When Felipe II of Spain, a very pious monarch, decided to build a royal monastery to show gratitude to God for his divine protection and to combat evil bent to destroy the forces of good, he sent out a commission of equally pious and learned men to find a suitable location for the grandiose project. They found the village of El Escorial, sixty kilometers from Madrid, Felipe’s court city. The village of El Escorial had an old coal mine that, according to folk legend, was a gateway to hell, one of the several such places that were scattered around the known world. The place was reputed to have been guarded by an enormous black dog that inspired terror and presaged death to all that dared disturb it.
The king’s project got under way – it was to become a monastery and a royal residence all in one. Soon the builders began reporting sightings of a nightmarish black dog that was harrying the workers at night and preventing them from going on with their work during the day. The monks of the newly built monastery church also heard the howling and the barking of the beast and were so struck with terror that they were unable to proceed with the divine service. Eventually the dog was caught, strangled in one of the towers, and then strung up to rot in plain sight, so that everyone could see that that he was a common beast, not a devil’s servant.
When in 1598 King Felipe II lay dying in agony at El Escorial, there were those who said that up until his death he was tormented by the persistent barking and howling of the mysterious dog that had long ceased to exist. Some said that the dog was there as the devil’s messenger, waiting to take the king’s soul to the place of eternal torment, as a punishment of having defied his master.
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