The novel takes place in 1752 when Ferdinand VI was the king. Ferdinand VI (23 September 1713 – 10 August 1759), called the Learned, was King of Spain from 9 July 1746 until his death in 1759. He was the fourth son of the previous monarch Philip V and his first wife Maria Luisa of Savoy. Ferdinand, the third member of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty, was born in Madrid on 23 September 1713.
The conversation that Jacinto overhears and is key to the book takes place in what was then the collegiate church in Jerez, and now is the cathedral. In the novel the church is undergoing works, which started on May 9, 1695. The works continued for eighty years and finishedin 1778.
The currency at the time was the maravedi. The maravedí was the name of various Iberian coins of gold and then silver between the 11th and 14th centuries and the name of different Iberian accounting units between the 11th and 19th centuries.
There are some places mentioned in the book. For example, the House of the Chief Magistrate is nowadays a school.
Cruces St is where Pedro has his firm and house.
Escribanos Square is what is nowadays Asunción Square, which in the eighteenth century used to have the justice house where Pedro de Aleman worked.
Letrados St is where the main lawyers in the town had their headquarters.
The Riquelme Palace in Mercado Square is where Jose Jiménez, Jacinto’s second son, worked. The palace dates from the sixteenth century and is of plateresque style.
D Jacinto and his family lived in Aire Street.
Corredera St is where Adela and her family live.
There are some real characters in the novel. For example, Pedro’s friend, Bartolomé Gutierrez, is not just a tailor, but a famous historian.
D Francisco de Messa Xinete, the canon, was a priest and historian from Carmona, who founded the orphanage for orphan girls in 1749.
The novel continuously mentions the 24 knights, which refer to the people who ruled some towns in Andalucia under the old regime. The post was similar to that of councillor, and was linked to the nobility and a high social position.
The case in which Pedro meets Adela concerns an accusation of adultery. Back then, adultery only referred to a married woman who had an extramarital relationship with another man. This was an offence that entailed a legal sentence. In the book Pedro reflects upon the difference between adultery and concubinage. Concubinage was the term used when a man had extramarital relations with another woman, but this was not considered an offence.
Dª Adela is a descendant of Alvar Nuñez y Cabeza de Vaca. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (Jerez de la Frontera, c. 1488/1490/1492 – Seville, c. 1557/1558/1559/1560) was a Spanish explorer of the New World, and one of four survivors of the 1527 Narváez expedition. During eight years of travelling across the US Southwest, he became a trader and faith healer to various Native American tribes before reconnecting with Spanish colonial forces in Mexico in 1536. After returning to Spain in 1537, he wrote an account, first published in 1542 as La Relación, which in later editions was retitled Naufragios (“Shipwrecks”). Cabeza de Vaca is sometimes considered a proto-anthropologist for his detailed accounts of the many tribes of American Indians that he encountered.
Another relative was Bartolomé Estopiñan y Cabeza de Vaca. He was a Spanish nobleman and conqueror in the Granada war y in the conquest of Tenerife in the last half of the fifteenth century.
The central crime of the novel triggers from another one, which is the counterfeiting of several paintings by D Francisco de Zurbarán. Francisco de Zurbarán (baptized November 7, 1598 – August 27, 1664) was a Spanish painter. He is known primarily for his religious paintings depicting monks, nuns, and martyrs, and for his still-lifes. Zurbarán gained the nickname Spanish Caravaggio, owing to the forceful, realistic use of chiaroscuro in which he excelled.
The first painting that the Englishmen take is Santa Faz in which it depicts Christ’s face on the cloth that Veronica used to wiped Jesus’s blood. I have not found a picture of the painting, but the one that follows is a similar one that is in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
The other paintings that the British men bought were in St Dionisio Church and the Capuchin Convent. In the Capuchin Convent D Florián and D Raimundo take several paintings, which are not in the church nowadays. After reading a document about Zurbarán in Jerez, I have learnt that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, during the Independence war, the convent was abandoned and occupied by the Spanish army and then the French troops. These paintings appear later on a list for Jose I. I am not sure if the photos of the paintings really refer to those in the novel. The names of the paintings are St Maria Egipciaca, St Olalla, St Eufemia, St Dorotea and Jubileo de Porciúncula.
The painting that is still in Jerez is “Virgen Niña Dormida”. In the book the painting was in S Dionisio as the collegiate church was under construction. The painting was property of Dª Catalina de Zurita y Riquelme, who in her will requested to have the picture in the place where her grave was. So nowadays the painting is in what is the Cathedral, former collegiate church, where Dª Catalina is buried.
There are also some paintings by Zurbaran in the Carthusian Convent. In the book Pedro mentions Virgin Rosario, Inmaculada Concepción con S Joaquín y Santa Ana.
When Pedro visits the Carthusian convent, we learn that the altarpiece was created by Alejandro Saavedra.
When the two British men come to Jerez, they mention that King George changed the calendar. The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. It reformed the calendar of England and British Dominions so that the new legal year began on 1 January rather than 25 March; and it adopted the Gregorian calendar, as already used in most of western Europe
In Dª Adela’s trial Pedro brings up the crux of the matter, which is the woman’s dowry. A dowry is a transfer of parental property at the marriage of a daughter. In the eighteenth century in Spain the husband had to write a dowry letter, indicating that he had received the money or properties that were his dowry.
One of the elements that are key for Pedro to identify Jacinto’s killer is his hat. All the witness claim that the man was wearing a chambergo, which in English is a slouch hat. A slouch hat is a wide-brimmed felt or cloth hat most commonly worn as part of a military uniform, often, although not always, with a chinstrap.
Adela and Pedro go to see the processions during the Holy Week. We learn that in those times there were two kinds of brethren belonging to the different brotherhoods: brethren of lights and brethren of blood.
Back then and now the brethren of light are those that carry large candles that light the route of the procession. The brethren of blood are those who whip themselves publicly as penance.
When Pedro suspects there are some fake paintings in Jerez, he is helped by Francisco Camacho de Mendoza, a relative of his. Francisco Camacho de Mendoza (Jerez de la Frontera, 1680-1757) was a sculptor, and one of the main representatives of art in Jerez in the eighteenth century. The works that are mentioned in the book are: Jesús del Prendimiento, St Vicente Ferrer, altarpiece of the souls in S Lucas, niche of the St Christopher’s convent, and lectern in the Carthusian convent. Most of his works have been lost, unfortunately.
In the trial to Diego González, Jacome Vaccaro testifies about the forged paintings. He was a sculptor from Genoa who settled down in Jerez de la Frontera. One of his sculptures is the Cristo de la Flagelación.
There are several references to the Villavicencio family. Lorenzo Fernández de Villacencio was the governor of the fortress. The first Villavicencio was a nobleman in Castille around the year 1198. It was Miguel Fernández de Villavicencio, who alongside the king Ferdinand III won back Jerez for the Christian kingdom (years 1255 and 1264). For political problems he lost his estate in Castillo, so he moved to Jerez where his descendants were always relevant in the city, being part of the 24 lords ruling the town. The Villavicencio fortress is inside the fortress of the city.