In our book ‘Exploring Murcia: Murcia City’, one individual who stands out for his role in the city and indeed more generally in the course of Spanish history in the 18th century, was a certain Luis Belluga y Moncada.
It would be true to say that his actions in the early years of the century were instrumental in directing the speed and direction of development of Murcia and that things would have been very different indeed without him.
Who was this Luis Belluga y Moncada?
First, he wasn’t even a native Murcian. He was in fact born in Motril in Granada on 30th November 1662, being raised by a family friend. His parents also came from the same place, although it is said that his family could claim descendency from Castilian nobility. However, if this sounds rather grand, the early years of Belluga’s life seem to have been anything but. His parents died when he was only three years old, leaving him and his two sisters to be cared for by his maternal grandmother and a relative who was, at that time, in the service of the church. Maybe, then, it was not altogether surprising that he seems to have received a religiously oriented education at a Franciscan Brothers’ institution in Motril and he was even ordained at the early age of 14. If he then left Motril to continue his education (philosophy, law and theology) in Granada, he would appear never to have forgotten his native town, where he financed various education and ecclesiastical facilities later in his life.
After undertaking further studies in Seville, Belluga took up a position as Canon in Zamora Cathedral in 1687 before he moved on, in 1689, as lector in Cordoba Cathedral where he remained for about 15 years. It is after this spell in Cordoba, that Belluga ‘bursts’ on to the Murcian scene, as he was appointed Bishop of Cartagena (the actual seat of which is in Murcia City) in early 1705. This appointment was effectively directed by the interests of King Philip V of Spain (the Bourbon grandson of King Louis XIV of France), whose disputed claim to the Spanish throne had caused the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession in 1701 with all the major European powers soon involved. The other claimant to the Spanish throne, the Hapsburg Archduke Charles, had his supporters in Spain (Catalonia, Valencia) as well as in Europe (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Low Countries, Britain), and the military situation in the country was highly uncertain for both claimants.
Accordingly, King Philip saw advantage in the see of Cartagena being occupied by a trusted supporter of the Bourbon cause. Belluga was such an individual and, while at Cordoba Cathedral, he had even written a paper supporting Philip’s cause. Philip clearly had a high regard for Belluga and his abilities and bestowed several titles upon him subsequently, including Viceroy of Valencia and Murcia, Knight of the Royal Order of San Genaro, and Protector of Spain. Similarly, Belluga showed a lifelong loyalty to Philip, despite some disagreements along the way. Shortly after taking up his post as Bishop of Cartagena in Murcia City in April 1705, Belluga took charge of the Council of War for the Defence of the City of Murcia at a time when Hapsburg forces were advancing from Valencia. As Captain General of Murcia, the Bishop was also the top military and political authority. He was even reported as being at the head of an army which later took Alicante!
When, in the summer of 1706, Hapsburg forces advanced on Murcia itself, Belluga, who had ordered the flooding of the huerta to impede the enemy advance, left the town and apparently organized his military strategy from Lorca and Totana, which saw the Bourbon cause triumph and Murcia City saved at the famous Battle of the Huerto de las Bombas. Thereafter, Belluga returned to Murcia City and took personal charge of what was now an offensive against the Hapsburg forces. Orihuela, Elche and Cartagena (in mid-November 1706) were taken with the territory of the Bishopric now in Bourbon hands. Belluga continued with his political and military activities thereafter until Philip’s position was secure and, from all of this, you may agree that it is perhaps not too fanciful to see in the Bishop at this time, the typical characteristics of the ‘Warrior Priest’.
During the reign of Philip V (or, Felipe V), Luis Belluga had a significant influence in the Royal Court. For Murcia City, this proved extremely important as he was able to embark upon urban development projects, was prominent in the colonization of uncultivated land in the Segura Valley, caused hospitals to be built and was closely involved in the promotion of education, including, unsurprisingly, a theological seminary. It is little wonder that he is regarded with considerable gratitude in Murcia and, if not a Murcian by birth, could at least be regarded as a Murcian by adoption.
After the War, Belluga’s rise continued, but then in the church. In November 1719, he was designated a Cardinal by Pope Clement X, although this is a position which he seems to have been reluctant to accept. It is even suggested that, by now into his late 50’s, he was thinking of retiring to a monastery! However, he did not and he was rewarded with numerous other church titles. He participated in three papal elections (1724 – Pope Benedict XIII; 1730 – Pope Clement XII, and 1740 – Pope Benedict XIV) and he was constantly heading to Rome via the Spanish Court. King Philip designated him as ‘Spain’s Protector at the Holy See’. Unfortunately, his duties in Rome were heavy and this meant that he gave up his role as Bishop of Cartagena in 1724. He rapidly integrated himself into the life of the Vatican where he also managed to wield considerable influence and acted as the Treasurer for the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1728-29.
After a number of years principally in Rome, Cardinal Belluga died on 22nd February 1743. He was buried in the Chapel of San Carlos in the Iglesia de Santa María in Vallicella, Rome.
Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. All are available, from www.lulu.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org