The Alhambra Chihuahua

El Perrito or the ‘Alhambra Chihuahua’ as he is posthumously known was born in 1519 in the Aztec court of Montezuma just prior to the hostage-taking of Montezuma by Hernan Cortes and his fellow conquistador conspirators.

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The Alhambra Chihuahua, silver

El Perrito may have been the runt of his sizable litter but he was smart and opportunistic. Quickly ascertaining that Cortes and his men were a likely if unwelcome fixture of the Aztec court for the forseeable future, he set about inveigling his way into the hearts of the Spanish invaders. His ancestors were Techichi, small dogs much revered by the Toltec, for food, sacrifice and… companionship. It seems fairly evident why El Perrito might want to take his chances with the Spaniards, no matter how hirsute and uncouth they might be.

His troupe of pocket-sized dogs entertained Cortes’ ruffians with amusing flamenco dance routines and tricks in exchange for delicious treats and gentle belly scratching. They were quite a sight to behold, festooned in ropes of tiny pearls and capes of iridescent hummingbird feathers that shimmered as they shimmied. Indeed, El Perrito soon became a fixture in the pocket of Hernan Cortes as he was quickly singled out as an especial favourite.

This bucolic life was to end abruptly for El Perrito in June of 1520. ‘La Noche Triste’ came to represent a crossroads in his life. When he looked back upon the turmoil of the Night of Sorrows and the subsequent events that shaped his destiny he felt no regrets, despite the lifelong scars he carried…

A series of debacles and military misjudgements by the Spanish had enraged the Aztecs. The murder of Montezuma was followed by chaos and terror. The Spanish and their native supporters fled the city laden with treasure and tiny dogs. Overburdened with their booty, many of the Spanish toppled into the lake from a makeshift bridge and drowned. The exact numbers to meet a watery end are unknown, but as many as fifty techichi are thought to have perished, swimming not being a particular skill of the chihuahua. El Perrito survived only because he was ensconsed in Hernan Cortes’ pocket.

There was much tribulation in the following days; still more lives were lost to smallpox, though this naturally did not affect the surviving techichi. El Perrito was carried across land and sea to Cuba where he stayed briefly in Governer Velazquez’ residences before being dispatched to Spain along with a mountain of Aztec bullion in the hold of a Spanish galleon.

Alas, El Perrito’s trials did not end there. His ship was attacked by English privateers who had heard tales of the fabulous wealth of the Americas and wanted a piece in the looting. After much fierce fighting the conquistadors prevailed but El Perrito had taken a savage gash to his left eye from a villainous ship’s cat. He was left weak and incapacitated. When the Santa Irascibilidad finally limped into the port of Cadiz El Perrito was senseless with fever, lying atop a mound of gold shivering pitifully under his feathered cape.

He was promptly transported to the Alhambra palaces at Granada as a novelty for the queen’s amusement where he was immediately taken under the wing of a Dona Elvira Barbola, one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting. Elvira Barbola had the face of a crumbling gargoyle but a kindly heart, so she fashioned El Perrito a miniature eyepatch with the Granada symbol of a pomegranate cunningly embroidered on it to cover his ravaged eye, and a plump velvet cushion needleworked with all manner of New World bestiary so he wouldn’t feel homesick.

El Perrito was honoured for his part in the sea battle with the English pirates with a small jerkin of finely-wrought golden chainmail and lived a further sixteen happy years till 1537. He fathered many litters of chihuahua pups with the other little dogs that the conquistadors brought back to Spain, and was admired by all at the Court of the Alhambra for his loyalty, bravery, and dancing skills.

Bat and Crown Heraldic Brooch 2

Scholarship is divided, as always, on the origin of the Bat and Crown as the heraldry of the Kings of Aragon. After extensive research I attributed the presence of the humble order of chiroptera on the Aragonese coat of arms to King Jaume I the Conquerer 1208- 1276.

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Bat & Crown Heraldic Brooch, silver/iolite

 Jaume I played a pivotal part in the Reconquista on the Iberian Peninsula. He expanded the House of Aragon north to Languedoc, located in what is now the South of France, south to the Balearic Islands, and southwest to Valencia. He was a handsome virile man, unlike so many of his royal European counterparts, and had three wives and many mistresses, all of whom bore him many children. This eventually led to fratricidal conflict as he tried to be fair in inheritance to all of his sons, rather than just favouring the eldest as he should have done in order to ensure the untroubled continuation of the Kingdom. However, enough of Jaume’s confusing personal life…

Legend has it that Jaume was awoken early on the morning of the decisive battle for Valencia by a bat fluttering around inside his tent. I find it more likely that this compulsive wencher was awoken early by the feminine wiles of a young camp follower than a local variety of murcielago.

An excerpt from Jaume’s writings about the reconquest of Valencia in Llibre del Fets, or his Book of Deeds did reveal this, however:

“At another time the men of the Archbishop of Narbonne were skirmishing with those from inside, but the Archbishop’s men did not know the way of the Saracens, who on that occasion, as in others, fled from them to draw them nearer to the town. Perceiving that the enemy’s footmen were only retreating with that end, I sent my people a message not to pursue, or else the Saracens would do them great hurt.

They would not stay for my message; but I, fearing lest thirty or more of them should be killed by the Moors, went up to them on the same horse I was then riding, and made them draw back. As I was coming with the men, I perceived of a great fluttering above my standard, and happened to turn my head upwards in order to ascertain the cause. To my astonishment I saw a great black bat above it, and took it as a sign from God. At that very moment a Saracen cross-bowman shot at me, and hit me beside the sun-hood, and the shot struck me on the head, the bolt lighting near the forehead. It was God’s will it did not pass through the head, but the point of the arrow went half through it. In anger I struck the arrow so with my hand that I broke it: the blood came out down my face; I wiped it off with a mantle of “sendal” I had, and went away laughing, that the army might not take alarm. I then went and lay down in a tent, when all my face and eyes swelled, so that I could not see for the swelling of the eye on the wounded side. When the swelling in my face had gone down, I rode round the camp that the army might not be discouraged.”

I believe the latter tale to be more likely, because his body was exhumed in 1856 from it’s burial site in the Monastery of Poblet in Catalonia when some restoration work was urgently required, and photos of his mummified head clearly show a healed wound in the bone above his left eyebrow, exactly as described in his writings.

We can assume that something was looking out for Jaume the Conquerer, but maybe it wasn’t the ‘God’ he imagined. However, the symbolism of the incident evidently had a significant impact on him, and the bat was adopted to sit atop the Crown of Aragon. The image of the Bat and Crown can be seen extensively to this day all over Valencia, adorning all the civic buildings, and even the metal utilities covers in the footpaths.

Order of the Dragon Talisman

Pedro the Perforator 1431- 1492 as he was posthumously named was an obscure minor Spanish royal who was exiled as a remittance man to keep a tenuous grasp on a tiny stronghold situated within the Kingdom of Granada. This was awkward as Granada was in Moorish control at the time.

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Order of the Dragon Talisman, bronze/mother of pearl/silver

Pedro had come from a difficult and unusual up-bringing. He was born in 1431, coincidentally the same year as his distant cousin many times removed, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, nowadays known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler. Pedro was breast-fed till age 10, and it was on this that his remarkable lack of height was blamed. (He stood 5’2” in stocking feet). He was a frail boy, sensitive and allergic to many things including the salt of his own tears. When he was finally weaned at 11 his father sent him to the court of Vlad II in the vain hope of making a man of him.

Vlad II was engaged in various tribulations within his own court and with the Ottomans at this time. An unfortunate encounter with the Ottoman Sultan saw Vlad II, Vlad III and young Prince Pedro taken captive and held on Gallipoli for 6 years. Unlike the Vlads, Pedro took to it like a swine in excrement. He loved the bright fabrics and soft furnishings of the seraglio, a place he would creep secretively to in search of the forbidden yet comforting breast milk.

He became a flamboyant dresser, favouring silk harem pants, flowing capes and five inch turbans festooned with lurid jewels. He also wore platform shoes with turned up toes to give him an appearance of height. By the time the three captives were released in 1448 the Vlads had developed a psychopathic hatred of all things Turkish and Pedro was still no more of a man.

Pedro’s father was alarmed to hear of his son’s prediliction for all things Islamic and insisted he remain in the court of the Vlads till he came to his Christian senses. He remained exiled for the next 15 years, during which time his notorious cousin ascended the throne… Pedro, always the suggestible lad, was intrigued by Vlad III’s unorthodox methods of maintaining order. An ardent enthusiast of the Turkish ‘shish kebab’ he found cousin Vlad’s skewering of his foes inspirational and finally convinced his father he was man enough to rule his own domain.

Who can imagine what Pedro’s father was thinking when he gifted him a modest castle, a small parcel of unproductive land and a handful of resentful peasants in the only kingdom in Spain still ruled predominantly by the Moors?

Pedro soon found himself unhappily ensconced in his stifling castle in Granada sporting his newly minted ‘Order of the Dragon’ talisman, a parting gift from his cousin Vlad III. Pedro swore fealty to the Order of the Dragon with the promise to uphold Christianity in Christian Europe. Always the wolf in gigolo’s clothing his fingers were crossed behind his back.

It was to Pedro’s great fortune that the Granada Sultans took a shine to him. Quickly coming to the realisation that his father had sold him a pup, possibly to rid himself of his embarrassing and worthless child, Pedro formed a mutually beneficial alliance with the Moorish overlords. They liked his bodacious apparel, zeal for all things Turkish and inexplicable knowledge of the inner workings of the seraglio.

Pedro became an enforcer for the Sultan. All Jews and Christians who refused to pay the compulsory tithe to the Sultan were passed over to Pedro for punishment. Pedro was free to unleash his proclivities for fear, cruelty and pain on the citizens of Granada. His favourite method of discipline was to have three men roped together in a line. He would run at them at great speed brandishing a viciously sharp rapier and pierce them all through, a human brochette, if you will. This was no mean feat in platform shoes with upturned toes.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, however slowly… Pedro maintained his reign of terror amongst recalcitrant Jews and Christians in Granada for thirty years. It came to an abrupt end in 1492 when after the seven month siege of Granada the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando retook the kingdom and drove the Moors from Granada. Pedro the Christian puncturing collaborater was treated very harshly. He was dragged through the streets in his garish finery, ridiculed and spat at. Finally Isabel herself seperated Pedro’s head from his body with one decisive stroke of the sword.

It was not known what had become of his corpse until a major refurbishment of a tapas bar in 1975 unearthed a headless skeleton when the floor was lifted. An unusual pendant was nestled in it’s ribcage. Much scholarly research finally proved beyond doubt that this was the final resting place of Prince Pedro the Perforator. It was thought that the talisman originally held a large rough cut ruby in it’s mouth, but I could find no trace of it, at least not in my workshop…




The Icon of Saint Irascible and the Truly Cross


I’m currently working on the Icon of St. Irascible and the Truly Cross… As far as I can ascertain, St. Irascible was an ill-tempered 6th century priest from what is now an arid and unlovely region of Spain. He was plagued by bats, demons and bees in the head. Unlike his much calmer counterpart St. Anthony who was also bedevilled and tormented by a bestiary of devils, St. Irascible did not bear his plaguing with equanimity.

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The Icon of St. Irascible & the Truly Cross, silver

When urged by his superiors to “Show them your cross!” during a particularly trying episode of bedevilment he chose to wilfully misconstrue basic punctuation and yell “Fuck off you bats!!”
Somehow he achieved sainthood…
If anyone knows anything else about this obscure saint I’d be grateful to learn of it. Scholarship is pretty thin on the ground about his life and times…