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Villanueva de los Infantes (Municipality, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)

Last modified: 2020-02-16 by ivan sache
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Presentation of Villanueva de los Infantes

The municipality of Villanueva de los Infantes (5,030 inhabitants in 2018 vs. 10,386 in 1950; 13,506 ha; municipal website) is located 100 km south-east of Ciudad Real.

Villanueva was already settled in the Ages of Copper (2000 BC) and Bronze (1800 BC), but the place became significant only after the Roman conquest, as evidenced by the remains of a road, two bridges, the big Treviño bridge included, and an aqueduct.
Destroyed during the Muslim invasion, the town was rebuilt as Jamila; some believe that this toponym is of Hebrew origin and that most re-settlers were Jews. In the aftermath of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), Alfonso VIII initiated the re-settlement of the reconquered Mancha. Jamila was mentioned in 1245 as a hamlet colonized by the Knights of the Order of Saint John. Deemed unhealthy, Jamila was abandoned by its inhabitants, who moved to La Moraleja, a hamlet depending on Montiel.

In the early 15th century, the population of La Moraleja was trice that of Montiel; accordingly, Infant Enrique of Aragón, Master of the Order of Saint James, granted the status of villa to La Moraleja on 10 February 1421. As a reward to their benefactor and his brothers, Infantes Alonso, Juan, and Pedro, the town was renamed to Villanueva de los Infantes (The Infantes' New Town).
Villanueva de los Infantes, whose population increased to more than 5,000 in the middle of the 16th century, was proclaimed the administrative and religious capital of Campo de Montiel in 1573 by Philip II. The town was also the seat of the government of the Order of Saint James, with a strong influence on Campo de Montiel and parts of the present-day's Provinces of Albacete, Murcia, and Jaén.
Outgrowing Alcaraz, Villanueva became also La Mancha's spiritual center during the Spanish Golden Age. The town was the birth place of Antonio de Molina (1560-1612/1619), an ascetic writer, author of clerical treaties translated in several languages, such as Instrucción de Sacerdotes and Exercicios espirituales para personas ocupadas de cosas de su salvación; of Fernando Ballesteros Saavedra (1580-1654), a church writer; of Friar Tomás de la Virgen (Rodrigo de Tomás y Sánchez, 1587-1647), a nephew of St. Thomas of Villanueva and the preferred councilor of kings Philip III and Philip IV and their court; of Juan de Cueto y Mena (1604-1669?), a playwright who might have influenced Pedro Calderón de la Barca; and of Matías de Arteaga y Alfaro (1633-1703), a baroque painter and engraver mostly active in Seville.

During the Peninsular War, Villanueva was a stronghold of resistance to the French, established in Manzanares. The town was seized on 1 January 1810 by the invaders but reconquered one year and a half later. The Superior Government of La Mancha was set up there; the Spanish Constitution was proclaimed for the first time in the province on 25 July 1812.
Queen Regent Maria Christina granted the title of ciudad to Villanueva de los Infantes in 1895.

Villanueva de los Infantes was registered as an Historical and Artistic Monument by Decree No. 3,708, issued on 20 December 1974 by the Spanish Government and published on 31 January 1975 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 27, p. 2,154 (text).
Nicknamed La Mancha's Santillana, as a reference to Santillana del Mar (Cantabria), Villanueva features "a really extraordinary array of artistic and monumental elements". Among the salient elements are the Plaza Mayor, lined with buildings designed in neo-classic style with stone arches and wooden balconies; the St. Andrew parish church, erected in the 16th century mostly in late Gothic style; the Remedy Hospital, built in the 17th century of freestone; the old grain barn, with original windows in wrought iron, dating from the 16th century; the portico of the Fontes palace; the Arch House and its neo-classic portico; the Lesser Collage, also known as Studies' House; the lordly house of St. Thomas de Villanueva and its chapel; the Inquisition House; the St. Dominic convent, established in 1517, where Francisco de Quevedo died on on 8 September 1745; the palaces of the Marquesses of Melgarejo, of the Marquesses of Camacho, of Manuel de la Burreda, of the Bustos and of the Ballesteros; the headquarter of the Knights of Saint John, with a magnificent portico from the 16th century etc. These historical buildings keep several artworks of great quality.

St. Thomas of Villanueva (1486-1555), born in Fuenllana as Tomás García Martínez Castellano, took the name of the town where he grew and studied. He enrolled in 1508 at the University of Alcalá de Henares and was ordained priest in 1518 in Salamanca. Charles I appointed him Provincial Prior of Andalusia and Castile, and, subsequently, Bishop of Valencia, after he had refused the see of Granada.
St. Thomas was a talented preacher, who, according to Charles I, "could stir stones". His sermons, blaming the social and public abuses of the times, are among the masterpieces of the 16th century sacred orations, especially the Sermón del amor de Dios. He expressed a highest devotion for the Blessed Virgin, whom he compared to a burning bush that never falls into ashes. He also wrote several mystic pieces, such as De la lección, meditación, oración y contemplación. St. Thomas of Villanueva was canonized on 1 November 1658 by Pope Alexander VII. Francisco de Quevedo dedicated him the biography Epítome a la historia de la vida ejemplar y gloriosa muerte del bienaventurado fray Tomás de Villanueva.
The Augustinian Order named for him the prestigious Villanova University (Pennsylvania), established in 1842, and the Universidad de Santo Tomás de Villanueva in Havana (Cuba), relocated in 1961 in Miami Gardens, as the St. Thomas University.

Villanueva de los Infantes is self-styled "the village of La Mancha" ("el lugar de la Mancha"), a straightforward reference to the famous, ambiguous first words of "Don Quixote" ("En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme", "In a certain village of La Mancha, the name of which I do not choose to remember"). Several villages of La Mancha indeed claim to be "the village", first of them, Argamasilla de Alba. In 2005, for the celebration of the fifth centenary of the publication of the first part of the book, a multidisciplinary team composed of nine experts in geography, history, philology, sociology, computer science, and information science, all from Universidad Complutense, established that Villanueva de los Infantes was the genuine "village of La Mancha" (Francisco Parra Luna et al. El lugar de la Mancha es... El Quijote como un sistema de distancias/tiempos. 2005. Editorial Complutense).
A subsequent research proposed a geometrical solution based on multiple-criteria decision analysis; this allowed to assign to 24 candidate "villages of La Mancha" a probability of being the genuine site. Villanueva de los Infantes ranked first (P = 0.1744), but with a probability only marginally higher than Fuenllana (P = 0.17022). The probability assigned to Argamasilla was nil.
[F.J. Girón González-Torres & Y.M.J. Rios Insua. 2008. ¿De dónde era probablemente D. Quijote? Un enfoque estadístico. Revista de la Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 102, 251-263]

Ivan Sache, 8 June 2019


Symbols of Villanueva de los Infantes

The flag of Villanueva de los Infantes (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo), which does not seem to have been officially registered, is horizontally divided pinkish red-white with the municipal coat of arms in the center.

The coat of arms of Villanueva de los Infantes, of "immemorial use" and seemingly not registered either, is "Argent a Cross of the Order of Saint James quartered by the arms of Arag√≥n, Castile, León, and Aragón. The shield surmounted by a crown open."
[Ramón José Maldonado y Cocat. 1973. Heráldica municipal de la provincia de Ciudad Real. Cuadernos de Estudios Manchegos 4, 84-109]

On the flag, the arms are placed on a golden-yellow cartouche.

Ivan Sache, 8 June 2019