The Enduring Link Between Valencia and Brussels

Jack Gaioni
Valencia Las Fallas representatives Paula and Laura visit the Corazon de Europa.

Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Except for a few smoldering ashes, Valencia Spain’s Las Fallas Festival concluded last week. It is one of the most attended cultural events in Europe and certainly the loudest! The Las Fallas Festival has been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Award event. A tradition since the 18th Century, Valencian streets host gigantic sculptures and monuments only to be torched in an epic noisy, pyrotechnic finale to the delight of hundreds of thousands. 

Prior to the festivities in early March,  the Las Fallas committee sent an envoy to Brussels — El Corazón de Europa (the Heart of Europe)— to promote the event.  Dressed in traditional Valencian dress, Laura Mengo and Paula Nieto assumed the role of event ambassadors to meet with some of the major players on the Continent. The pair met with the head of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, and later the president of the European Parliament, President Roberta Matsala two women who direct perhaps the most important institutions in the Western World. They also met the mayor of Brussels Phillippe Close,  Esteban Gonzales Pons a member of the European Parliament representing Spain, along with other Brussels dignitaries. In one small non-public event however the two “Las Falleras” took some private time to visit a statue that memorializes a man who historically links the two cultures and the two cities. What follows is the relatively unknown back story of a man named Luis Vives. 

If one was to study the lives of some of the world’s most influential philosophers (e.g., Erasmus, Rousseau, Francis Bacon, Sartre, etc.) along with the lives of some of the most prolific psychologists (e.g., Sigmund Freud, Skinner, Jung, etc.) you would find the influence of Luis Vives. He  was a Spanish scholar and humanist who spent most of his adult life in Belgium where he earned the moniker: “the father of modern psychology” and was one of the great scholars of the “Low Countries Renaissance.” His beliefs on the soul, his insights into early the human psyche, medical practices, emotions, memory, and learning have remained germane over the centuries and are key tenants in how modern psychology is perceived today.

Statue memorializing Luis Vives in Bruges

Luis Vives (1493-1540).  was born in Valencia, Spain during the dark chapter known as the Spanish Inquisition. Most of his extended family were executed (burned at the stake) as “crypto-Jews” or Jews who were suspected of a secret adherence to Judaism rather than Christianity. Orphaned, he attended the University of Valencia—a prestigious Medieval school that emphasized rigorous debate, dialectic reasoning, metaphysics, and the resolution of disputes through diplomacy. There he discovered the works of Aristotle. This was an intellectual movement that dominated the educational thrust of the earliest European medieval universities.

After graduation, he left Spain—never to return. He studied at the University of Paris (1509-1512), followed by a professorship at the University of Leuven. He traveled often to England establishing strong ties to Oxford University, the court of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and the association of noted humanists Thomas More and Roger Bacon. He would later fall out of favor with Henry VIII by siding with fellow countrywoman Catherine of Aragon over the matter of divorce. 

Vives returned to Bruges and the University of Leuven where he was prolific in his writing and popular in his lectures. Over the centuries his works have been viewed as the gold standard on the principles of education for women, the study of the soul and its interaction with the body, ethics, public welfare, and the analysis of emotions. Collectively, Vives combined these elements into what has been called “Aristotelian Christianity.” 

When Laura and Paula visited the monument of Vives in Bruges, they noted that a similar statue sits in the library courtyard at the University of Valencia. The legacy of Luis Vives speaks to the problems of his time where his central focus was humanism. Seldom has any one person colored the influence of so many of the world’s great philosophers and psychologists.  He promoted the psychology of human peace, the absurdity of war, the importance of a free will, understanding, social reform, discovery, opportunity, and European unity. Vives’s values have remained constant and go to the heart of the common European project….

The Corazón of Europa.

 We salute you, Laura, Paula, and Luis…

                                                           *****

                                                    Did You Know?

—- During his time in England, Luis Vives was the personal tutor for Henry VIII and Catherine of Argon’s only surviving child—Mary. Later known as “Bloody Mary” or Mary Tudor, she ruled as Queen 1553-58.

— Vives had a direct influence and an impressive circle of personal acquaintances. Among them: are Erasmus (same faculty at The University of Leuven), Sir Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Montague, and Rene Descartes.

— The monument to Luis Vives is located adjacent to the Bonifacius Bridge in Bruges, Belgium. 

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Jack Gaioni is from Colorado, U.S.A. and he is a feature writer for Spanish The Olive Press. His freelance writing has been published in France, Italy, Spain and the U.S.A.