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Lorca’s night rider: a ghostly horseman returns to the cuckoos’ nest…
Samantha Kett, thinkSPAINtoday , Monday, June 25, 2007

At the dead of night, if you find yourself strolling through Lorca, amid the eerie silence of a town that has bedded down until the sun comes up, you may think your mind is playing tricks on you. The clattering of a horse’s hooves ring out on the steps of the Guevara Palace, a metallic tattoo hidden by a thick blanket of darkness…and yet when you turn to gain a closer look, there is nobody in sight, quadruped or human. This is because both human and quadruped passed on to the great palace in the sky three centuries ago. Yet locals maintain the palace is haunted by a man who has never been able to accept, even after death, that his wife was forced out of the family home by his son-in-law.

Nobody knows why Don Juan de Guevara García de Alcaraz failed to mention his wife, Isabel, in his will. When the head of the esteemed, aristocratic local family passed away in 1710, he did not name Isabel as either executor or guardian of his daughter, Juana, then 22.

Historians suggested he did not trust the legal procedure involved in drawing up and executing wills – and have also floated the suggestion that for some reason, it was in fact his wife whom he did not have confidence in.

Until recently, in Spain, a wife had no automatic rights of succession to the marital assets when her husband died. These would pass, inevitably, to the eldest child, although the wife was normally granted joint usufructo of the home – the right to live there until the end of her natural life.

Hence, despite Juan de Guevara’s failure to formally leave the palace and its fixtures to Doña Juana, they passed to her as a matter of course. Six years later, when she married Juan de Puxmarín y Fajardo, the laws of the time dictated that any property owned by the woman belonged to the couple jointly, although the man was officially the title-holder.

Inheritance laws were unjust and divided families, leaving mothers and wives destitute, being stripped of homes they had inherited from their own forefathers simply by joining in matrimony. It was not, therefore, unusual for wills to spark off family feuds – as, indeed, they often continue to do – and for relatives to launch in like vultures and claim the assets they had a legal right to, even at the expense of their nearest and dearest.

The difference is that Don Juan de Guevara was not prepared to take Doña Isabel’s displacement lying down. Juan de Puxmarín y Fajardo and his mother-in-law became embroiled in legal action in which the former demanded that Isabel provide all her accounts relating to the marital assets, and her own chattels and fixtures that were hers before she and Juan de Guevara walked down the aisle.

Settling out of court, Doña Isabel reluctantly agreed to move house. Her son-in-law gave her eight days to quit the palace and put her up in one of the family’s other, smaller houses, located on Lorca’s C/ Zapatería. Juana and Juan de Puxmarín y Fajardo continued to live in the Palacio Guevara, but a court order stated they must remain resident in Lorca to be able to keep their title to it. Not only could they not move house, but they were forbidden by a judge from ever leaving the town.

This posed problems when the young couple needed to travel outside the area – they had to obtain permission from a notary when forced to make the journey to Moratalla for administrative reasons. Their penalty for playing the proverbial cuckoo and ousting Juana’s mum was that they were trapped in Lorca for the rest of their lives, although this was necessary to ensure that their children would inherit the palace. Finally, after the couple’s death, son Juan José and daughter Isabel Antonia became joint owners of the Guevara estate.

A restless spirit
Perhaps out of anger at his daughter and her husband’s betrayal, or perhaps through his own guilt at failing to make a proper will, Juan de Guevara’s spirit has never truly been laid to rest. Determined to return to the palace whose construction he commissioned personally, even if after 300 years he has still failed to gain entry, the ghostly horseman tries to ride up the steps every night.

A barely-perceptible, rhythmic iron clicking commences on the solid, hewn-stone steps leading up to the palace door. Then, as rider and horse come closer to their destination, the tattoo of hoofbeats rises to a deafening crescendo, sending a chill down the spine of all those standing near enough to hear it. Legend has it, though, that his wife Isabel, blaming Juan for losing her home, stands in wait for him at the top of the stairs to stop him from entering the house on horseback.

Even more haunting is the painting above the palace’s entrance, depicting Juan de Guevara astride his mount, with two children next to him. Dressed in splendid clothing and bearing an exalted expression, the painting, with its superior, high finish, betrays the family’s nobility and privileged social standing.

It is said that the two youngsters on the picture are Juan’s grandchildren, those who inherited the mansion after the death of their ruthless, gold-digging parents – but nobody is entirely sure of the artist’s true intention of what he or she hoped to illustrate. Was it a portrait of revenge, protection, or a man seeking to reclaim the home he grew up in? Nobody will ever find out, but it is certain that the legend, along with the knight on horseback, will outlive us all.

The glory of the Baroque
Until just a few years ago, the Palacio Guevara was occupied by Concepción Sandoval, Baroness of Petrés and Mayals, before she donated it to the town of Lorca. It is now open as a popular tourist attraction, although those with a nervous disposition are advised to visit the palace in daylight.

Its architectural splendour screams of the Baroque aristocracy, its intricate carvings and spiral columns with their elaborate capitals still beautifully preserved, as is the original 18th-century furniture in the ballroom (also known as the yellow room) and Valencian tiled floors. An eclectic mix of artwork dating from the 1700s to the mid-19th century and a cosmopolitan array of fittings and fixtures – Venetian stone walls, a Portuguese bed-frame and a stunning representation of the Immaculate Conception by a Granada artist in the chapel.

The Palacio Guevara’s pièce de résistance is its vast collection of works by Lorca-born artist Pedro Camacho Felices (1644-1716), amongst other Spanish and Italian painters. Camacho Felices, alongside Francisco Salzillo, is considered one of Murcia’s most-esteemed masters of the Baroque and was commissioned by Juan de Guevara to decorate most of the rooms in the Palace.

Find the palace on C/ Lope Gisbert, Nº 12;  30800 LORCA, or telephone  96 846 63 21 for further information.

Special thanks to Lorca Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the International Baroque Conference in Lorca, and the San Mateo church’s Book of the Deceased 1702-46 for providing further information on the history of the Palacio Guevara.

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