|Detail from a 19th century engraving of Pelayo, king of Asturias.|
A few years later, Mr. Fitzhenry published another equally admirable book—Saint Fernando III: A Kingdom for Christ. Much like his first book, Fitzhenry's second endeavor delved into the epic life of a Spanish hero that almost no one knows about today. Again, I found myself enchanted with the book and have recommended it numerous times.
Shortly thereafter followed Defenders of Christendom, offering a collection of excellent capsule biographies of forgotten Catholic heroes from the crusading period.
|Click for more info.|
Much like Fitzhenry's previous books, Pelayo tells an ancient story that is rarely heard today. It is the sobering tale of the end of Visigothic Spain—a state whose leaders had become corrupt, corpulent and cowardly. They had largely abandoned their Christian ethic and had little remaining loyalty to God or man. When confronted with a zealous, powerful enemy who wished to impose an alien culture upon them, their internal dissensions proved stronger than their desire to preserve their heritage.
Fitzhenry does a brilliant job setting the stage for Pelayo's heroism. Starting with the collapse of Visigothic Spain under the beleaguered King Roderick, Fitzhenry emphasizes the treason of those closest to the king as a contrast to the steadfast loyalty of Pelayo. At the Battle of Guadalete, the Visigoths are catastrophically defeated when part of their army commanded by renegade nobles and an apostate bishop turns on their own Christian countrymen. Following the battle, the Muslim emir, Tariq, overruns the whole kingdom. Pelayo and a remnant of loyal Visigoths retreat into the mountains of northern Spain. There, he begins his exploits—escaping from an assassination attempt, rescuing his kidnapped sister, and building up the solid core of a Christian army to resist Islam.
After finishing Pelayo: King of Asturias, I immediately began searching for the ancient sources underpinning Fitzhenry's inspiring biography. I quickly discovered that Pelayo is the hispanicized version of the name Pelagius. He is considered a Visigothic noble, but given that Pelagius is not a typical Gothic name, he likely had a Greco-Roman strain somewhere in his lineage. This makes sense given that the Spanish Visigothic kingdom was built upon the foundation of the Roman provinces of Hispania. My search eventually led to a 10th century source called The Chronicle of Alfonso III. While reading it, I discovered that Fitzhenry stayed true to the history. His description of the events surrounding the history-changing Battle of Covadonga was drawn faithfully from this ancient historical work.
Fitzhenry's Pelayo joins El Cid and Saint Fernando III among the growing list of exceptional historical books meant to educate young Catholic men about their heritage. Angels in Iron and Crown of the World are two other examples of this counter-cultural trend—portraying distinctly Catholic heroes as what the world desperately needs. I hope that my own books about the late Roman general Belisarius are serving a similar function.
Toward the end of the book, the author lays out the message of Pelayo's life for those of us today:
"Never give up. Even if it seems that you struggle in complete isolation, know that you are not alone....Follow closely in the footsteps of Christ. There are many who have trod the narrow path before you, and for those who do not give up the fight, eternal glory awaits in a kingdom that is not of this world!"
During a time when many Catholic institutions have failed and our leaders seem content to bury their talents in the ground, such a message is badly needed.