Other interesting articles about...

Gaudí: His Last Breath

Part 3

By Ana María Férrin

The 22th March, 1763, we are told, thanks to a letter from Oronzio Betrela de Andrade addressed to Antonio Serch, at that time the parish priest of Mataró, that the following Gipsy families had settled in the aforesaid city: Narciso Gil Serrano, his wife Rosa Pubill and his daughter María Cortés; Francisco Espinas and his mother Raimunda Espinas; Francisco Malla, his wife Juana Romero and his son Francisco Malla; another Francisco Malla; Mariangela Vidal and her daughter María Baptista; Baptista Ximenes, Rita Ximenes and her daughter Eularia; Juan Gómez and María Serafina Romero. Other sources assure that the group consisted at least of 36 people, although what really matters of these notes is the pedigree of the name Pubill in the Mataronese chronicles.

All this permits to furnish the oldest reference to the Gipsy presence in Spain. In a document dating from the 12th of January 1425, Alfonso V of Aragon authorised in a safe-conduct dated in Zaragoza the passing through any city or village of the Crown of Aragon to don Juan, from the Lesser Egypt. Next May there appeared in another safe-conduct the Hindu Tomás, count of the Lesser Egypt. Shortly afterwards there appeared the dukes Andrew and Paul, and the counts Peter, Martin Thomas and James with the declared intention of long, endless, pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. They integrated a crowd of Egyptians and Bohemians a few years later. The latter tribal name come from France and which appears to answer to the denomination resulting from one of the first passports by means of which the Gipsies travelled through the West had been issued by king Sigmund from Bohemia. However, in deepening in their true point of departure we come across an Indostanic origin, which crossed Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Italy before reaching the Pyrenees, the spot in which their penetration into Spain is produced.

It must be stated that all the consulted witnesses and documents, written even by foreign travellers reveal a good clinical functioning of the Saint Cross Hospital. (Joseph Townsend had published, in 1791, in his Journey to Spain his impressions after a visit he made to Barcelona five years before: «None of the hospitals in the continent I have visited is so well administered as the General Hospital of this city. It is remarkable by the care given to the convalescents, for which a separated lodging has been arranged...»). The administrative strictness was rather uncertain instead, possibly because of the attendance of foreign, undocumented and urgent patients, in many occasions wounded in quarrels having the risk of an imminent death and coming from the near-by port quarter. This can be stated by the articles signed by doctor Corachán in several medical magazines from the nineteen twenties, in which he tells us some cases attended in the centre (Visceral traumatology caused by arm, Thoracic traumatism by lung injure, Intestinal piercing by Firearm, etc., are some of the titles).

In the case of Antonio Gaudí the fact of being undocumented could be the reason of being him registered in an unusual way. His entry number was 1.788, but in another list he appears being placed after number 1.959. In another administrative bundle of papers the admission date is the 7th of May, a month before the real one, etc. It seems to be not the very calligraphy, the ink is different... Well, it could be said that Gaudí appears in the books inlaid rather than registered and maybe not strange for this reason that the stay of the Mataronese Pubill would have remained undocumented. There exists another possibility, the stay of a private patient of doctor Corachán. Whatever the reason, had him not appeared quoted in the doctor Josep Trueta’s memoirs, an exceptional witness, and despite that who writes so knows about the existence of the Gipsy patient from long ago, this episode would have been hard to corroborate.

In picking up the thread of the Pubill family from Mataró, we get in touch with Pedro Pubill Calaf, the well-known singer Peret. He is now in an epoch of his life in which he alternates music simultaneously with the writing of his memoirs, which will cast more light to a collective, the Gipsy one. It has lived in parallel all the changes of this country seen from a ground basically unknown by those not belonging to it. Given the lack of a written archive about his ancestors, the work by Peret is revealing hard and only being possible by recovering the oral memory from the elder people.

Nowadays the elder members of the clan, all those which would be able to identify the exact name of the Pubill we are referring to, they either died or because of their age they don’t find in conditions to remember. Even though, the Pedro Pubill Calaf’s witness is conclusive when he affirms that:

—Whoever the Pubill he was, it could be assured that he was a male of my family through my father’s branch, and apart from my grandparents, from he and her. My grandfather’s name was Pedro Pubill Escudé and his wife’s Consuelo Pubill Solé. He was a shearer and I still remember the rings in the wall where he fastened the horses, which the inhabitants from Mataró brought him. To my advice, all the Pubill from Mataró are relatives and we lived in the very terrain called Los Corrales, behind the Hospital Vell, where they have presently built the Plaça dels Corrals.

The genealogy of Pedro Pubill Calaf tells us about the physical map of his ascendancy. His father, from Mataró; his mother, from Barcelona; his grandmother, from Marseilles and other branches, from Mallorca. He moved to Barcelona with his parents and brothers after the Spanish Civil War, and he settled in the Cendra street, very close from the Cadena street, where Gaudí had lived when student. It was a quarter with a strong Gipsy presence, located a few blocks of houses away from the Saint Cross Hospital, which the neighbours also called Ca’l Socorro. These Gipsy inhabitants from Los Corrales occupied the Mataronese plot until the nineteenth sixties, when its last inhabitant left it, after selling her house/hut for 25.000 pesetas. With her departure, the ancestral title of property of that plot was lost, which was once donated by a benefactor. A loss which Peret regrets for he still keeps from his childhood remembrance the vision of that half disintegrated document, rolled and kept inside a lead tube, which was the living memory of such an unknown history.

Returning to the injured Gaudí, to the question made by father Gil Pares whether he desired to receive the Viaticum, the patient, who gave signs of comprehension despite his prostration, answered affirmatively with his head. The sculptor Joan Matamala had entered the room shortly before and he acted as a silent witness of the scene which took place before him. He saw the priest coming with the Holy Communion and helping Gaudí to sit up in bed, trying to follow the prayers with an «amen» spelt with difficulty. But above all, the young artist was stricken by the painful efforts which his master had dome to manage to separate his jaws and to open his mouth slightly, until the priest managed to introduce the Holy Host between his lips. After doing that the body of Gaudí fell in the bed exhausted by the great effort he did while he breathed stirringly. These hours consumed in the waiting served they collaborators to get rid of the negative reminiscences of their relationship and to rescue so many valid thoughts from whom had generously headed them to see and believe in excellence. His teachings could be summarised in that one can never conform the comfortable, I must have to effort towards the creation, which will hypnotise our will.

Once the Wednesday 9 came, at first thing in the morning, the architect César Martinell and his father, entered through the Carmen street, in route to the Holy Cross Hospital. In passing by the house of convalescence they saw its entrance shining with the splendour of the mosaics and the court, which kept in the shape of sculptures several clues of his good undesrtanding with Gaudí. The majestic Saint Paul crowned with a jewellery crown and guarded at the top by eight gargoyles and two coats of arms of the Ferrán family, the benefactors of the centre. These pieces, which Gaudí liked so much, were made by the baroque sculptor Lluís Bonifás, a native from the very village than César Martinell, Valls, near of Reus. The countrymanship had once served as a spiritual nexus between the two Tarraconese architects, Gaudí and Martinell, separated by half a century of age and linked by the very conception of art.

Part 4 >>

Top Gaudí: his last breath.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4