A Skeptical Law Student

AntoniodeTorquemada

Antonio de Torquemada.

In the “Garden of Curious Flowers (1570),” a hodgepodge work of miscellanies that had the proud distinction of being banned by the Inquisition, the Spanish author Antonio de Torquemada recounted a bizarre story that many people in Italy and Spain could supposedly vouch for. The tale concerned a student named Juan Vázquez de Ayola, who with two of his friends went to Bologna to study law.

While searching for a place to stay, the Spaniards asked some local men in the street if they knew any places friendly to foreigners. One of the men, smiling, pointed to a boarded-up house. His friends told the Spaniards that this was meant to be a good old-fashioned Bolognese joke; the house had been unavailable the past twelve years because it was haunted. Ayola, playing the straight man, asked if he could have the keys.

The owner of the house did his best to turn the students away. He told them all about the horrible things people had seen there, but the Spaniards laughed them off. They were modern 16th century college boys, dammit, and they didn’t believe in anything as silly as ghosts. So the owner coughed up the keys and the Spaniards got themselves a haunted house.

After moving in, the Spaniards had a hard time finding servants for their new home. They were able to hire one woman as a cook, but she refused to do her job inside the house. A month passed, and much to the astonishment of the Bolognese, the Spaniards were still living in the house without having seen or heard anything strange.

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