GONZALO DE BERCEO (c. 1180 - c. 1246), the earliest Castilian poet whose name is known to us, was born at Berceo, a village in the neighbourhood of Calahorra in the province of Logrono. In 1221 he became a deacon and was attached, as a secular priest, to the Benedictine monastery of San Millan de la Cogolla, in the diocese of Calahorra. His name is to be met with in a number of documents between the years '237 and 1246. He wrote upwards of 13,000 verses, all on devotional subjects. His best work is a life of St Oria; others treat of the life of St Millan, of St Dominic of Silos, of the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Martyrdom of St Laurence, the visible signs preceding the Last Judgment, the Praises of Our Lady, the Miracles of Our Lady and the Lamentations of the Virgin on the Passion of her Son. He writes in the common tongue, the roman paladino, and his claim to the name of poet rests on his use of the cuaderna via (single-rhymed quatrains, each verse being of fourteen syllables). Sometimes, however, he takes the more modest title of juglar (jongleur), when claiming payment for his poems. His literary attainments are not great, and he lacks imagination and animation of style, but he has a certain eloquence, and in speaking of the Virgin and the saints a certain charm, while his verse bears at times the imprint of a passionate devotion, recalling the lyrical style of the great Spanish mystics. There is, however, a very strong popular element in his writings, which explains his long vogue. The great majority of his legends of the Virgin are obviously borrowed from the collection of a Frenchman, Gautier de Coinci; but he has succeeded in making this material entirely his own by reason of a certain conciseness and a realism in detail which make his work far superior to the tedious and colourless narrative of his model.
His Poesias are in the Biblioteca de autores espanoles of Rivadeneyra, vol. lvii. (1864); La Vida de San Domingo de Silos has been edited by J. D. FitzGerald (Paris, 1904; see the Bibliothbque de l'Ecole des Hautes E tudes, part 149); see also F. Fernandez y Gonzalez in the Razan (vol. i., Madrid, 1860); N. Hergueta, "Documentos referentes a Gonzalo de Berceo," in the Revista de archivos, (3rd series, Feb.-March, 1904, pp. 178-179). (P. A.)
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