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‘The legend of the Pilgrim’ by Carmen Posadas

I want to tell you how I came up with the idea of write a book about the Peregrina pearl.

Two summers ago, an old novel by Manuel Mujica Láinez fell into my hands, whose protagonist is not a man or a woman or any other living being, but a object. A lapis lazuli beetleproperty of Nefertiti which, upon the death of its owner, became part of her funerary trousseau.

Many years later, and always according to the novel, the thieves who desecrate the tomb take the jewel and thus begins its very long pilgrimage from hand to hand and from era to era, which allows it to be present in various very relevant historical (or mythological) moments.

Adorning, for example, the ring finger of a certain Roman tribune on the day of the assassination of Julius Caesar; become the object of the fairy Morgana’s desire; sewn to Roland’s belt in the battle of Roncesvalles or forming part of the scarce jewels of Diego de Acedo and Velázquez, the evil (and dwarf) gentleman of Charles IV… and so on, until reaching the present.

Through his adventures, Mujica Láinez reconstructs nothing less than three thousand years of history in which all the passions, greatness and also miseries of the human condition are revealed.

I loved the novel, and, even more so, the idea that underpins it. Not only because of the interesting literary exercise it represents, but also because it connects with a question that I have always asked myself since I was a child and it is this: What would happen if objects could talk? How many mysteries, secrets and indiscretions could they tell us? And, above all, how would history change if those silent witnesses told us what many of its chapters were, in reality, like?

Asked this question I started looking for an object (if possible a jewel, due to the proximity that they have with those who wear them) that could serve as an alibi. But not a fictional jewel like Mujica Láinez’s beetle. I wanted a real one, one that had really adorned the hat of this or that powerful personage. Or that it had hung around the neck of one – or, if possible, several – fascinating women. Or that it had been the object of desire of adventurers, of frauds, of liars…

“Mujica Láinez reconstructs three thousand years of history that reveal the passions, greatness and also miseries of the human condition”

Only one met all these requirements and the truth is that she had been beckoning me for years to pay attention to her. He looked at me from at least five portraits by Velázquez and several times he had winked at me from the pages of various authors such as Saint-Simon, the Countess D’Aulnoy or Alexandre Dumas. I’m talking about the most famous pearl of all time. That which, throughout its many centuries of life, has been known by various names: the Sole, the Unique, the Pilgrim.

I already had my character, now I just needed to make her talk, get her to tell me her life. And – very important – that I tell the truth, because one of the objectives of my book was that the reader, by discovering her story, would also come to know History with a capital letter.

The Pilgrim It does not have a history of three thousand years like the lapis lazuli beetle of Mujica Láinez. His covers (only) about five hundred but, unlike that one, it is a real object and its “life” is perfectly documented.

Cover of ‘The Legend of the Pilgrim’.

Its journey begins on a certain day in the year 1579, when a slave extracted it from the sea in the waters of Panama. It was customary, at that time, to give freedom to the slave who caught an extraordinary piece and that is what happened with the Peregrina. He was, therefore, the first possessor of it and since then has passed through the hands of countless characters, queens, kings, powerful adventurers and even assassinsuntil reaching those of Elizabeth Taylor, who was its last known owner. Upon her death, La Peregrina was sold for almost twelve million euros to a anonymous buyer and since then he has been sleeping a very mysterious nap…

The first difficulty I encountered when beginning to unpack his story was the need to cover such a long period of time. But precisely that was also an exciting challenge.

I not only had to reconstruct different eras, but also recreate the characteristics of each one, the customs, the different sensitivities, the language, as well as give life to such notable characters as Felipe II, all the Austrias, all the Bourbons, reaching Pepe Botella , then jump to France, and from there to the court of Queen Victoria, to end up in the United States.

Another obstacle was discovering that there was a second pearl, almost as extraordinary as the Pilgrim, whose journey deserved another novel: the Pilgrim

Like the Pilgrim, she also comes from Panama and was the property of Philip II, who gave her to Mary Tudor. When writing this part of the story I was about to break my promise to be faithful to the truth in everything and say that the pearl that Philip gave to “Mary the bloodthirsty” was the Peregrina and not the Pelegrina.

After all, this statement was considered true for centuries. Recently, however, it has been discovered that this is not the case, so I was left wanting to recreate the Tudor court with the ghosts of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the Virgin Queen hidden in the mists of the Thames.

Even so, and as I say, La Pelegrina also has its exciting history. Once Mary Tudor died, the jewel returned to Spain, where it was overshadowed for decades by our Pilgrims until Philip IV gave it to his daughter on the day of her betrothal to Louis XIV.

He remained in french royal jeweler until, during the Revolution, It was lost to reappear years later in Saint Petersburg in the hands of one of the most beautiful women of her time, Zinaida Yusupova, the mother of Prince Yusupov, Rasputin’s murderer.

I have also included this story in The legend of the Pilgrimwhich is the title of my novel, because both pearls coincided one day under a sofa at Buckingham Palace, in the time of Queen Victoria. The sovereign attributed the prank to the palace elves since she, in addition to being a devotee of fairies and goblins, also loved to converse with her spirits, and especially that of her husband, Albert of Saxe-Coburg.

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