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Luis Javier Fortún Pérez de Ciriza, Ph. D. in History

The discreet elegance of a wise man

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 13:07:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The admiration aroused by truly wise men, who amass knowledge with the leaven of reflection and rigor, increases notably when they are elegant and at the same time discreet people, who do not need to proclaim their condition because their knowledge and humanity are self-evident. The conjunction of these three elements -wisdom, discretion and elegance- sustained my admiration for Faustino Menéndez-Pidal y Navascués, who died yesterday in his family home in Cintruénigo, his most beloved place in life and in the restoration of which he wasted his illusions and efforts.

In his person converged an Asturian lineage, enlightened by the cultural brilliance of Ramón, his great-uncle, and other relatives, in which Faustino occupied the agnate line, and a well-known family from Cintruénigo of significant presence in our past. This double family heritage allowed him to transcend all localism and to include in his research the whole of Spain, while demonstrating that the knowledge of this Hispanic group did not hinder, but rather facilitated, the deepening of regional history. For this reason he was able to contribute much to Navarre in the historical disciplines in which he was an undisputed master: heraldry, genealogy and sigillography.

Far from any superficial fickleness, he worked on heraldry with rigor and conceived the emblems as an inexhaustible source to get to know people and lineages, but also public institutions. Through the forms he delved into the ways of thinking and the political messages transmitted by heraldry. His programs of study on the Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra ( with Juan José Martinena) or on Emblemas heráldicos en el arte medieval navarro (with Javier Martínez de Aguirre) were combined with his essential contribution to the clarification of the genesis of the coat of arms of Navarre: the block structure in a field of gules (red) adopted by the Teobaldos to represent Navarre and which a century and a half later was transformed into the chains and linked to the battle of Navas de Tolosa.

He was a master in sigillography, the study of the seals that, with different materials and techniques, have served to accredit the authenticity of documents and the personality of their authors or witnesses for centuries. With the financial aid of Mikel Ramos and Esperanza Ochoa de Olza, he undertook the enormous task of describing, explaining and studying more than 3,300 medieval seals of Navarre, as well as identifying the people or institutions that used them. Their contribution means that Navarre currently holds a leading position in this field, as well as providing inexhaustible resources for researchers of our past.

The relevance of his contributions to the history of Navarre explain the award of the award Príncipe de Viana de la Cultura in 2011, which meant the recognition of both his enormous work and his care and interest in Navarre. In the laudatory sanction of his work, the Royal Academy of History, which in 1991 chose him as a full member, consecrating his status as a historian, had been two decades ahead of him. Far from considering the Academy as a tinsel for his own vainglory, Don Faustino devoted himself with enthusiasm to an indefatigable work in heraldic matters. His reports, sober, serene and well-founded, took equal care of everything from municipal heraldry to the symbols of the Spanish nation and the royal house, to which he also made significant contributions. His work deserved since 2014 the recognition as Honorary Director of the institution.

Today Navarra and Spanish historiography as a whole have lost a singular man. Those of us who had the honor and pleasure of knowing him have also lost a wise, elegant and discreet master.