The Crime of Níjar and Blood Wedding/Bodas de sangre.
It didn’t take Lorca as long turning ‘real events’ into great drama with this case as it did with The House of Bernarda Alba, completed after a creative process that lasted a dozen years or more (blog post #93). Lorca got fascinated by ‘the crime of Níjar’, as did half Spain, when he read about it in the papers in July 1928. The first performance of Blood Wedding duly followed in March 1933 (starring Josefina Díaz as the Bride).
The ‘real events’.
The crime the play is based on took place on the night of 22/23 July 1928. The Wedding celebrations referred to were to take place in the Cortijo del Fraile, a prominent farmstead in the heart of what is today the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Nature Park; the marriage in the nearby church of Fernán Pérez.
The bride-to-be’s real name was Francisca Cañadas Morales. The man she tried to run off with just before the wedding ceremony was Francisco Montes Cañadas, her cousin. The wedding was being celebrated in the Cortijo del Fraile because the bride’s father ran the farm operations there on behalf of its owner.
A few kilometres south of the Cortijo, on the dirt road that runs east-west between Rodalquilar and Los Albaricoques, the fleeing couple were overtaken and Francisco Montes was shot dead, with three bullets in the head. Francisca was later found with serious injuries to the neck and throat. Someone had tried to strangle her. She claimed not to have recognised the people who attacked them, which everyone agrees is an unlikely story.
José Pérez Pino and Carmen Cañadas Morales were found guilty of the crime. A married couple, José was the brother of the bridegroom, whose name was Casimiro, while Carmen was the bride’s sister. These two had probably been prime instigators of the arranged wedding between Francisca and Casimiro.
Francisca was nicknamed Paquita la coja, Lame Paquita, and had been set up by her father to inherit the family property in nearby El Hualix with a respectable dowry. The father was thus trying to atone for the bad conscience he had about his daughter’s handicap. Carmen Cañada and José Pérez saw the marriage of Paquita and Casimiro as a way to prevent this inheritance slipping out of their reach and into the hands of ‘outsiders’. Paquita was known to be unenthusiastic about the arranged marriage and preferred her cousin Francisco Montes all along.
The facts were just the seeds of Lorca’s poetic drama. In Bodas de sangre Lorca has the lovers flee after the wedding, on horseback, not on a mule. Lorca’s Bride was attractive, and not lame. Leonardo, the only named character in the play, is already a married man, with a new-born child, and another on the way; whereas Francisco Montes was single. In the play, Leonardo and the Groom kill each other in a knife fight under the auspices of the silvery Moon. Lorca finds no role in the killing for the in-laws Carmen and José, nor for a firearm. Knives and horses had a recognised and specific symbolic value in the works of the world-famous Andalusian poet.
Lorca also exaggerated the difference between the Bride’s and the Groom’s family background. Lorca has the Groom’s mother boast about the vineyards and fruit trees that her husband had planted on their evidently much more fertile property. This is pure invention. The Bride’s father, by contrast, is proud of his skilful cultivation of esparto grass, a plant used for basket weaving and similar handicrafts, the only crop that could thrive in the harsh and arid climate where he lives. These facts, as far as they go, do correspond to the actual conditions of the Cortijo del Fraile, although out of this fairly impressive farmstead Lorca converts the Bride’s home into a relatively modest cave-dwelling, more typical of Granada than of Almería. Again, the symbol-laden contrast between fertility and barrenness is a familiar Lorca theme.
Interpreting the real events.
When Bodas de sangre was first performed in 1933, the local journalist Carmen de Burgos had already two years previously published Puñal de Claveles, a story inspired by the same events. Her version adopted a clearly feminist point of view and had a happy ending.
Hers was the first of many retellings of the events that became popularly known as the crime of Níjar, the latest of which is ¡Llévame contigo, ahora o nunca! La historia jamás contada del crimen de Bodas de sangre (Take me with you, now or never! The previously untold story of the ‘Blood Wedding’ crime) written by Antonio Torres Flores and Ángel Miguel Roldán Molina and presented recently in the Lorca Centre in Granada, as reported by Enrique Abuín and Isabel Vargas in Granada Hoy, 12.12.2018. Their ‘previously untold’ story is based on a comprehensive and rigorously researched review of the documented events, which they take pains to place in their socio-historical context. The quote in the title of the book are the words with which Francisca supposedly exhorted her cousin, Francisco, to slip out of the cortijo together with her, leaving poor Casimiro napping, and which she repeated to the judge under oath at the murder trial. Torres and Roldán are confident they have written the definitive book when it comes to revealing the true facts behind the crime.
There have in fact been a series of retellings of the events, probably starting with the popular romances that circulated soon after the story appeared in the papers. The literary journalist Carlos de Arce Robledo marked the sixtieth anniversary of the crime with another book, with the straightforward title El Crimen de Níjar, purporting to reveal the ‘previously untold’ truth behind the events. In 2014 Josefina Góngora, grandniece of Francisca Cañadas, published a version of the story titled Amor y traición en el Cortijo del Fraile (Love and Betrayal in the Cortijo del Fraile) told from the bride’s point-of-view, which she felt had been under- or unfairly represented. While, last but not least, Paula Ortiz`s 2015 film La novia (The Bride) was more an artistic reworking of Lorca’s drama than any attempt to portray the real events.
One of the reasons why the crime has never lost its fascination is at least partly due to the behaviour of the protagonists after the events. Francisca Cañadas, who must have known more than she told about her almost-lover’s murder, lived with her niece’s family at El Hualix, the property which she inherited from her father and from which she rarely emerged until her death in 1987. She refused to see or talk to her sister Carmen who lived practically next door. Casimiro never crossed paths with his almost-bride Francisca and never spoke about the event even to his closest family before his death in 1990, 62 years after the crime.
The bare facts are so extraordinary and still open to interpretation it is hard to believe that the last word has been said on the matter, despite Messrs Torres and Roldán’s claim to have exhausted the material.
With the 100-year anniversary coming up, we can surely expect another flurry of new versions for 2028 giving their original angle on the happenings of that now distant summer night and the crime passionnel, or honour killing, that materialised in its arid heat and throat-clogging dust.