16 May: Dexterity at Natation, or the swimming friars.

“We then walked to the beach, where there were a great number of bathers, all men.  Amongst them were some good swimmers; two, in particular, were out at a great distance in the firth of the Guadalquivir, I should say at least a mile; their heads could just be descried with the telescope.  I was told that they were friars.  I wondered at what period of their lives they had acquired their dexterity at natation.  I hoped it was not at a time when, according to their vows, they should have lived for prayer, fasting, and mortification alone.  Swimming is a noble exercise, but it certainly does not tend to mortify either the flesh or the spirit.

From George Borrow, 1843: The Bible in Spain; or, the journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman, in an attempt to circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula, available on Kindle or on line.

Borrow did not have a high opinion of friars! Clearly they should not enjoy themselves with an evening swim. To be fair, there were many who opposed his mission to bring Spaniards the Bible in the vernacular – he had Bibles and New Testaments in Spanish and the Gospel of Luke in the local Romany dialect, but without the Council of Trent’s official interpretive notes, which were anathema to Borrow as an evangelical Protestant! Times have changed, thank God, and the Catholic Church and Bible Societies are ready to co-operate in many ways.

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