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History


The discovery made by a shepherd in 1392 of the image of the Virgin, taken to be a miracle, prompted the queen Katherine of Lancaster to establish a monastery, and soon thereafter, to found the Villa, whose charter is dated 1395.

It was the year 1392 when, in the month of September, a shepherd named Pedro Amador was tending to his flock, and Mary the Mother of God appeared to him and entrusted him with a double mission: to go to Segovia and ask the bishop to come to the slate area and unearth Her image hidden there, and to build an altar devoted to Her worship on that site.

Twice did the shepherd have to go to the Bishop for him to come to the slate area, but once there, and following the indications given to him by Pedro Amador, the image appeared, and its cult was initiated.

Having returned to Segovia, the Bishop communicated these events to queen Katherine, as well as the miracles and healings that were taking place. Her curiosity awoken, the queen decided to visit the place where the image had been discovered. Witnessing the poverty of the region in sharp contrast to the expressions of faith brought about by the discovery, the queen ordered that a church be built on that spot, requested permission from Pope Clement VII who was residing in Avignon to collect alms from the kingdoms of Spain for the construction of the new church, and to entrust the church to the care of the Dominican monks of the convent of Santa Cruz in Segovia. The image of the Virgin found among the slate, known as Nuestra Señora de la Soterraña, took its place on the altar of the new church in 1399. It was heavily damaged in a fire on the 8th of June,1900, and a new image, which preserves the remains of the original in its interior, was made by the sculptor Aniceto Marinas.

The written sources that mention the event, such as the Crónica General de España and contemporary palace chronicles such as the chronicle of Pedro López de Ayala, only refer to the discovery of the image, the construction of a shrine, and the building of a monastery shortly thereafter.

The large crowds of people that gathered around the shrine led to the construction of a series of buildings, including and inn; and the queen had to consider whether to “establish an exempt Villa” of the Community of the City and Land of Segovia to protect the decency and cult of the Sanctuary.

Even though the Comunidad y Tierra de Segovia, or Community and Land of Segovia, as it was then known, had full control and jurisdiction over the towns within its borders, when the King Henry III of Castile got wind of the queen´s desire to establish and exempt Villa, and of the protests of livestock farmers in the region, he ordered that a special court be set up, where judges and lawyers would represent each of the parties to resolve the conflict. The court found in favour of Queen Katherine, and Segovia was dispossessed of a portion of its territory.

Having thus won the lawsuit on August 10, 1395, the queen exercised her authority the following day and signed the charter of the Villa of Santa María la Real de Nieva.

Little by little, the slate area was inhabited, and in addition to the people who tended to the needs of the cult and of the pilgrims, a population of peasants, shepherds, weavers, etc. grew, and according to historians, there were also a few nobles. The establishment of exempt towns where the king installed representatives with the powers to grant privileges and guarantees like those that were granted to Santa María la Real de Nieva, to the detriment of the Community of the City and Land of Segovia, was a novel way of attracting people to settle the area.

Soon, new privileges and guarantees were added. The first and most important of these was granted on 6 March, 1407, after the king had died and Katherine became regent. According to a letter sent to the Monastery and to the Concejo – the committee of livestock farmers and shepherds – of Santa María, those who settled the area, from peasants to hidalgos, and until their numbers reached two hundred, would be exempt from paying sales tax and the moneda forera (a royal tax levied every six years on the town), from lending men, servants and arms, and from paying certain other taxes. Furthermore, livestock was free to roam the fields and estates, except the estates belonging to the queen and the infante don Fernando, and the inhabitants were allowed to cut wood, plant vines and fruit and vegetable gardens, etc. These privileges were later upheld by King John II of Castile, King Henry IV, and Queen Isabella I, who also extended these privileges to fifty more inhabitants. These privileges were also upheld by the Hapsburg and Bourbon monarchs, up to King Ferdinand VII.

As a result of these privileges, the Villa was not only populated by nobles, but by productive artisans as well, especially artisans belonging to the weavers´ guild, owing to the establishment of textile factories that produced brown and mixed fabrics. Consequently, Santa María enjoyed commercial relations with many cities and town of Castile, and of the rest of Spain as well.

The 1877 census of Santa María puts the number of inhabitants at 1355. According to his article entitled “Apuntes para una guía de Segovia y su provincia,” Hernández Useros observed that the population began to decline in 1889, due to the crisis in Spain´s textile industry. That said, a slight increase in population is noted for the other towns and villages of the area, where agriculture was the main source of income.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Santa Maria experienced less population growth than the rest of the municipality; at the end of the century,, its population grew slightly, due to its administrative function and to the availability of better public services than in the other smaller towns.

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