino, Tu nos fuisti carrera" (921, v. 198b) ["you were the path that led to our salvation"] (180); "fuente de piadat" (921, v. 199a) ["Fountain of Mercy"] (180); "reliquiario pleno de sanctidat" (921, v. 199b) ["reliquary filled with holiness"] (180); and "reina de los cielos" (927, v. 223c) ["Queen of Heaven"] (183).5 But, throughout the Loores, Mary is called Mother of Christ as She is in Los Milagros--a necessary agent but not ultimately responsible for the salvation of mankind.

But, in his treatise El duelo de la Virgen, Berceo chose to portray the Virgin not only as essential for the scheme of salvation but as an equal partner in this plan, i.e. as the co-redemptress with Christ. Victor Garcia de la Concha has observed that, in addition to the poem's purpose to excite religious fervor and tearful devotion to the Virgin, it also served a doctrinal purpose: "mediante su dolor, Maria padece con Cristo y colabora asi en la tarea redentora" ("La mariologia en Gonzalo de Berceo" 72). This theme endured and was expressed by the great twentieth-century theologian Hans urs von Balthasar in his statement: "She [Mary] suffers along with her Son, and in her spirit, she experiences His death" (Pelikan 129). It follows, then, that as Mary participates in the death of Her Son, She also is part of the redemptive power of that death. We are all familiar with Mary's designation as mediatrix, i.e., as mediator between sinners and Her Son. Mediatrix blends the idea of Mary as the vessel whereby Christ came into the world as well as the Virgin as the portal to salvation. According to Jaroslav Pelikan, mediatrix is another "way of speaking about her active role in the incarnation and redemption" (131). Since it was through Her acquiescence to the will of God that Christ is born through Her, the redemption of mankind could not have occurred without Her participation. Elizabeth Howe cites among the five tenets of Mariology Her function as co-redemptress of mankind; the other four being Her virginity, Her maternity of God and man, Her role as mediatrix and Her Immaculate Conception ("Heavenly Defense..." 190). Berceo obviously was aware of the Virgin's function as co-redemptress and wove its tenets into a text which repeatedly emphasizes this role for Her. (6)

Since the Riojan poet's version of the sorrows evokes a conversation between Saint Bernard7 and the Virgin, it allows for an especially personal encounter with Holy Mary. The words of this dialogue are a type of transcript of Her intimate conversation with Saint Bernard after he spends long hours praying to speak with Her. Thus, Berceo takes it upon himself to imagine how Mary would have expressed Her suffering and how Her sacrifices contributed to the redemption of all mankind.

Mary appears to Saint Bernard after he beseeches Her in prayer and the first words She utters to him are about Her suffering: "Dios te salve la mi alma lacdrada" (18, vv. 8c) (8) ["God save you, my suffering little soul"] (192). (9) She proposes to Bernard that together they will compose a "prossa," or treatise, about Her sorrows: "quiero qe compongamos yo e tu una prossa" (18, v. 10d) ["I want us both to compose a poem together"] (192). The saint begins by asking Her to relate to him the sorrow She felt when She witnessed Her Son being taken prisoner while at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. She begins by stating that it hurts to remember these events and declares that Her suffering is without equal: "Nin viejo nin mancebo nin mugier maridada / non sufrio tal lacerio nin murio tan lancada" (19, vv. 14ab) ["Neither old nor young nor married woman / suffered such pain or died pierced by such a lance"] (192). Her initial reaction to the seizure of Her Son is to faint, saying that She would rather be dead than bear witness to such a travesty of justice: "qerria seer muerta mas qe sofrir tal vida" (19, v. 17c) ["I would rather have died than endure such a life"] (193). When She sees Jesus whipped and crowned with thorns, She again wishes She were dead: "yo pidia la muerte, que no qerie venir" (20, v. 26b) ["I begged for death, but it would not come"] (193). Mary's desire to be released from Her terrible suffering has a parallel in the request Her Son made in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking His Father to not subject him to the torture and death He knew awaited Him. (10) While Christ does not wish for death to end His suffering, as his Mother does, He is ultimately resigned to the suffering since He knows this is the mission given Him by the Father.

In El duelo, Mary says that the Jews did not crucify Her Son because they are not permitted by their law to enforce the death penalty. (11) Anachronistically, She says that the Moors were those who condemned and crucified Christ. Here, of course, the enemies of Christ are identified as Moors rather than Jews, but she does include both Jews and pagans later in Her litany of those who mistreated Christ. She states that Calvary is now a place of tears and sorrow for those responsible for Her Son's death while, for Christians, it has become a place of rejoicing for their salvation. The reference to the complicity of the Moors in the death of Christ is a thinly-veiled allusion to the Reconquest. The poem is obviously a product of its time--of thirteenth-century Spain--but it also implies that Christian forces will triumph, not only in Iberia but also in the Holy Land.

When Mary witnesses the crucifixion of Her Son, the poet paraphrases Saint John's gospel 19:25-27 (12) which claims that Christ, from the cross, entrusted the care of His Mother to this disciple, "qe el mucho amava, / fijo de Zebedeo" (22, vv. 37ab) ["whom he loved so much, / ... the son of Zebedee"] (195), i.e., to John. Mary describes Her Son's torturers with a host of unflattering and insulting terms; She labels them lobos (19, v. 19a) [wolves], falsos desleales (20, v. 24a) [infidels], carniceros canes (22, v. 39b) [good-for-nothings], alevosos (23, v. 41a) [low-down characters], and malos rocines (24, v. 50b) [worthless old nags].

When Mary recounts witnessing the soldier piercing Jesus's side, She asks Saint Bernard to spare Her remembering more of that unhappy day. She directs him instead to the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint John where he will find all the information about the crucifixion. She says She prefers to concentrate on Her personal reaction to these events rather than merely repeat what is in the New Testament accounts. She claims that She, like Her Son, is a martyr; the only difference is that She did not suffer physical harm: "sufri martirio sin gladio e sin lanza" (23, v. 44c) ["...the martyrdom I suffered without sword or spear"] (195). Once again, the Virgin returns to the theme of preferring death to what She was forced to witness: "qerria seer muerta mas qe viva seer" (23, v. 45b) ["I would rather have died than to go on living"] (196). Her sadness is such that "non avia de vida cobdicia nin sabor" (23, v. 46d) ["I had no pleasure or interest in living"] (196). She repeats this line almost verbatim in the next verse of the poem as if to emphasize, yet again, a pain so great that one literally can hardly stand to go on living. The desire for death is a constant.

After Christ has died and is taken down from the cross, His Mother holds Him in Her arms and again asks God to let Her die on the spot "ca me serie major" (25, v. 54d) ["which would suit me better"] (197). She then directs Herself to Her Son's executioners (in this version, the Moors) and tells them it would have been better to kill the Mother than the Son because that would have been more merciful: "si la madre mataredes mayor merced abredes" (25, v. 56c) ["if you kill the mother you will be shown greater mercy"] (197). After a long section in which Mary recounts the sinless life of Her Son, She returns to the theme of their mutual martyrdom: "yo ando dolorida, tu pades los dolores" (27, v. 73b) ["I suffer the sorrow, You suffer the pains"] (199). She speaks directly to Her Son in words reminiscent of Christ's cry from the cross, "Oh God, oh God, why have you abandoned me?";13 Mary beseeches Her Son as follows: "Fijo el mi qerido de piedat granada, / por qe es la tu Madre de ti desemparada?" (28, vv. 74ab) ["My beloved Son so abundant in mercy, / why is Your mother left abandoned by You?"] (199).

Mary uses various metaphors to refer to Christ and Berceo's audience would certainly have noted that many of these were also popularly used to describe the Virgin, such as "tiemplo de caridad, / archa de sapiencia, fuente de piedad" (28, vv. 76ab) ["Temple of Charity, / Ark of Wisdom, Fountain of Mercy"] (199). When Jesus responds to His Mother's pleas He acknowledges that Her tears and suffering are more bitter to Him than the torture and wounds He has received. But He reminds Her that to suffer and die to redeem the world was His mission. He asks Her to put away Her sorrows, reminding Her of the great gift and joy that the angel Gabriel's message had brought to Her. Jesus, in fact, clearly labels His Mother as His partner in redeeming the world from sin:
   Yo e tu, madre mia, lo devemos gostar,
   yo sufriendo las penas e tu el grant pesar;
   deven todas las gentes por ende te loar,
   lacdrar tu e tu Fijo por las almas salvar (30, vv. 92abcd). (14)
   [You and I, dear Mother, both must taste it,
   I enduring the pains and you the dreadful grief;
   from this time on all peoples must praise you
   for suffering together with your Son to save souls] (201).

The words of Her Son are comforting to Mary but She asks Him not to forget Her or the misery She has suffered. He promises to return to Her in three days and that She will be the first to whom He appears after His resurrection: "visitare primero a ti, Virgo Maria" (32, v. 107c) ["I will visit you first of all, Virgin Mary"] (202). In spite of these reassurances from Her Son, when Christ expires on the cross Mary faints and falls to the ground as if dead Herself. When She finally regains consciousness She speaks directly to Her Son and blames Herself for giving Him His human nature which has suffered death even though, as God's son, She knows that He is immortal:
   En la natura santa que del Padre avedes,
   vos siempre sodes vivo ca morir non podedes;
   mas en esta pobreca qe vos de mi trahedes,
   famne, sede e muerte vos ende lo cojedes (35, vv. 124abcd).
   [Through the holy nature You got from Your Father.
   You live forever, for You cannot die;
   but through the meager traits You received from me,
   from that You get hunger, thirst, and death] (204).

She reprimands Jesus for not allowing Her to die before witnessing His death. She remains at the foot of the cross, kissing Her Son's feet and crying incessantly. They are united in suffering--"tu penas y yo lacdro" (38, v. 145c) ["Your suffering and my agony"] (206)--and the Virgin's weeping surpasses all the others who are wailing at the foot of the cross.

After Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus, the others gathered at the site of the crucifixion persuade Mary to go and stay in the home of Saint John, to whom Christ had entrusted His mother's care. She agrees but claims to be unable to sleep or eat anything that night. When Saturday arrives, all the faithful are still overcome with grief, but again it is Mary's suffering that surpasses that of all others: "Todos faciemos planto e duelo sin mesura, / mas la que lo pariera soffrie mayor cochura" (40, vv. 164ab) ["We were all unrestrainedly weeping and wailing, / but she who had borne Him suffered greater anguish"] (208).

When Jesus rises from the dead, the poem makes very clear that there are, in fact, two simultaneous resurrections that occur, that of Jesus and of His Mother: "Dos soles, Deo gratias, nascieron essi dia; / resuscito don Christo, e la Virgo Maria" (45, vv. 196bc) ["Two suns, thank God, were born that day; / Christ and the Virgin Mary came back to life"] (211). The image of the sun in Berceo is frequently associated with divine illumination and, in this case, with salvation. Terry Mount has studied the use of sun imagery in Berceo and identifies the hierarchical scale associated with it. God is the brightest light of all and those who are most illuminated by Him enjoy greater intimacy with Him than those who choose to live in the darkness associated with sin and hell (426). Mary Jane Kelley points out that, in El duelo, Mary speaks in terms of Christ as the light, a phrase found several times in the gospel of Saint John, and equates His death with a loss of light (137). In the lines quoted above, Berceo refers to Christ and His Mother in equal terms of light imagery: "Dos soles ... don Christo, e la Virgo Maria (45, v. 196bc) ["Two suns ... Christ and the Virgin Mary"] (211).

As we have noted, in El duelo, Christ tells His Mother that He will appear first to Her after his resurrection. But, according to the Gospel accounts, this did not occur. Rather the Gospels state that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and one or more other named companions, but not initially to His Mother. Mary's unique role in the plan of salvation helps to explain this aspect of the Gospels, according to Pelikan. He asks, "Why should he have appeared to her when she undoubtedly knew about the resurrection even before he suffered and rose?" (132). Bernard of Clairvaux, the saint with whom Mary is speaking in El duelo declared that it is through the Virgin that we have received mercy from God and "she is the one through whom we, too, have welcomed the Lord Jesus into our homes" (quoted in Pelikan, 132). This exclusive role reserved for Mary is based on the fact that without Her willingness to bear Jesus, salvation could not have occurred. She is, thus, in El duelo "acclaimed as second in dignity only to God himself, who had taken up habitation in her. The ground of this dignity was the part she had taken in the redemption, more important than that of any other ordinary human being" (Pelikan 134). By extension, the suffering the Virgin experienced during the traumatic events of Her Son's trial and execution is more important than that of any other ordinary human being. Her tears, cries and anguish form part of the suffering required for salvation.

When Saint Bernard resumes the narration after the Resurrection, he uses a number of familiar epithets for the Virgin that refer to Her role in redemption: "puerta de salvedat," "consejo de las almas," "mientre por ti se guien [los peregrinos], pueden salvos andar" (46, v. 205bc and v. 206d) ["Gate of Salvation, Aid to Souls; while guided by you they (the pilgrims) can gain salvation"] (213). He then references Her suffering, specifically as part of the act of salvation: "tu seas bienvenida, tu seas bien trobada, / qe sofisti tal pena e fuisti tan lacdrada" (46, vv. 207cd) ["may you be welcomed and your praises sweetly sung, / you who endured so much suffering and anguish"] (213). In the final verses, Bernard calls on Mary to keep him free from sin and to save him just as She had once saved a desperate Theopolis. This plea for salvation is directly addressed to Mary who has, by the end of El duelo, firmly established Her co-redemptive role alongside Her Son.

The co-redemptive function of the Virgin is emphasized time and again in Berceo's poem. While expressed in accessible language and including scenes of true pathos, the theological underpinnings of El duelo evidence a keen grasp of one of the more complicated tenets of the Christian faith--the incarnation and death of God the Son through a mortal woman. It is from Mary that Christ received his human nature which was vulnerable. His death leads to salvation but not without the life given Him through Mary and, at Her Son's death, Berceo explains that She was the essential element necessary to accomplish the redemption of all mankind. (15)



Bartha, Jeannie K., trans. The Lamentation of the Virgin / El duelo de la Virgen / El duelo. The Collected Works of Gonzalo de Berceo in English Translation, Ed. Annette Grant Cash. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Volume 327. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2008: 189-217.

--, trans. The Praises of Our Lady / Los Loores de Nuestra Senora. The Collected Works of Gonzalo de Berceo in English Translation. Ed. Annette Grant Cash. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Volume 327. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2008. 151-87.

Berceo, Gonzalo de. Obras completas III: El duelo de la Virgen, Los himnos, Los loores de Nuestra Senora. Ed. Brian Dutton. Serie A--Monografias XVIII. London: Tamesis Books Limited, 1975.

Burkard, Richard. "Berceo's Limited Dogmata Concerning the Virgin in his Milagros de Nuestra Senora." Romance Notes 44.3 (2004): 227-33.

Cash, Annette Grant and Richard Terry Mount, trans. The Miracles of Our Lady / Los Milagros de Nuestra Senora. The Collected Works of Gonzalo de Berceo in English Translation. Ed. Annette Grant Cash. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Volume 327. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2008. 3-150.

Dutton, Brian. "The Source of Berceo's Signos del Juicio Final"' Kentucky Romance Quarterly 20 (1973): 247-55.

Garcia de la Concha, Victor. "La mariologia en Gonzalo de Berceo." Gonzalo de Berceo: Obra Completa. Eds. Dutton, B., et al. Clasicos Castellanos, Nueva Serie. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1992. 61-87.

Garcia Turza, Claudio, ed. Los Milagros de Nuestra Senora. Gonzalo de Berceo, Obra Completa. Eds. B. Dutton, A. Ruffinatto, et al. Clasicos Castellanos, Nueva Serie. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1992. 553-795.

Howe, Elizabeth Teresa. "Heavenly Defense: Dramatic Development of the Virgin as Advocate." Journal of Hispanic Philology 4.3 (1980): 189-202.

Kelley, Mary Jane. "Ascendant Eloquence: Language and Sanctity in the Works of Gonzalo de Berceo." Speculum 79.1 (2004): 66-87.

Marchand, James W. "Berceo the Learned: The Ordo Prophetarum in the Loores de Nuestra Senora." Kentucky Romance Quarterly 31.3 (1984): 291-304.

--. "The Hymns of Gonzalo de Berceo and their Latin Sources." Allegorica 3 (1978): 105-25.

--. "Putting the Bite on Hell: A Reference to Berceo's Duelo" La coranica 25.2 (1997): 91-102.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996.

Salvador Miguel, Nicasio, ed. Loores de Nuestra Senora. Gonzalo de Berceo, Obra Completa. Eds. B. Dutton, A. Ruffinatto, et al. Clasicos Castellanos, Nueva Serie. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1992. 859-931.

(1) James Marchand gives a good summary of the critics who have contributed to the revised appraisal of Berceo in his article, "Berceo the Learned: The Ordo Prophetarum in the Loores de Nuestra Senora."

(2) In addition to the article by Marchand cited in note 1, see also Dutton, "The Source of Berceo's Signos del Juicio Final," and Marchand, "The Hymns of Gonzalo de Berceo and their Latin Sources."

(3) From the introduction of Brian Dutton's edition of El duelo de la Virgen in Gonzalo de Berceo, Obras completas III: El duelo de la Virgen, Los himnos, Los loores de Nuestra Senora, Los signos del juicio final. London: Tamesis Books Limited, 1975.

(4) All quotes from Los Milagros are from Claudia Garcia Turza's edition in Gonzalo de Berceo, Obra completa, eds. B. Dutton, A. Ruffinatto, et al. I indicate page number followed by verse number(s). All translations of Los Milagros are from The Miracles of Our Lady in The Collected Works of Gonzalo de Berceo in English Translation by Annette Grant Cash and Richard Terry Mount.

(5) All quotes from the Loores are from Nicasio Salvador Miguel's edition in Gonzalo de Berceo, Obra completa, eds. B. Dutton, A. Ruffinatto, et al. All citations from the Loores are from Jeannie K. Bartha's translation in The Collected Works of Gonzalo de Berceo in English Translation.

(6) On the role of Mary as mediatrix, Burkard observes, "With the expression mediatrix we have a belief first expounded with a degree of explicitness in the seventh and eighth centuries by a number of Byzantine theologians. The idea is that the Virgin constitutes the one sure and ultimate liaison between Christ (the Deity) and the Christian who seeks access to Him by way of an intercessor. To her, then, the believer should turn if he seeks to supplicate the Godhead in a more effective way. She is the intermediary par excellence" (230).

(7) According to Kelley, "throughout Berceo's works, th[e] well-educated character who uses language to guide through teaching clearly reflects the thirteenth-century Spanish clerical author's awareness of his own role" ("Ascendant Eloquences...," 86).

(8) All quotes from El Duelo de la Virgen are from the edition by Brian Dutton, Gonzalo de Berceo, Obras completas III: El duelo de la Virgen, Los himnos, Los loores de Nuestra Senora, Los signos del juicio final. I indicate page number followed by verse number(s).

(9) All citations are from Jeannie K. Bartha's translation of El duelo in The Collected Works of Gonzalo de Berceo in English Translation.

(10) "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me..." (Matthew 26:39).

(11) On this point, Kelley points out Berceo's anti-Semitism because Jews are metaphorically associated with demons and animals and their words represent an ironic slant on the Christian office (81-82).

(12) "... But standing by the cross of Jesus were his Mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, 'Woman behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home."

(13) Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.

(14) Emphasis mine.

(15) Kelley reminds us that Berceo's "cuaderna via compositions become nothing less than a linguistic mechanism for facilitating salvation for both audience and author" (87).
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Date:Jan 1, 2009
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