The Diary of Alvar Díaz de Celis

Diary of Alvar Díaz de Celis

The thirteenth day of December, 1283 anno Domini.  

The quarrel between Alfonso X, el Sabio, and his son Sancho continues.  The infantes de la Cerda have right to the throne through las Siete Partidas, and Sancho has the right as a second-born after the death of his elder brother.  Although supporting his son’s claim, el Sabio is obliged to compensate the infantes de la Cerda.  Their acceptance of a kingdom in Jaén has only fuelled the wrath of Sancho.  Father and son are at war.  I am torn between them.

Traditional Celis buildings viewed on entering Celis as you head towards Puentenansa

I have always been loyal to the king, but I have also have sworn fealty to the house of my wife, Maria Díaz de Cañas and now they follow Sancho.  There is little doubt of his success, as all the houses follow.  I have conferred with el Señor del torre, and we have agreed our interests are best served by a continuation of our fealty to my wife’s house.  Celis now supports Sancho’s claim.

The 10th day of January 1284 anno Domini

The winds of the plains of Castilla bite with winter frosts.  I long for the green warmth of the Rionansa valley and the gentle rains it brings.  We are accustomed to making use of the terrain for scouting and skirmish, but the skies are wide in Castilla, offering little protection from enemy nor the elements.  I am grateful for the speed with which this is likely to be over.  Our numbers are greater and I believe that Alfonso’s heart is not in this; why would he not favour his son’s pleasure?

The Rionansa.  When ‘in spate’ it rises quite significantly.  One of the locals demonstrated to me how high it can rise when it is flooded.  It was quite astonishing.

The fourteenth day of April, 1284 anno Domini.

My predictions were right as to the course of this war.  Alfonso remains king in name, and Sancho in deed.  We have resumed our living in Celis, now for a full moon’s cycle.  The injured are healing, the dead are buried and we tend the land, preparing the ground for the crops ahead.  We do what we can while we enjoy this short period of peace.  Maria has born a child, Fernán.  I am joyous.

The 30th day of April, 1284, anno Domini

Today, Sancho IV was crowned king of Castille and our house has his favour for our services and support.  It is fortunate, our link with the neighbouring houses is now lost.  The rains heavy of late have destroyed the bridge which connects us and the Rionansa is in spate.  The repairs will take some time, but we now have the resources to complete them.

Puente de la Herrería.  This more permanent bridge wasn’t built until 500 years later.

The 8th day of May, 1284, anno Domini.

There are times that I believe my grandfather lived a millennium ago.  His words hark back to the days of Kings, to the days before the Republic.  It is as if our most recent history is erased from his mind as a fiction.   Will I be the same, in years to come, telling stories of the great empire we helped to build?

Today he speaks of our Roman ancestors, the Celeres.  We know the story well, our fighting spirit has been passed from generation to generation.  Handpicked by kings, the Celeres were their guards, emissaries and ambassadors.  Our ancestors served no less than seven of them under the leadership of the Tribunus Celerum, whose powers were equal to that of the king.  One of our kin had the privileged position of Tribunus.  It is a title and history which has given me leverage here in Spain and enabled the acquisition of a noble position through marriage to the House of Cañas.

But we are no longer Celeres, even our name has been derivated to Celis through the years.  Our children are now Spanish, though grandfather would have them remember their roots.  To them, it is only legend, and they act out the stories he tells them with sticks as steads and sticks as swords.  It is time to train them properly.

We have started work on the bridge, while the weather is dry and the waters calmer.  For now, a temporary wooden erection enables communication with our neighbours, but I look forward to a more permanent structure.   The river continues to defeat us.


Author notes:

This story is based on a short, and deficient entry in Wikipedia about Celis, the village where I’m currently living in Cantabria, Spain.  It contains one reference which can be found here.   It is from an encyclopaedia of names and heraldry.  It gives the first appearance of the name Celis and attributes its origin to Celeres who settled in the Rionansa valley after the fall of the Roman kingdom.  It was clear the Wikipedia entry was flawed as it states the Celeres retired to the Rionansa valley after the fall of the Roman empire, when in fact, the Celeres, being servants of Roman kings, no longer had a role when the last king was overthrown and Rome became a republic (after 509 BC).    However, the reference states that it is established that the name originated in Spain through the marriage of the daughters of Spanish aristocrats to Celeres (these may or may not be the same Celeres of Roman legend).  The name* I chose to write his diary was taken from the page reference.  Alvar Díaz de Celis served two kings, it says, Alfonso ‘el Sabio’ and Sancho VI.  I believe there is an error here, as the reign of Alfonso was from 1252 to 1284 and he was succeeded by his son Sancho IV.  There is a Sancho VI of Nararre, but his reign was in the twelfth century, and it wouldn’t have been possible for Alvar to have served both, unless he’s a cat with more than one life.  In my story, I refer to the feud between Alfonso and his son, Sancho IV of Castille.  (The writing of this story became more complicated than I first imagined it!!)

Tourist information board.  The bridge is now designated as a place of historic and cultural interest

The bridge which features in the story is inspired by La Puente de la Herrería, a bridge that joins Celis to neighbouring villages, Celucos and Reclones.  It was built in the eighteenth century by a local who’d spent some time in Mexico.  He sent 8,000 pesos for its construction.  It was designed to withstand the strength of the Rionansa river and seems to be succeeding, as it endures a lot of tourist traffic due to it being the main route to the Chufin caves, which contain prehistoric art.

The idea for a diary-based story came from the use of diaries (as well as letters) to tell the story of Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  After reading ALL of the Terry Pratchett books, I’m diversifying my literary diet!



*Exert from the encyclopaedia:

“Alvar Díaz de Celis, a quien vulgarmente llamaron el caballero de Celis. Floreció en los reinados de Don Alfonso el Sabio y de Don Sancho VI, y casó con doña Maria Díaz de Cañas, Señora del solar de Cañas, en el Valle de Toranzo, que por este matrimonio quedó unido al de Celis de manera tan indisoluble, que durante mucho tiempo fueron considera­dos ambos solares como uno mismo, aunque en sus orígenes eran diferentes. Tuvieron dichos esposos estos hijos:

-1º        Fernán Álvarez de Celis….”


5 thoughts on “The Diary of Alvar Díaz de Celis

  1. Pingback: Evening Walk – Blisters, Bunions & Blarney

    1. Hi Calen, yes, absolutely. There are times on the bike when we round a corner and I just gasp at the view. I’m enjoying research into the places we’ve visited. It’s helping to tune in with Spanish culture. I think I need a kind of summary book of the history though – I keep getting lost!


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