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Spotlight on the Cave Churches of Spain

Greg KaplanGreg Kaplan, associate professor of Spanish, has written a book that's stirred up an old controversy in Spain. It's garnered so much interest that the king of Spain requested a signed copy.

Kaplan's book is El culto a San Millán en Valderredible, Cantabria: Las iglesias rupestres y la formación del Camino de Santiago. Translated, that's "The Cult of St. Millán in Valderredible, Cantabria: The Cave Churches and the Formation of the Way of St. James."

Kaplan went to Spain in July 2007 to present his book at a press conference. While there, he also discussed the Cantabrian origins of Castilian, which is the topic of his current research.

Kaplan also is associate head of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures and director of the Language and World Business Program.

Kaplan's First Visit

Kaplan got the idea for his book in 2002 when he visited the cave churches of Valderredible and noticed one was not built in the traditional way but rather carved within one of the small caves located in the area.

"My first reaction was an obvious one: Why had those who had carved the church chosen to construct it in this manner rather than build one in the traditional way, using stones or bricks?" Kaplan said.

During the summers between 2003 and 2006, Kaplan visited the cave churches using several UT Faculty Development Awards and a grant from the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Kaplan's book provides textual and architectural proof that the church caves were carved during the seventh century by followers of the cult to St. Millán (474-574), a hermit who lived in one of them and performed miracles for pilgrims during the last 30 years of his life.

Kaplan's book is the first to consider all the texts written about St. Millán and to explain why he was in Cantabria during the middle of the sixth century. The establishment during the sixth and seventh centuries of the cult of Millán in the cave churches is a major moment in Cantabrian history and it is being looked at as a source of pride for the region.

Kaplan's book has caused controversy, too.

"My book is beginning to stir up controversy in Spain because the origins of the Castilian language -- the form of Spanish spoken by around 500 million people worldwide -- can be tied to the cult of St. Millán in the cave churches of Valderredible," Kaplan said. "This possibility is based on very respected and sound linguistic theories that have lacked concretization until now.

"In short, linguists have long suspected that the Spanish language was born in southern Cantabria during the 700s, and my book is the first to provide solid evidence that the region was indeed a cultural center during the eighth century."

Kaplan has been interviewed by Diario Montañés, the regional paper for Cantabria. The governor of Cantabria, Miguel Ángel Revilla Roiz, publicized the book on a nationally broadcast radio program. The press conference was broadcast on several radio stations.

"It was a very unique experience for me to have people come up and say that they heard me on the radio," Kaplan said.

Kaplan was invited back in August to Polientes, the capital city of Valderredible, to take part in their annual "fiesta." 

During a lunch to commemorate the "Day of Valderredible," at which 1,000 people were present, Kaplan was approached by Monseñor Serafín Sedano, the personal chaplain to Juan Carlos I, the king of Spain.

"Monseñor Sedano told me that news of my book had reached the royal palace and that the king had requested that I sign a copy for him and Queen Sofía. Monseñor Sedano also requested a signed copy of my book. Of course, I was extremely honored and, after returning to Santander and spending an entire day thinking about what I would write in my dedicatory remarks, sent the copies that had been requested. The truth is that I will never forget how it felt to dedicate a copy of my book to the king and queen," Kaplan said.

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