Noble wedding in Begoña

Noble wedding in Begoña
1607. «Noble wedding in Begoña». Francisco de Mendieta y Retes © Geroztik Historia Museo Birtuala (Spain)

Noble wedding in Begoña

I Procreation

 

We can see in the center of the painting the bride, who is getting married in the Basilica of Our Lady of Begoña, in Bilbao. For this reason, the painting is known as «Noble wedding in Begoña» or «Los esponsales».

The identity of the spouses is anonymous, but the undeniable gestation of the woman should not surprise us, because in the Ancien Régime premarital sexual relations were usual. Basque women married, on average, around the age of 26, and many females had sexual relations prior to marriage; some as a consequence of the passion between the couple, and, in other cases, the sexual intercourse had a more specific goal: to prove the fertility of the future spouses. We are not dealing with an insignificant issue since the non-procreation of children was one of the reasons why the Catholic Church accepted the nullity of the sacrament of matrimony.

In this instance, the artwork reflects that the birth will happen after the wedding ceremony, but that was not always the case. In fact, in the north of the Peninsula, especially in Galicia and in the Basque territories, the illegitimacy rate was very high. In the Basque case, there were towns where a third of the baptized had been born outside the sacramental bond. Furthermore, the documentation of diocesan archives shows that premarital sex was well regarded, as long as the groom fulfilled the promise of marriage. When the wedding ceremony did not take place, many women went to the Bishop’s Court to compel the groom to fulfil the promise of marriage that he had made. [Nere Intxaustegi]