In 1848, while on a grand tour of the Iberian Peninsula, the French traveler Antoine de Latour passed through Seville. Among the many sites that caught his attention was the so-called “Casa de Pilatos,” or “Pilate’s House,” a rambling, whitewashed palace near the center of town long associated with the noble Enr??quez de Ribera family, the Marqueses de Tarifa. As Latour reported in his travelogue, the Casa’s unusual moniker could be traced back to the 1520s, when Fadrique Enr??quez de Ribera, the first Marqu?©s de Tarifa, had volunteered his residence as the starting point for Seville’s now-famous Stations of the Cross procession, celebrated every year on Good Friday. Enr??quez de Ribera’s gesture was motivated by his desire to make a public commemoration of his recent two-year-long pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as evidenced by the inscription over the entrance reading “A 4 d??as de Agosto 1519 entr?? en Jerusalem.” Don Fadrique did not, however, take any other steps to assimilate his residence to the building he had seen in Jerusalem and believed to be the actual residence of Pontius Pilate. The house remained a Renaissance, Mud?©jar edifice in classic Andaluc??an style. The name “Casa de Pilatos,” then, was purely an artifact of its role as the backdrop for Christ’s trial in the Sevillan Via Crucis.
Entering the palace’s outer courtyard, Latour was met by a rather shabby looking porter, who volunteered to lead Latour on a guided tour of the premises. While Latour seems to have been most interested in the house’s Mud?©jar architecture, his guide, it would appear, was much more concerned to highlight the typological similarity between Enr??quez de Ribera’s simulated Sevillan Via Crucis and the actual Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem. “When I arrived at the first floor,” wrote Latour, my guide called my attention to a small recess that concluded in a narrow window and served, on the right, as the back for a tiled bench. ‘There,’ he told me, ‘is where S. Peter was seated when he denied Jesus. And there,’ he added, indicating across the way a peephole covered with a grate, hidden in the wall, ‘is where the servant-girl who recognized him paused.’”
As the tour progressed, Latour noted, he became progressively more concerned about his guide, who seemed to lose the ability to distinguish between Enr??quez de Ribera’s house and the ‘real thing’ with each passing room. “After reciting the same stories for forty years,” lamented Latour, “the simpleton has doubtless forgotten that that which he is showing to travelers is nothing more than a copy of Pilate’s house. … Back out in the street, my guide, following me still, pointed out to me a window in a wall behind us with a stone balcony: “It’s there,” he told me, “that Jesus was shown to the people wearing the crown of thorns and a scepter of reeds!” Below was another window: “It belonged to the prison where Christ was held for several hours.” Latour, noting that “The brave man’s illusion seemed to augment as my visit grew longer,” was happy finally to escape from the urchin’s demented tour.
It is safe, I think, to assume that Latour’s account of his visit to the Casa de Pilatos contains a fair quantity of fiction and exaggeration. The delusional porter may very well have been a figment of Latour’s literary imagination, a device to heighten the contrast–one of the themes of his entire book–between French rationality and Spanish benightedness. Yet even literary fictions, like many stereotypes, must contain a grain of truth if they are to be believed, and therefore to be effective. What Latour describes as the Spaniard’s confusion or “illusion,” therefore, must have been plausible to his readers as the way in which an uneducated porter might really view the world. His inability to distinguish between reality and received opinion had to ring true.
I think, therefore, that we can read Latour’s visit to the Casa de Pilatos as an attempt to contrast not just France and Spain, but also two fundamental ways in which real, premodern people encountered their world. On the one hand there is Latour’s prized rationality, a way of seeing the world that is fastidious about chronological and geographical accuracy and prizes eyewitness observation above all other testimony. On the other hand, there is the porter’s way of seeing, which emphasizes collective memory over immediate, eyewitness evidence. This way of seeing strives to create an aura of immanence by erasing the difference between Spain and Jerusalem, present and past. It seeks to convince the seer that it is possible to reproduce, or ‘relive,’ the past.
It is especially appropriate that Latour chose to mark this contrast with a vignette about the Casa de Pilatos, for its very origins in the sixteenth century embody simultaneously these two ways of seeing the world. Fadrique Enr??quez de Ribera visited the Holy Land and measured the precise distances along the length of the Via Dolorosa, reproducing those measurements in his Sevillan Via Crucis. At the same time, however, the fact that he believed that the pile of rubble he was shown in Jerusalem was the Casa de Pilatos, and that one could ‘relive’ the Passion by walking a course paced out through the streets of Seville.