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ArribaAbajoReligious Symbolism in the Characterizations of Benina and Don Romualdo in Misericordia

Harry L. Kirby, Jr.

Don Romualdo Cedrón of Misericordia is undoubtedly one of the most unusual of the many outstanding characters created by Pérez Galdós. His uniqueness arises from the fact that he originates in the fantasy of Benina, the novel's heroine, before he becomes a flesh-and-blood person and enters actively into the narrative. Although there are many excellent critical articles and books dealing with Misericordia, none of these satisfactorily treat the significance of Don Romualdo's surprising apparition and none adequately analyse the character of Benina to explain why she seems to have the miraculous power to bring about Don Romualdo's materialization, This study seeks to illuminate these aspects of Galdós' novel by examining the symbolic elements found in the characterizations of Benina and Don Romualdo and by carefully reviewing the developmental stages of Don Romualdo's curious and intriguing passage from fantasy to reality.


A number of analysts of Misericordia have already noted that Benina's given name («Benigna») summarizes and draws attention to the qualities of Christian charity and goodness which she exemplifies and Joseph Schraibman has suggested that Galdós may have taken his heroine's first name from the Bible, Psalm 69, verse 16: «Jehová..., benigna es tu misericordia».173 However, very little importance has been attached to Benina's surname which is similar to that of St. Rita of Cascia.174 Three passages in the novel establish a comparison between Benina and St. Rita.

The first of these is found in Chapter III where Benina is initially seen among the group of beggars who gather daily outside the north door of Madrid's San Sebastián Church. Here Galdós provides an interesting physical description of Benina:

Usaba una venda negra bien ceñida en la frente; sobre ella pañuelo negro, y negros el manto y vestido, algo mejor apañaditos que los de las otras ancianas. Con este pergenio y la expresión sentimental y dulce de su rostro, todavía bien compuesta de líneas, parecía una Santa Rita de Casia que andaba por el mundo en penitencia. Faltábanle sólo el crucifijo y la llaga en la frente, si bien podía creerse que hacía las veces de esto el lobanillo del tamaño de un garbanzo, redondo, cárdeno, situado como a media pulgada más arriba del entrecejo.

(p. 690)175                

The second passage, found in Chapter XXIX, gives additional background information about Benina and alludes to the fact that she and St. Rita have nearly identical surnames. Speaking of his heroine, Galdós says:


Había nacido ella en un pueblo de Guadalajara de padres labradores, viniendo a servir a Madrid cuando sólo contaba veinte años. Leía con dificultad, y de escritura estaba tan mal que apenas ponía su nombre: Benina de Casia. Por este apellido algunos guasones de su pueblo se burlaban de ella diciendo que venía de Santa Rita.

(p. 763a)                

The third reference to the venerated saint appears in Chapter XXXIII after Don Romualdo's astonishing materialization. The priest comes to the apartment of Benina's mistress, Doña Paca, to bring the surprising news that Paca and Don Francisco Ponte, a relative, are the recipients of a sizeable inheritance. At the time of Romualdo's visit, Benina and her blind friend, Almudena, have been detained by the police on a charge of vagrancy. Paca, greatly concerned about Benina's unexplained prolonged absence from home, asks Don Romualdo if he has any news of her servant's whereabouts. Romualdo replies that he remembers having seen a beggar woman of Benina's description with a blind Moor (i.e., Almudena) and he adds: «Si la mujer que se ha perdido es la que yo creo... busquemos al moro y encontraremos... a ésa que llaman ustedes... - Benina de Casia..., de Casia, sí señor, de donde viene la broma de que es parienta de Santa Rita» (p. 775a).

The reader who is not well acquainted with Spanish Catholicism might easily overlook these three passages; however, since the Italian saint of the fifteenth century has for many years been particularly popular in the Hispanic world, the references would not have gone unnoticed by Galdós' public.

St. Rita, known affectionately as the «abogada de imposibilidades», is traditionally thought of as being a woman of advanced years because she entered the Augustinian convent at Cascia near Spoletto when she was fifty-one years old and it was only from this time until her death at the age of seventy-six that she became known for her piety and religious devotion. In the novel Benina is sixty years old (p. 698a). Furthermore, while St. Rita was a nun in the convent at Cascia, she prayed constantly for those negligent in their religious obligations, and, like Benina, she devoted herself intensely to the service and care of others. Benina, we have seen, wears a black dress and black head scarf and shawl which are reminiscent of the nun's habit worn by St. Rita. But what is perhaps most noteworthy in the similarity of the two women is the mark on the forehead. In the first reference cited above, Galdós says that Benina had a lobanillo, or wen, on her forehead and at two other points in the novel he refers to the blemish, calling it a verruga, or wart (pp. 753b, 774b). According to legend, a cancerous-type lesion developed on St. Rita's forehead while she was a nun. This occurred after she heard a moving sermon on the crown of thorns, and concurrent with the appearance of the weeping sore, which was interpreted as a stigmata, she reportedly received the power of working miracles.176

Our observations noted here imply that Galdós was inspired by the religious life of the Italian saint when he created Benina for Misericordia.177 While this is probably true to some extent, I also believe that he purposely chose to give his heroine the similar surname de Casia and some of St. Rita's characteristics so that his readers would readily identify Benina as a kind of modern-day saint.178 This is seen in several symbolic aspects of her characterization.


Benina is not respected for her goodness by all who know her, but those in the novel who do appreciate her gentle kindness and charity use special epithets when they address her or speak to others about her.

Don Frasquito Ponte consistently calls her un ángel. At various times in the novel the impoverished dandy refers to Benina as follows:

-Señora Nina -replicaba el protocursi [Don Frasquito]-, yo aseguro bajo mi palabra de honor, que es usted un ángel.

(p. 729b)                

-Ciertamente, señora. Usted es un ángel...

(p. 730b)                

-Señá Benina, repito que es usted un ángel.

(p. 732b)                

-¡Qué ángel, santo Dios, qué ángel!

(p. 733a)                

En esto volvió de su desvanecimiento el galán pobre, y reconociendo a su bienhechora, le besó las manos, llamándola ángel...

(p. 741b)                

[...] y a tantas indiscreciones unió Ponte la de llamarla ángel como unas doscientas veces en el curso de la frugal cena.

(p. 752a)                

-¡Lástima que Nina, ese ángel, no esté presente!

(p. 774a)                

-Benina es un ángel -se permitió decir tímidamente-. Pida o no pida limosna..., es un ángel, palabra de honor.

(p. 774b)                

-¿Qué dice usted? ¿Se sabe dónde está ese ángel?

(p. 781a)                

Me acusan de un infame delito: de haber puesto mis ojos en un ángel... Sepan que yo respeto a los ángeles... Pero yo no he seducido ángeles ni los seduciré.

(p. 796a)                

Almudena sometimes speaks of Benina in similar fashion, either calling her an angel or relating her with angels. The speech of the blind Moor, it will be recalled, is corrupted by the Arabic and Hebrew which he spoke in his youth. On different occasions Almudena tells Benina:

-Tú vinir con ángeles, B'nina...


Loan ti ángeles con cítara.

(p. 760b)                

Señora tuya mala ser, tú ángela.

(p. 790a)                

[...] yo quierer ti como ángela bunita.

(p. 794b)                

At the end of the novel, however, this manner of speaking about Benina is replaced by another epithet -one which designates her as una santa. This is seen in two speeches made by Paca's daughter-in-law, Juliana, who emerges in importance in the last chapters. Upon learning that Benina has assumed responsibility for the care of Almudena who is ill and has a possibly contagious skin disease, Juliana exclaims: «Si lo hace por caridad, de veras digo que es usted una santa» (p. 791b). And in the novel's final episode, which will be discussed later, she tells her: «Nina, Nina, es usted una santa» (p. 798b).

When they are viewed in a general sense, the two epithets, angel and saint,179 emphasize Benina's outstanding goodness and serve to set her apart from all of the other characters in the novel; however, if we look beyond the obvious distinguishing function of the epithets, we see that the subtle change is indicative of a kind of process, of sanctification which she undergoes in certain key scenes in the narrative.

We first become aware of this sanctification process when we read the episode where Benina goes to search for Almudena at Las Cambroneras, Madrid's city dump near the Puente de Toledo. Almudena feels dejected and jealous after he learns that Benina has befriended and given food and shelter to the sick and penniless Frasquito Ponte and, acting out of frustration,   —100→   anger, and despair, he goes to Las Cambroneras and climbs to the top of a dusty trash heap to pray, sing, and meditate for several days. Benina, concerned about Almudena's welfare, comes to him to bring him lunch and to try to persuade him to get out of the hot sun. Upon reaching the top of the trash heap, Benina says to Almudena: «¿Haces penitencia? Podrías haberte puesto en mejor sitio». He replies: «-Este... monte bunito». To which she responds: «¡Vaya un monte! ¿Y cómo llamas esto?» He answers: «Monte Sinaí... Mi estar Sinaí» (p. 760a).

The trash heap is, thus, a symbolic Mount Sinai, the site where God gave Moses the basis of Judaic law and the Ten Commandments, and where he told the Israelites that they were his chosen people. In the Book of Exodus, Chapter 19, verse 5, God tells Moses on Mount Sinai: «Vosotros seréis mi especial tesoro sobre todos los pueblos». And in verse 6: «Vosotros me seréis un reino de sacerdotes y gente santa. Estas son las palabras que diréis a los hijos de Israel». In verse 10, following, He also says: «Vé al pueblo y santifícalos hoy y mañana laven sus vestidos».180

By placing his heroine on a symbolic Mount Sinai, Galdós skillfully gives impetus to the sanctification process.181 Like the Israelites, Benina is chosen to be one of God's special people, one of the «gente santa», referred to in the Biblical verses above. In the last chapter of the novel, prior to her final scene with Juliana, Benina, like the Israelites, will also prepare for her new role by bathing and changing into clean garments («lo primero que hizo la anciana alcarreña [Benina] fue traer agua, todo el agua que pudo, y lavarse bien y jabonarse el cuerpo... Luego se vistió de limpio» [p. 793b]).

As a subsequent stage in her development, after her visit to Almudena's «Mount Sinai», Benina is mistaken for a saint. Since she was unsuccessful in her first attempt to get Almudena to leave the trash heap, Benina returns to Las Cambroneras several days later. She does not find the blind Moor this time, but while inquiring about him, she is besieged by a band of ragged beggars who believe that she is Doña Guillermina Pacheco, a humbly dressed aristocratic lady, who, some years before, came regularly to the area to distribute alms to the poor. The beggars' spokesman, Silverio, a lame old man, tells Benina that they believe her to be Doña Guillermina and, the text continues: «Confirmaron todos a una voz lo dicho por el octogenario Silverio, el cual hubo de añadir que por santa fue tenida la señora de antes, y por santísima tendrían a la presente, respetando su disfraz y poniéndose todos de rodillas ante ella para adorarla» (p. 762b).

The divine nature of Benina's character is also recognized by Frasquito Ponte. Moments before his death, Don Frasquito, speaking the truth, harshly reprimands Paca, Juliana, and Obdulia, Paca's daughter, for their ungratefulness and lack of appreciation for all that their servant has done and, in a kind of hallucinatory rage, he refutes imagined accusations that his behavior with Benina has been improper. He says: «si Nina fuese criatura mortal, no la habría respetado, porque soy hombre... Pero... la Nina no es de este mundo, la Nina pertenece al cielo... Vestida de pobre ha pedido limosna para mantenerlas a ustedes y a mí». He adds that her beauty is divine and her face reflects celestial light; then finally he proclaims that Benina «es de Dios» (p. 796a).


Near the conclusion of Misericordia, after Paca receives her windfall, she and her family coldly reject Benina, turning her out into the street. Benina is at first distressed and saddened by this unjust treatment, but, we are told, she senses that the apparent defeat, is really a moral victory. Using these words in the first paragraph of Chapter XL, Galdós describes the change that Benina has undergone:

Rechazada por la familia que había sustentado en días tristísimos de miseria y dolores sin cuento, no tardó [Benina] en rehacerse de la profunda turbación que ingratitud tan notoria le produjo; su conciencia le dio inefables consuelos: miró la vida desde la altura en que su desprecio de la humana vanidad la ponía; vio en ridícula pequeñez a los seres que la rodeaban, y su espíritu se hizo fuerte y grande. Había alcanzado glorioso triunfo; sentíase victoriosa, después de haber perdido la batalla en el terreno material.

(p. 793a)                

With this passage the author elevates his heroine above those whom she has known. Although the sanctification process would now seem to be complete, Galdós includes in the last chapter one final episode which clearly indicates that Benina has reached a new stage of development in her character.

Juliana knows that she has been instrumental in causing her mother-in-law, Paca, to dismiss Benina from her service and for this reason she begins to suffer feelings of guilt which manifest themselves in sleeplessness, lack of appetite, and the dreaded fear that her young children are ill and will soon die. The only person who can help her, she believes, is the good and kind Benina who she now realizes is spiritually superior to her. Consequently, she goes to Benina and tells her: «yo he pecado, yo soy mala». Addressing Juliana for the first time in the informal form, Benina responds: «Pues, hija, bien fácil es curarte. Yo te digo que tus hijos están sanos y robustos». Juliana replies: «¿Ve usted?... La alegría que me da es señal de que usted sabe lo que dice... Nina, Nina, es usted una santa». Benina naturally denies that she is a saint because she is extremely humble and she is unaware of what she represents. The interview then concludes with Benina repeating Christ's words said to the adulteress in the Book of John, Chapter 8, verse 11: she tells Juliana: «No llores y ahora véte a tu casa, y no vuelvas a pecar» (p. 798b).

By definition, a saint is a holy person, one who is exceptionally meek, charitable, and patient, and within a religious context, a saint is one who leads a holy life, sometimes suffers martyrdom, and frequently performs miracles in life and after death.182 Benina, as a living saint, fulfills these requisites. She is exceptionally good and patient, she leads a holy life, she suffers a kind of psychological martyrdom in being rejected by Paca and her family, and on many occasions she performs acts of charity which border on the miraculous when one considers the meagerness of her resources. There is one seeming miracle, however, that even Benina herself finds difficult to explain -that is the materialization of her imagined priest, Don Romualdo.

Don Romualdo Cedrón

In the large body of critical material dealing with Misericordia, one finds relatively little attention paid to Benina's beneficent priest. There are probably   —102→   several reasons for this. Throughout much of the novel he exists as nothing more than a figment of Benina's rich imagination; he appears only briefly in two chapters as a real flesh-and-blood person; then, after his seemingly miraculous projection out of Benina's fantasy, his continuing activity in the final pages of the work is recorded in only a few third-person references made by those who have met him and know him. Another and perhaps more important reason for the lack of attention given to Romualdo is the apparent supernatural quality of his character. Most critics tend to judge Misericordia with purely realistic criteria and, since Romualdo's presence does not fit comfortably within their view of the novel's realistic structure, they choose either to overlook him or to relegate him to a position of minor importance.

Leon Livingstone argues, nevertheless, that Don Romualdo cannot be so easily dismissed because «he clearly represents Galdós' refusal to accept a unilateral, purely materialistic concept of reality». Echoing and amplyfying this same view, Andrés Amorós recognizes that the apparition of Don Romualdo is an «expresión de una realidad que excede lo puramente externo e incluye lo psicológico: las obsesiones, las ideas fijas, los sueños de los personajes».183

In his well-known analysis of the novel, Joaquín Casalduero has noted that the narrative of Misericordia develops simultaneously on two levels -one which is real and one which is imaginary. According to Casalduero, the two levels are juxtaposed at first, intertwined later, and finally «la imaginación se sobrepone a la realidad, [y] crea la realidad».184 This creation of reality out of fantasy is represented by Don Romualdo's apparition. Benina's imaginary world revolves around the beneficent priest, and when he appears as a real person and enters into the novel's plot, he, in essence, becomes a bridge linking the two worlds described by Casalduero.

The reader is introduced to Don Romualdo in Chapter VI. Here Benina is seen returning to her mistress' apartment after she has spent one of her usual days begging at San Sebastián Church. She arrives home very late because when she left her post at the church in the afternoon she lacked sufficient money to buy a few grocery items and some medicine for Paca and she had had to accompany her friend Almudena to his living quarters to borrow what she could to cover her necessary expenses.

In this scene Benina encounters her mistress, not knowing how to explain her late arrival. She merely says: «¡Ay, señora, qué día! Yo estaba desecha; pero no me dejaban... salir de aquella bendita casa». Luckily Paca's response provides Benina with a much needed excuse. Paca tells her servant that as the hours passed she became increasingly concerned about what might have happened to her; she then says: «Me acordé... como tengo en mi cabeza todo el almanaque... de que hoy es San Romualdo... Y son los días del señor sacerdote en cuya casa estás de asistenta» (pp. 698b-99a). At this point, which is early in the novel, the reader does not fully grasp what Benina and Paca are talking about, but from the ensuing conversation we learn that Paca believes that Benina works in the house of a priest named Don Romualdo and she assumes that her servant was detained beyond her normal hours on that particular day because she had prepared a special meal in honor of Romualdo's Saint's Day.185


The introduction of Don Romualdo in this manner indicates Galdós' intention that the reader associate the name of Benina's imaginary employer with the saint after whom the priest was named. Saint Romuald founded the religious Order of Camaldoli in Italy in the tenth century. He reportedly established the first monastery of his Order on the site where he saw men dressed in white raiment ascending a ladder into heaven; for this reason he is almost always depicted in paintings with his most common attribute, a ladder which symbolically extends from earth to heaven.186 In our investigation we have found that the earliest known Teutonic meaning of the priest's given name was «famous power».187 This meaning seems to point to the significance of Romualdo's family name Cedrón, which is treated in Chapter XXXIII when the priest appears before Paca and Frasquito Ponte to tell them about their inheritance. After Paca and Ponte receive the unexpected good news, the narrator briefly focuses attention on Romualdo's physical appearance and remarks:

No estará de más señalar ahora la perfecta concordancia entre la persona del sacerdote y su apellido Cedrón, pues por la estatura, la robustez y hasta por el color podía ser comparado a un corpulento cedro... Talludo es el cedro, y además bello, noble, de madera un tanto quebradiza, pero grata y olorosa. Pues del mismo modo era don Romualdo: grandón, fornido, atezado, y al propio tiempo excelente persona, de intachable conducta en lo eclesiástico...

(p. 773a)                

The cedar tree in religious art often represents the Holy Father, His Son, and the Messiah. These interpretations are drawn from two references in the Old Testament. The first reference, in the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs), Chapter 5, verse 15, states that the Bridegroom's «countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars». Although the allegorical meaning of the Song of Solomon has been variously interpreted, there are two generally accepted views: in the Hebrew version the Bridegroom of the Biblical poem represents God and in the Christian version the Bridegroom is Christ. The second Biblical reference, found in Ezekiel, Chapter 17, verse 22, identifies the cedar as the symbol of the Messiah and His kingdom. In this verse, God, speaking through the prophet, refers to the Messiah, saying: «I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar... and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent».188

It would be unwise to rush to the conclusion that this symbolism indicates that Romualdo represents either God or Christ but there can be no doubt that his surname indicates that he is intended to be a kind of messianic figure who is endowed with divine qualities.

The Materialization of Don Romualdo

A careful reading of Misericordia reveals that the apparent materialization of Benina's imaginary priest is the result of a skillfully executed illusion. In the text Galdós indicates that there are actually two Romualdos, one real and one imaginary, both of whom, by striking coincidence, have the same given name, the same occupation, and the same physical characteristics. While the illusion derives primarily from these coincidental similarities, its success also   —104→   rests on two other factors: (1) the clever manner in which the two priests are presented and (2) the subtle influence of characteristics developed in another imaginary figure, King Samdai.189 In order to understand how the illusion is created, we shall trace its principal developmental stages.

Galdós first relates in Chapter IX that for some time the charitable and self-sacrificing Benina managed the dwindling resources of her mistress as best she could until one day «La situación llegó a ser... tan extremadamente angustiosa que la heroica anciana... no vio más arbitrio para continuar la lucha que poner su cara en vergüenza saliendo a pedir limosna». Benina resorted to begging as only a temporary measure, but she continued thereafter because there was no other means available to her. And, in order to conceal the truth about the source of her income from Paca, Benina «armó el enredo de que le había salido una buena proporción de asistenta en casa de un señor eclesiástico... tan piadoso como adinerado. [Y] con su presteza imaginativa [Benina] bautizó al fingido personaje, dándole, para engañar mejor a la señora, el nombre de don Romualdo» (p. 708a).

After he has established the story of the imaginary Don Romualdo, Galdós next proceeds to present King Samdai who is introduced in the novel by Almudena. In a conversation with Almudena in Chapter XII, Benina laments her inability to alleviate the suffering of the poor. The simple but kind Almudena attempts to bolster his companion's spirits by telling her about «El Rey Samdai». According to Almudena, King Samdai is a supernatural being, a powerful but benevolent lord of the underworld who possesses great wealth in jewels and precious stones, and he can be summoned to help Benina if she will perform a complicated ritual, part of which includes the repetition of a strange prayer, «Sema Israel Adonai Elohino Adanaie Ishat».

At first Benina rejects the story of the king as being preposterous; nevertheless Almudena's vision of a wealthy and generous underworld benefactor fascinates her and she reasons: «si es verdad que hubo Reyes Magos que traían regalos a los niños, ¿por qué no ha de haber otros Reyes de ilusión, que vengan al socorro de los ancianos...?» (p. 717b).

In Chapters XX through XXXIII the idea of the extraordinary king grows in Benina's imagination and as this happens the figures of Romualdo and Samdai subtly merge. This occurs quite naturally because, while Benina places new interest in Samdai, she continues to foster Paca's already-established belief in the imaginary Romualdo. The similarities of Romualdo and Samdai are emphasized by the manner in which Galdós shifts attention alternately from one figure to the other.

Late at night, after her conversation with Almudena, Benina goes to bed thinking about the powers of Samdai and she resolves to buy the materials for the conjuration (p. 736a). The next morning her thoughts turn to the imaginary Romualdo (p. 736b). She speaks again with Almudena to verify what articles must be acquired for the conjuration of Samdai (p. 737b). And in the afternoon she is confronted by Paca with a suggestion that Don Romualdo might help them pay some of their most pressing debts (p. 738a). Finally, several days later while she is alone, Benina once more thinks of the articles which she must obtain for the conjuration and she realizes how especially difficult it will be to learn Almudena's strange prayer (p. 744a).


Dreams appearing in this portion of the novel also reflect this alternating interest in the two imaginary figures. During the night, after Almudena tells her about Samdai, Benina dreams that she finds a room filled with baskets which are heaped with precious stones (p. 736a); Paca, some days afterwards, dreams that two gentlemen, given directions by Don Romualdo, come to her apartment to announce that she is to receive a bequest left by a long-deceased relative (p. 743b). In a third dream Benina sees a large black bull which, Paca says, symbolizes the acquisition of property and money (p. 754b). Joseph Schraibman has convincingly shown that such dreams in Galdós' novels serve to reinforce character portrayal and to summarize and advance the development of the plot.190 It would seem that in presenting these particular dreams Galdós had an additional purpose: the first two show that Benina and Paca see Samdai and Romualdo, respectively, as similar agents who are both capable of relieving their insurmountable financial problems; the third dream, of a general symbolic nature, sums up the earnest hopes of the two women and serves as final preparation for Romualdo's apparent transformation into a flesh-and-blood human being.

Before the real Romualdo appears to announce the bequest of the legacy to Paca and her family, Galdós introduces him into the narrative in very gradual stages.

Benina first learns one evening that, while she was away, a gentlemen by the name of Romualdo called at her mistress' apartment. Paca did not answer the door because she feared that the gentleman might be a bill collector. The strange news perplexes Benina, but she quickly dismisses the matter (pp. 757a-58b). Shortly thereafter Benina meets an old man who tells her that his granddaughters have been recommended for a place in an orphanage by a priest named Romualdo (p. 758b), and sometime after this incident a woman tells Benina that a priest named Romualdo can help her and her companion, Almudena, gain admittance to an asylum for the poor (p. 765b). Benina is astonished that complete strangers are now apparently acquainted with her imaginary priest and with each mention of Romualdo's name she feels greater confusion about what is real and what is imagined. Finally, upon returning home several days later, Benina is once again told that a gentleman called while both she and Paca were out. This time, before she is told who the caller was, Benina fearfully exclaims: «¡Ya!... es don Romualdo...» and she muses that perhaps «por milagro de Dios, habría tomado cuerpo y alma de persona verídica el ser creado en su fantasía...» (p. 766b).

These incidents lead inevitably to the moment when Benina must behold the apparent incarnation of her fantasy. While she is begging at San Andrés Church with Almudena, Benina sees a stranger in clerical habit who attracts her attention. She does not realize who he is, but after he has left, the resident priest informs her that the visitor was Don Romualdo. Upon learning the name of the stranger, Benina is understandably frightened. Her first impulse is to pursue Romualdo so that she may speak to him; instead she only imagines what she might say if she were to meet him. At this point in the narrative Galdós presents his heroine's thoughts in a poignant and moving monologue:


Señor don Romualdo, perdóneme si le he inventado. Yo creí que no había mal en esto. Lo hice porque la señora no me descubriera que salgo todos los días a pedir limosna para mantenerla. Y si esto de aparecerse usted ahora con cuerpo y vida de persona es castigo mío, perdóneme Dios, que no lo volveré a hacer.

(p. 767b)                

This passage is significant because it reveals Benina's complete acceptance of the illusion at this time,191 and it shows that she feels responsible for what has happened. Although Benina does not readily think of King Samdai, we cannot help wondering if there is not some strange connection between the underworld king and the appearance of the priest and we may even speculate that Romualdo's materialization somehow represents the incarnation of Samdai.

Evidence supporting this view appears near the end of Misericordia, in Chapter XXXVIII, in the episode where Benina returns to Paca's apartment after being held with Almudena at El Pardo, the city's detention facility for thieves and vagrants. Upon seeing her mistress' apartment through the front entrance, Benina is astonished to find that many changes have occurred: Paca's daughter-in-law, Juliana, is supervising the running of the household, a cook and servant have been hired, and the entry hall is adorned with exotic potted plants. What most attracts Benina's attention, however, is a newly-installed crystal chandelier in the dining room. To Benina it seems to be a magically-suspended «montón de piedras preciosas, con diferentes brillos y matices, encarnadas unas, azules o verdes otras». The apparent precious stones are much like those associated with the underworld king and Benina muses that perhaps Paca «más hábil que ella había efectuado el conjuro del Rey Samdai, pidiéndole y obteniendo de él las carretadas de diamantes y zafiros» (p. 788a). Paca informs Benina about Romualdo's visit and the inheritance, but from the manner in which the interview concludes, it is apparent that the real Romualdo has accomplished what appears to Benina to be the work of Samdai. Paca says: «Pues el milagro es una verdad, hija... lo ha hecho tu don Romualdo...» (p. 788b). Consequently, as the main action of the novel comes to a close, the figures of Romualdo and Samdai subtly converge.

Even though the text does not suggest any more about the apparent merging of the images of the priest and the underworld king, the implication is clear: Romualdo and Samdai are different manifestations of a single power that has mysteriously intervened in the lives of Paca and her servant.

Since he plays such an important role in Don Romualdo's materialization, a few remarks must be made about the nature of King Samdai. The underworld king seems to be a supernatural sovereign borrowed from a fantastic eastern tale; yet he possesses some qualities which suggest that he, like Don Romualdo, is of divine origin. Linguistic studies reveal that the earliest Indo-European names for God bear the common notion of «bright and shining» and some suggest that the concept is related to the idea of «one who dispenses».192 Almudena tells Benina that when he saw Samdai, the king's countenance was illuminated by a «divina hermosura», he wore a «corona de oro que parecía tener por pedrerías el sol, la luna y las estrellas», and his gown was woven of fine threads which were like «hebras de fuego».193 Furthermore, Samdai's arrival was heralded by angels and the retinue which accompanied him was «tan vistoso y brillante que deslumbraba» (p. 720b).


These qualities are presumably related to Sara E. [Cohen] Schyfter's observations about the extraordinary king. According to Schyfter, the characterization of King Samdai falls within the ancient tradition of jewish magic, which is «founded on the powers of good and the invocation of the personalized attributes of God and the angels». Schyfter claims that the name Samdai is an alternate form of Asmodeus or Ashmedai, who in Biblical legends was the king of the Hebrew demons and a popular hero associated with wealth, women, and wisdom. Almudena's belief that Samdai can be magically summoned to provide instant wealth, Schyfter surmises, derives from the fact that in Medieval times Jews and Christians alike thought that magic could be helpful in discovering hidden wealth.194 The uneducated Almudena apparently became acquainted with this bit of surviving folklore during his childhood in southern Morocco.

One of the most interesting features of King Samdai's characterization is the prayer which is necessary to effect his apparition. In jewish magic, Schyfter notes, both Hebrew prayers and the Hebrew language are frequently used because «the evocation of God seems particularly effective in manipulating, calling, and even overpowering demons».195

Almudena tells Benina that, as part of the conjuration of King Samdai, she must silently repeat to herself «Sema Israel Adonai Elohino Adanaie Ishat». This prayer, or «rezo mental», as Benina calls it, is the well-known Hebrew Shema, which translated means «Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one» (Deut.: 6: 4).196 Although the prayer is used in the novel as a kind of incantation, it is in reality a profession of one's faith and belief in God as the only power which reigns over the universe. The meaning of the Shema is especially important because Benina's interest in learning the prayer symbolically represents her desire to invoke the power of God to produce a miracle. Benina is, obviously, unaware of the meaning of the Shema, and she does not know that the word «Adonai» in the Shema is an early Hebrew name for God - her God as well as Almudena's. Benina never succeeds in learning the prayer, but, it is implied, her exemplary life of Christian charity and her hope and faith in God are enough to produce the miracle of the materialization of her imagined priest.

At the end of Misericordia Benina is disowned by her adopted family and left homeless and unemployed. Don Romualdo periodically provides her with leftover food from his kitchen, and Paca, to ease her conscience, assigns her former servant a small daily allowance of two reales.197 Such token compensation is, of course, woefully inadequate for all that Benina has done. By concluding the novel in this manner, Galdós, nevertheless, remains consistent in his portrayal of his heroine. Benina, much like a saint, has been instrumental in obtaining divine help not for herself but for those she loves. In the final pages of the novel Benina turns her attention to the sick and disoriented Almudena; Misericordia thus ends suggesting that she will further grow in her saintly role as she continues to dedicate herself unselfishly to the service of others.

Louisiana State University. Baton Rouge, LA

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