Cayrol Bernardo, (Re)constructing the memory of Sancha Raimúndez

«Hermana del emperador»: (re)constructing the memory of the infanta Sancha Raimúndez (d. 1159)

Laura Cayrol Bernardo (Centre de Recherches Historiques – EHESS, Paris)

Over the past few decades an avalanche of scholarship has pointed out the significant roles played by women in the medieval kingdoms of León and Castille. Many of them have focused on the Infantado, a characteristically Hispanic inheritance intended for the daughters of the Castilian-Leonese monarchs that provided them with a level of independence that may strike us today as surprising. However, our knowledge of this institution is largely influenced by a number of propaganda operations carried out in certain monasteries formerly linked to the infantas. In order to revive their own ancient memory and to increase their patrons’ prestige, the communities of said monasteries created ad hoc liturgy, artwork, relics, documents and even foundational legends.

As tenant of the Infantado, Sancha Raimúndez became the main adviser of her brother, king Alfonso VII, co-signing his documents with the title of ‘queen’ and often occupying a more prominent position to that of the king’s wife. She used her privileged position to favour different monasteries, authorising or even inspiring the most important decisions made by the communities of those monasteries belonging to her Infantado. She was an active patron of the arts and, in addition to making large donations, she granted many important privileges to monastic centres and populations under her rule. After her death in 1159, she began to be depicted as a saint both in popular and scholarly imagination. In the 13th century, chronicler Lucas de Tuy speaks of miracles performed by her. Most historians of the 17th and 18th centuries attributed various miracles to her intercession and spoke of pilgrimages which she certainly never made, without specifying their sources.

The aim of this paper is to analyse the political role that Sancha played during her life time and how her image was used and distorted after her death.