Source of inspiration for Lope de Vega
There is a hypothesis about the former inhabitants of what today is Membrilla, who belonged to the Bronze Age. They were supposed to build a settlement and a little village at a crossroad, in the same place where the beautiful hermitage of Virgen del Espino is located today.
Later on, this place could have been used by Greek settlers to found Marmaria. Afterwards, they were followed by the Roman and Visigothic civilizations. The Arabs were supposed to have built the castle of El Tocón, probably in the 11th Century. After successive switch of owner, it finally became Christian after the battle of Navas de Tolosa, in 1212. Then it became a strategic milestone for the Military Order of Santiago, who was in charge of this Encomienda bordering the Calatrava’s. At that time, the images of Santiago and of Virgen del Espino, kept in the castle chapel, were venerated.
The population increase made the village overextend the limits of its fortress, thus creating the present city centre of Membrilla. Despite the loss of power of the Military Orders in the 16th Century, the number of noblemen and knights living in this village was important, only over passed by Villanueva de los Infantes. Nevertheless, its economy was not outstanding anymore.
On April 20th, 1615, Lope de Vega signs the manuscript of his comedy “El galán de la Membrilla”
Church of Santigago el Mayor
It was formerly built in the 15th century and replaced the previous one from the 13th century and called Santiago “El Viejo” (the elder). Both churches coexisted for many years, Santiago “El Viejo” being dependant on the new church, Santiago “El Nuevo”. The building that shows magnificent and massive before us, extended its capacity and height even before the works were finished. It is one of the most valued works by the Order of Santiago, in Campo de Montiel.
The church is mainly built in masonry, but the main structural and ornamental elements are carved ashlars walling. The polygonal apse has an impressive central niche. The nave is split in five segments separated by transverse arches supported by hexagonal base pilasters.
The splendid choir at the nave end, is supported by two impressive Tuscan arches. The tower of the church is square base, it has two parts and slate roof, and it is visible out of the sky in Membrilla.
The ornamentation of the church can be seen mainly in the doorway, the brackets and the long chapitels. With very curious patterns such as animals, plants, geometric figures and even human bodies.
Convento f the Concepcionistas Franciscanas (relious order)
It was founded by Francisco Camacho Martín, a citizen from Membrilla with no descendants who proposed the foundation of a nuns monastery, in 1609. The proposal was accepted by a nuns community from Villanueva de la Fuente, as a means to improve its poor daily life which was hard due to the pressure set on them by the Alcaraz vicar.
Membrilla represented a good perspective, for it was considered to be a “prosperou” village and it di not have any other nuns convent. In 1610, the transfer of the nuns to Membrilla was authorized.
Bartolomé Camacho, Francisco Camacho’s brother, was the real driving force of the convent works. It has a quadrangular base and three storeys, with a few opennings on the walls, with the exception of the little arches on the third storey and on the lateral tower, made of brickwork and masonry. The tiny beautiful tower and the bell-gable with two bells are outstanding.
In 1623, in a general assembly the nuns agreed on pain of excommunication to “preserve and stay in that convent forever, and not transfer it to any other place” and to fulfil strictly the foundation clauses.
Hermitage of “Virgen del Espino”(Virgin of the hawthorn)
It is located in a beautiful environment, surrounded by parks, proms and beautiful places. It is a place for devotion and leisure for the citizens of Membrilla.
The honored Virgin has had different names through history. It was formerly named as “Nuestra Señora” (Our Lady), later on, as “Santa María del Castillo” (Saint Mary of the Castle), then “Nuestra Señora del Castillo” (Our Lady of the Castle) and finally “Nuestra Señora del Espino” (Our Lady of the hawthorn), due to the legend of her appearing on a hawthorn.
The former building was the chapel of the fortress of El Tocón, which was the only construction that stood up of all the military landmark.
It has a just a floor with some lateral rooms added, such as the housing of the hermitage keeper, the Virgin little chamber and the chapel of Santiago.
After several refurnishing of the building, the military appearance has completely disappeared. The hermitage is surrounded by a park named after the hermitage, in which different popular fiestas are hold.
The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower is a recent construction of the 21st century, built upon the former one dated in 1915. Due to the deterioration of this tower, it was demolished and rebuilt. It is located in the well-known square of Azafranar and it is one of the most representative buildings in Membrilla. It keeps the former bells and from its flat roof excellent views of Membrilla and Campo de Montiel can be seen.
Water Mill of Rezuelo
It is one of the eleven water mills that were located along the river, across Membrilla.
Nowadays, most of the engines are in different state of ruin, but Membrilla has been willing to recover this magnificent water mill that was operating until the end of the seventies. The water mill of El Rezuelo is located in a beautiful environment that can be reached by walking through the nice plains of Membrilla and Campo de Montiel.
The construction of a water mill, far from being something basic, required the implication of experts with a deep knowledge of the river bed, its features and whims. They looked for drops so difficult to find in such a plain land as la Mancha, and would deviate from its natural course a “water arm”, by means of a shallow channel called “caz” or “cass”.
Houses and Courtyards
In Membrilla there are still some outstanding elements representing the popular architecture, such as some courtyards and buildings.
An example is the well-known house “Niño Jesús” (Child Jesus), located in Almagro street. Is is a former Inquisition house that, in spite of the modern facade, preserves its traditional structure as well as the characteristic elements, set around a main courtyard and a labour courtyard. It good conservation is due to the interest of the citizens. In the same street we find a dwelling that preserves the original cellars and a good part of it structure.
Magnificent is the Arco de Canuto (Canuto’s arch). A citizen prevented it from demolition and moved it to a plot of land of his property.
Fiestas and traditions
Los Desposorios (the betrothal of the Virgin)
These are the main fiestas in Membrilla and take place the last but one Sunday in August. The previous Thursday, Saint Joseph is taken in procession from the Parish Church to the hermitage, where he picks the Virgin up and they go back to the Parish Church, where she will remain until the Monday of betrothal, when she will go back to her hermitage until the following year. On Sunday, the betrothal is celebrated with processions, music bands and the traditional bids of objects that have been donated to the Patron.
The 25th of July, Santiago Apostol’s day, is the great day in Membrilla. The evening before, there is a popular fair in the Espino’s park, with dancing and where the typical drink “serrana” (red wine, sugar and peach) is provided. On the Saint’s day, the brothers of the Fraternity go to pick up the gifts (agasajos) that consists on a sugar tiny key. In the evening, the image of Santiago is taken in procession along the streets of Membrilla.
Cruces de Mayo (May holy crosses)
This tradition started in the 16th Century. Nowadays, it is celebrated on the 2nd of May. The night before, the citizens of Membrilla “dress up” the crosses as a tradition or as an offer, and invite all visitors offering them a handful of nuts (“puñao”) and a drink. Bands of street musicians and “tunas” visit them singing traditional lyrics.
On the 25th of April, it is a tradition to go out to the countryside for a picnic where the “hornazo” (a sweet flat cake with red sausage and a boiled egg) is eaten. People frighten the devil by tying the crop plants in the fields that at this time of the year are already grown up.
Pilgrimage to San Isidro
It is celebrated the weekend past the 15th of May, unless Saint Isidro’s day is Saturday or Sunday. The evening before, there is a popular fair. The pilgrimage is celebrated in the Espino setting, with a band and an open bar where beer is offered to all pilgrims for free.
San Anton is celebrated in Membrilla since the 18th Century. In past times, the mounts were bedecked with ornaments and there were prizes for the best. Riders went round the Church for three times, surrounding the image of the saint. Nowadays, the mounts have been replaced by other kinds of pets. On the Saturday after the 10th of January, a fire is set and all visitors are invited to a drink, “zurra” and typical appetizers.
Carnival and Easter week are well celebrated in Membrilla, too.