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Simple slab marks Spanish grave

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The re-dedicated gravestone

Kneeling in a remote Aberdeenshire kirkyard in summer sun Mary Elizabeth Gordon Sanchiz, Marchioness of Pescara and Casa Saltillo, laid two bunches of flowers on her grandfather’s restored grave.

The flowers had been carefully chosen: carnations from Spain and the wild purple willowherb from the marchioness’ ancestral home of Wardhouse near Insch, the ruined but still magnificent Gordon mansion with its astonishing views across the headwaters of the river Bogie, to Kennethmont and the Grampian mountains beyond.

The small family dedication ceremony this summer at the seventh century Walla’Kirk, named after StWalloch, beside the tumbling Deveron below Beldorny Castle, Glass, went almost completely unremarked by the outside world. But for the marchioness it was an emotional reaffirmation of her ancient family roots and the final re-establishment of an extraordinary link between Aberdeenshire Gordons and Spain, a 270-year link broken only by civil war.

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Maria Isabel Gordon

Jose Maria Sanchiz y Gil de Avalle

 

The marchioness is descended from the Gordons of Wardhouse and Kildrummy who set up in the sherry trade at Jerez de Ia Frontera and Cadiz in the 18th century. Descendants include the Gonzalez Byass sherry family. She and her husband, one of only 200 Spanish aristocrats who can call themselves grandees, were among the party of Spanish Gordons who returned to Scotland for Gordon 2000 the week-long celebrations in Huntly to celebrate the family name of Gordon.

Visiting her grandfather’s grave atWalla’Kirk, she found it unmarked and the walls of the family lair torn down by frost and ivy. She determined it should be restored and his grave marked.

The re-establishment of the Spanish Gordon links for Gordon 2000 had been largely the work of Michael Morrison, of the Huntly Rizza ice cream family, a teacher in Inverness, and local historian Anne Dean.

Mike Morrison said: "It all started when I was at mass at St Margaret’s in Huntly and wondered why on earth we were surrounded by Spanish religious paintings."

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Romero Painting

In fact Spanish Gordons had built the church in 1834, the first post-Reformation Roman Catholic Church to have a bell. Although their lives had been largely made in Spain since the 1800’s, the Gordons of Wardhouse and Kildrummy had been regular visitors toWardhouse to shoot each year. Local lore has it they even held bull fights. But the political unrest of the 1930s in Spain finally broke the link.

The marchioness’ grandfather Rafael Gordon Aristegui was a confidant and childhood friend of the deposed King Alfonso XIII, a royal equerry and former mayor of Madrid. Royal connections were not an advantage in the political atmosphere of the day. He moved toWardhouse but died at Nairn in 1933 to be buried atWalla’Kirk where the Gordons had been buried since the days Beldorny had been a Gordon house in the 17th century.

Restoration of the lair and a gravestone was organised by Jolyon Robinson and his wife Sheelagh of Beldorney Castle who had the Spanish Gordons billeted on them for Gordon 2000.

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The Re-dedicated Plaque

"We had never met before and our Spanish is pretty non-existent, but it was a lot of fun and quite emotional at times. We all communicated in a mixture of English, French and Spanish helped by the occasional dram and glass of sherry. We were delighted to help organise the restoration for the marchioness."

The blessing for Rafael Gordon was conducted at the graveside by the Right Rev. John Jukes, Bishop of Strathearn and priest in charge of St Margaret’s, the church built with Spanish Gordon money and filled with religious paintings probably acquired during the 19th century confiscation of Spanish church lands and property.

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Inmaculada, Sheelagh, Jolyon,Ann,Jose-Maria

Bishop John and Maria Isabel Gordon

Speaking through her nephew Javier Martinez Sanchiz, a member of the Spanish diplomatic service, the marchioness, elegantly dressed in a suit of dark green Gordon tartan, said : "We have through generations retained the name of Gordon ofWardhouse. To renew our Scottish links through the marking of my grandfather’s grave and restoration of my family burial place has been deeply moving."

Not least because Rafael Gordon had restored the lair himself in 1913, marking the event with a granite plaque.Today it has been joined by another:

"Second restoration by his grandaughter Mary Elizabeth Gordon Sanchiz, Marchioness of Pescara, Spanish grandee 2001".

And below a simple sandstone slab to mark his grave:

"Rafael Gordon Aristegui, X Laird ofWardhouse and Kildrummy,V Count of Mirasol, Knight of the Order of Calatrava, Knight of St Gregory Magnus. 1873-1933".

Rafael Gordon had come home.

ALASTAIR ROBERTSON is a freelance journalist who works for national newspapers and magazines. He lives near Huntly with his wife, two sons and a daughter, and keeps two sheep as unpaid lawnmawers.

@ Leopard Magazine with permission from Alastair Robertson