Dream AlcaláHistoryThe Complutensian Polyglot Bible. Cisnero’s Dream

The Complutensian Polyglot Bible. Cisnero’s Dream

Two of the most astonishing treasures of Spain and Alcalá history are put together to symbolize the extraordinary and universal project of Cisneros. The Polyglot Bible—on the verge of its fifth centenary—and the just restored San Ildefonso Chapel, compose the best of the University and clearly show the path followed by the city up to nowadays.

Being the university the core of Alcalá, the Polyglot Bible and San Ildefonso Chapel are, in turn, the core of the university itself. All of that is the result of the privileged ‘head’ of Cisneros, who conceived the city and its university model.

[quote align=»center»]»Although nowadays many difficult and hard ventures have been carried out by the nation, there is nothing of my liking, something you should thank me for more enthusiastically, than for this edition of the Bible«. Cisneros[/quote]

San Ildefonso Chapel is surrounded by the reformist and restoring spirit signed and sealed by Cisneros. This concept meant a huge quality improvement of the own concept of university itself. With the Polyglot Bible, Cisneros achieved such concept to become a boundless message for future university centers. Most part of the virtues of our model was moved to Europe and, essentially, America. This tribute is a perfect ‘starter’ for the  new year, the recognition of the value of a creation of singular beauty and extraordinary cultural value: the Complutensian Polyglot Bible.

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Within the historical transitional period from Middle Ages to French Revolution, Europe lived huge changes. That is the time of the Renaissance, the modern states, the so-called “Education Revolution”, the laicization of society; but it is also time of movements of spirit and religion renewal, of Church regeneration. Cisneros was the main character, personal and official, of the ecclesiastic reform that began in Castilian in the middle of the fifteenth century.

In this context of changes and renewals, in the period of the reign of Spanish Catholic Monarchs, there were important personalities leading to the creation of a religious-cultural-university policy common to Spanish monarchy and church. Its ideology was based in a reformer program and in a reconstruction process of the reign according to postulates of centralization and unification of the political power, the creation of a new Hispanic Monarchy.

At the end of fifteenth century, Cisneros conceived the creation of a citadel for Christianity, in which Renaissance humanism and biblical theology would harmonize; visited by masters, students, monks and reformer friars, writers and printers.

Catholic Monarchs and Cisneros were sure of the importance of education and culture into the reformer project undertaken by the Church and the State. Thanks to the collaboration between monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, Cisneros, and the Pope Alexander VI, the project of the creation of a new university in Castilian arose, more concretely in the reign of Toledo, meeting the necessities of the educational ideals of new times shared by all of them. In order to place such center, Cisneros chose Alcalá, place upon which Toledo’s Archbishop had jurisdiction.

Cisneros conceived the new institution of the university as an ideal instrument to carry a reformer program, as a response to the needs of humanistic, intellectual and university renovation of the ecclesiastical pictures of that time and of Castilian society. His idea was to create an institution elevating the spiritual level of society in general and of clergy in particular, by means of a whole organism of teaching, from basics to deep knowledge, mainly oriented to theology.

A coherent and comprehensive system of teaching and a perfect organism of ecclesiastical restoring oriented to theology teaching were created thanks to that ideology—an original approach to the sacred texts through a proficient knowledge in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. That process allowed the best spirit of Christian humanism that arose and was formed within the Complutensian Polyglot Bible.

The Cardinal wanted to come true his model of City of Knowledge and, to that purpose, he meticulously planned every detail of its creation—since the most suitable place for its location to its founding motivation, normative texts, studies planning and financing.

He dealt not only with the university foundation into the city, but with the process of allocation—the whole city was finally put at service of the academic institution. With that aim,  the first model of University City in times of Renaissance, was planned, including an urban planning perfectly designed to the new institution specific necessities. His model of City of Knowledge is developed around the University-College of San Ildefonso. Cisneros bases his project in two pillars: on the one hand, books and dissemination; and on the other, the great importance to the Chapel and College Library.

Cisneros and the Catholic Monarchs were conscious of the importance of a printing for the dissemination of its cultural and political projects. In Alcalá, at the request of Queen Isabella, printing was introduced in 1501, and some years after, the Workshop of Arnao Guillén Brocar printed the first volume of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible.

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The essentially-theological character should be highlighted as a distinguishing mark of the new university of Alcalá. The humanistic training linked to the deep knowledge of theology would result in the new Complutense city that monarchy and church needed: the best service to God was to serve Kings.

The vocation of merging humanism and theology proportionated training in both tradition and novelty. Humanism and theology were at service of Biblical study in the original languages of both testaments. Cisneros gathered an exclusive team of scholars and philologists to teach students of Colegio de San Ildefonso and prepare the edition of Polyglot Bible.

The Chapel was much more than a center in which liturgical and sacramental life was celebrated for Alcalá’s students—not letting aside its importance in a university devoted to theology—but the epicenter of the College. There, Constitutions were promulgated, annual visitors were welcomed, and the cluster of students was gathered—a government body of university life where all provisions later executed by the rector and his team were decided. Also there, theology students had to preach their sermon in Latin, and there, Alcalá’s inhabitants were received in most relevant religious festivities when sermons were spoken in Castilian so all the faithful could understand.

Within the Chapel, the ideology of Cisneros is represented: the Cardinal image surrounded by a Franciscan cord, the imposition of San Ildefonso chasuble embossed in stone, the old bells made by the cannons of the Conquer of Oran, and the Renaissance humanism present in the decorative elements along with the symbols of the Church.

In the Chapel, the makers of the Bible are buried, as well as Cisneros himself—who specifically asked to rest in it after his death. Its sepulcher, the one dominating the enclosure, stands out as if it was the figure of the prince of the Church. Founder of the University of Alcalá, but also statesman, the Cardinal was twice in charge of Spain throne.

Very little works of art could define a character and a historical and cultural legacy as they do in San Ildefonso Chapel and the Complutensian Polyglot Bible around the figure of Cisneros. Two essential treasures and a great personality. Both elements are shown through some informative panels explaining Cisneros project, the content of the Polyglot Bible in the frame of San Ildefonso Chapel… The colors of the shield of Cisneros stand out, yellow and red: colors of the authentic main character of this intellectual, university and cultural advance.

[quote align=»center»]«Wherever the death undertakes me, I ask my remains to be moved to my San Ildefonso Chapel, founded by me in Alcalá«Cisneros[/quote]

Additional information:

This text is a quote of what could be seen in the exposition of Homenaje a la Biblia Políglota Complutense in San Ildefonso Chapel of Alcalá de Henares from November 18th to December 10th of 2013.