El Cid Helps King Ferdinand I of Leon Conquer Coimbra

January 13, 2022

The attention of [King Ferdinand] was called to the city of Coimbra in this manner: The Abbot of [Lorvão], a monastery near Coimbra, grieved very much that this city was in the power of the Moors, and he said to his monks: “Let us go to the king, Don [Ferdinand], and tell him how he can take Coimbra;” and to this end they chose two monks to carry the message. The Moors, when they went hunting in the mountains, were accustomed to lodge in the monastery, in order to find shelter and food; and shortly after the Abbot had made his proposal, certain of the Moors came to find lodging. The two who were to act as messengers said to the Moors, “We desire to go to the holy Dominicum to say prayers for our sins;” and having given this reason for their errand, they set forth and came to the king in the town of Carrion.

Mosteiro de Lorvão. Photo by Hydelace

Then they said to him: “Sir, we have come over rivers and mountains to bring you news of the condition of Coimbra. If you desire to know, we can tell you how many Moors are there, and how carelessly they guard the city.” To this the king said: “I wish very much to know this very matter. Go on, and tell me what you can.” Then the monks gave him information as to the state of the city and how he might take it. When the king had learned these things, he called Rodrigo to him, asking what he thought ought to be done, and Rodrigo said: “Surely the Lord will help you to win this city! Also I am very anxious to be made a knight by your own hand, and I believe now that I shall receive knighthood at your hand in Coimbra;” for although Rodrigo was now the most famous soldier in Spain he had not yet been made a knight.

The king told the monks that he would take his army against Coimbra in the month of January [1064], it being at that time October. The king at once sent word to his people to assemble and to proceed to do all the damage they could around Coimbra, and to ravage the country so that the city could not lay in supplies for a siege. Now Rodrigo advised the king to make a pilgrimage to Santiago [de Compostela] as a religious duty, that he might have success in this campaign; this the king did, remaining three days and nights in prayer, and offering great gifts.

Santiago de Compostela

Then by the help of St. James . . . he assembled a great army and went against Coimbra in the month of January, and besieged that place through all of February, March, April, May, and June,—five months,—but was unable to take it. When July came, the army of [King Ferdinand] had but little food left, and they were in nearly as bad a plight as those within the city. In these circumstances, the king was about to give up the siege, and announcement was made that they would remain yet four days, and on the fifth every man could go to his own house.

But the monks of [Lorvão] and the Abbot consulted together and said: “Let us now go to the king and give him all the food we have,—oxen and cows and sheep and goats and swine; wheat and barley and maize, bread and wine, fish and fowl. For if the city should not be won by the Christians, the Moors, knowing what we have done to bring the king against them, will destroy us.” Then they took to the king all their store of food and drink, which was a great quantity, for they had laid these up through many years.

Thus the camp of the king was well supplied, and the siege was undertaken with new vigor. But the people in the city were growing weak with hunger. The king’s army now used their engines against every part of the walls, and broke them down in some places, and fought constantly with great fury. The Moors, seeing this, were filled with despair, and coming out, fell at the king’s feet, begging him to spare their lives and let them go away, and they would leave to him their city and everything within it. The king granted them their prayer, and the city surrendered in less than a week from the day when the monks succored the army with their supplies of food.

Map of Coimbra

[King Ferdinand] now gathered about him his counts and generals, and told them what the monks of [Lorvão] had done, having advised him to lay siege to the city, and having supplied the army with food when they were almost in despair. The officers replied, “Surely, O king, if the monks had not given us food, you could not have taken the city.” The king then sent for the Abbot and the brethren, who were with the army saying prayers on their behalf, nursing the sick, and burying in the monastery such as died. These came gladly to the king, and congratulated him on his victory; and the king said to the monks, “Since by your advice and the favor of God I have won this town, you may have as much of this city as you desire.”

But the monks answered: “We thank God that through you and your ancestors our monastery has all that it needs. We only ask that you will give us one church, with its dwelling houses, in the city, and that you will confirm to us the gifts already made by your ancestors and other good men.” With that the king turned to his officers and said: “Truly, these men are of God, who ask almost nothing! Now, since they desire so little, let us grant their request.” The charters were brought, and the king confirmed them; and then the monks brought a crown of gold and of silver, set with precious stones; and when the king saw this, he asked, “Why do you bring here this crown?” And they said, “That you should take it in return for the good you have done us.” But he said: “By no means will I take from your monastery what good men have given it. Take back the crown, and also this money, with which you are to erect a cross to remain with you forever.”

So the king signed the documents, as did his sons and officers also, and in the writings he commanded them and their descendants to always honor and protect the monastery of [Lorvão].

Calvin Dill Wilson, The Story of the Cid: For Young People (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1901), 35–40.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 811


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