After this passage of real life it was not easy to sink again to the level of art, but if we must come down it there could have been no descent less jarring than that which left us in the exquisite patio of the College of San Gregorio, founded for poor students of theology in the time of the Catholic Kings. The students who now thronged the place inside and out looked neither clerical nor poverty-stricken; but I dare say they were good Christians, and whatever their condition they were rich in the constant vision of beauty which one sight of seemed to us more than we merited. Perhaps the facade of the college and that of the neighboring Church of San Pablo may be elsewhere surpassed in the sort of sumptuous delicacy of that Gothic which gets its name of plateresque from the silversmithing spirit of its designs; but I doubt it. The wonderfulness of it is that it is not mechanical or monotonous like the stucco fretting of the Moorish decoration which people rave over in Spain, but has a strength in its refinement which comes from its expression in the exquisitely carven marble. When this is grayed with age it is indeed of the effect of old silver work; but the plateresque in Valladolid does not suggest fragility or triviality; its grace is perhaps rather feminine than masculine; but at the worst it is only the ultimation of the decorative genius of the Gothic. It is, at any rate, the finest surprise which the local architecture has to offer and it leaves one wishing for more rather than less of it, so that after the facade of San Gregorio one is glad of it again in the walls of the patio, whose staircases and galleries, with the painted wooden beams of their ceilings, scarcely tempt the eye from it.
We thought the front of San Pablo deserved a second visit, and we were rewarded by finding it far lovelier than we thought. The church was open, and when we went in we had the advantage of seeing a large silver-gilt car moved from the high altar down the nave to a side altar next the door, probably for use in some public procession. The tongue of the car was pulled by a man with one leg; a half-grown boy under the body of it hoisted it on his back and eased it along; and a monk with his white robe tucked up into his girdle pushed it powerfully from behind. I did not make out why so strange a team should have been employed for the work, but the spectacle of that quaint progress was unique among my experiences at Valladolid and of a value which I wish I could make the reader feel with me. We ourselves were so interested in the event that we took part in it so far as to push aside a bench that blocked the way, and we received a grateful smile from the monk in reward of our zeal.
We were in the mood for simple kindness because of our stiff official reception at the Royal Palace, which we visited in the gratification of our passion for patios. It is now used for provincial or municipal offices and guarded by sentries who indeed admitted us to the courtyard, but would not understand our wish (it was not very articulately expressed) to mount to the cloistered galleries which all the guide-books united in pronouncing so noble, with their decorative busts of the Roman Emperors and arms of the Spanish provinces. The sculptures are by the school of Berruguete, for whom we had formed so strong a taste at the museum; but our disappointment was not at the moment further embittered by knowing that Napoleon resided there in 1809. We made what we could of other patios in the vicinity, especially of one in the palace across from San Gregorio, to which the liveried porter welcomed us, though the noble family was in residence, and allowed us to mount the red-carpeted staircase to a closed portal in consideration of the peseta which he correctly foresaw. It was not a very characteristic patio, bare of flower and fountain as it was, and others more fully appointed did not entirely satisfy us. The fact is the patio is to be seen best in Andalusia, its home, where every house is built round it, and in summer cooled and in winter chilled by it. But if we were not willing to wait for Seville, Valladolid did what it could; and if we saw no house with quite the patio we expected we did see the house where Philip II. was born, unless the enterprising boy who led us to it was mistaken; in that case we were, Ophelia-like, the more deceived.