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That special Christmas rose

The Pharmaceutical Journal Vol 265 No 7128p930
December 23/30, 2000 Christmas miscellany

A seasonal offering from Mervyn Madge, FRPharmS

It was the week before Christmas. It was time I thought of making tracks for home, finishing my holiday in this beautiful part of Andalucia. I was the guest of Senor Jos? Santos, that most respected and well-known breeder of bulls. We had known each other for many years. Our first acquaintance had been through the then Agricultural and Veterinary Pharmacists Group of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and it had blossomed into a great friendship.
Yes, Christmas was in the air. There were little grottoes depicting the Holy Family and the crypts in the churches were portraying the stable and the oxen lying by.
My host interrupted my reverie: “All your flights and travel are booked but there is one thing I would ask of you. There is a troupe of troubadours, as I believe you call them, with the rancheros. They are here for a short time before they move on. They are part of our history and traditions ? not many now ? but they capture the Old Spain we knew. Will you join me?”I readily agreed, not wishing to miss what he had described in such nostalgic terms.
We duly arrived and were introduced. Yes, my host was right. The atmosphere of Old Spain could be felt immediately. The haunting, wistful, sad and, at times, joyful guitar was throbbing with the eloquent music of old Spanish ballads and songs.
Jos? said: “I have requested particularly one song for you. I think you will like it. It is reminiscent of the romance of Andorra, cradled in the Pyrenees nestling between our country and France. Ssch! He is going to start.”Listening, I was entranced, and you would be too. However, here is the story related to me later by our host.
The troubadour sings:

I will tell you a story, a story of a rose,
The Rose of Andorra which blossoms in the snow.
Of everlasting love, that could not be denied.
Of a lovers? knot that never will be untied.
A knight, he came to Andorra,
On his way to the Holy Land.
He met the beautiful senorita
Loved her, wooed her, and won her hand.
He promised to wed on his return,
She waited so patiently for the lover she yearned
But O cruel fate did decree…

The ballad relates a story of centuries ago. Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, when dying made his liege the loyal comrade in arms Sir James Douglas (Black Douglas) promise to take his heart to the Holy Land. This, Douglas set out to do, and with his party came to Spain. Knightly honour and fellow Christian feeling was aroused when some hard-pressed Christians fighting the Moors appealed for help. The appeal was not in vain. Though outnumbered, James Douglas, remembering the battles he had fought alongside Bruce and his war cry “Where you lead, I follow”, threw Bruce?s heart into the Moors and plunged into the fray. Here Douglas gallantly and courageously met his death.
In his band of knights was a Percival de Lance, who escaped, though badly wounded, with a few of his comrades. They decided to go on with their vowed objective of journeying to the Holy Land, though Bruce?s heart was lost. (It was eventually found and returned to Scotland to be buried it is not known where in Montrose Abbey.)
They pressed on, coming to Andorra. Here, because of their support against the Moors, they were very hospitably received, and rested for some time. However there was a lady of noble birth, whose beauty, as told in the ballad, surpassed that of any other. A beauty which could not be expressed in words, the ballad tells, neither could her grace and charm. She met Sir Percival. It was love at first sight. Escaping at times from her duenna they enjoyed their carefree days, and agreed to wed on his return. As a pledge and token of her love, she gave him a beautiful rose, which, placing next to his heart, he carried through his journeys, trials and battles, ever dreaming of the day when he would return and be with his lady love again.
It was a long journey but the knights? mission was completed. After staying some time to refresh themselves and carry out their knightly vows and duties, it was time to retrace their steps.
Unfortunately in a battle with the Saracens, Percival was captured and his companions slain. He lingered several years as a prisoner until ransomed.
Impatient and desperate to hear of and get to Andorra he set out. He travelled swiftly and, exhausted, he reached Avignon and rested with the Knights Templar at their fortress.
After recuperating he hurried on. Getting near, he noticed decorations and celebrations. On inquiring he was shocked to hear his lady was to be married the next day.
As the ballad says:

He tarried not and his lady love did see.
Alas Sir Percival, I am to wed another.
Tomorrow is the day I give my vow
I waited all these years for thee,
though I love thee, it is too late”
“Never!”he cried.
“Remember this rose thou gavest me
From my heart it has never strayed
This is my true love and vow”

The ballad adds that “crying to his arms she did fly”.
They talked long into the night, and decided on a plan to escape to another land and be together for ever, climbing the mountains to their freedom. The way to and up the mountain was hard and frightening and steep. Fear, love, and hope kept them going. Stumbling, they saw the top in sight, their escape to their “promised land”.
As the ballad and the troubadour related: “O, cruel fate! Why did you? A blizzard descended on the mountain. Braving the snow and cold, they staggered on. Their way was lost. Bravely she cried, “I can go on no more. You, my love, leave me and save thyself”.
“Never,”cried he. “If we go to Paradise today we go together, separated our love never will be. Hold this rose between our hands as we die together.”
The snow gently, ever so gently, covered them, like a blanket, as though the snow itself endeavoured to shield them from the arms of fate. When the snow melted, they were found in each other?s arms. In their hands clasped together was the rose. But it had taken root, and blossomed.
Truly a miracle, they said, and called it the Lovers Rose of Andorra ? the Rose of Andorra ? in memory of their everlasting and undying love.
My host said: “I can see you enjoyed it.”I certainly did; it was a beautiful ballad story, never to be forgotten. As the troubadour says, we are lovers all, and sings:

To you lovers all, life is but fleeting
And the future, who knows?
Give your true love the rose, the true rose
The everlasting rose
The Rose of Andorra which blossoms in the snow.

May I wish a Merry Christmas to Jos? and to you all.

 

 

Mervyn Madge is a pharmacist, now retired, from Plymouth, Devon.Illustration by Michaela Strachan

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20003899

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