Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/312

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ALCANTARA 272 ALCHEMY nor garrisons, a deficiency that the militaiy or- ders supplied, combining as they did military training with monastic stability. Alcantara was first committed (1214) to the care of the Castilian Knights of Calatrava, who had lately given many proofs of their gallantry in the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosas against the Almohades (1212). Alonzo of Leon wished to found at .Alcan- tara a special branch of this celebrated order for his realm. But four years later these Knights felt that the post was too far from their Castilian quarters. They gave up the scheme and transferred the castle, with the permission of the king, to a peculiar Leon- ese order still in a formative stage, known as "Knights of St. Julian de Pereiro ". Their genesis is obscure, but according to a somewhat questionable tradition, St. Julian de Pereiro w'as a hermit of the country of Salamanca, where by his counsel, some knights built a castle on the river Tagus to oppose the Mos- lems. They are mentioned in 1176, in a grant of King Fernando of Leon, but without allusion to their military character. They are first acknowl- edged as a military order by a privilege of Pope Celestine III in 1197. Through their compact with the Knights of Calatrava, they accepted the Cister- cian rule and costume, a white mantle with the scarlet overcross, and they submitted to the right of inspection and correction from the Master of Calatrava. This union did not last long. The Knights of Alcantara, under their new name, ac- quired many castles and estates, for the most part at the expense of the Moslems. They amassed great wealth from booty during the war and from pious donations. It was a turning point in their career. However, ambitions and dissensions in- creased among them. The post of grand master became the aim of rival aspirants. They employed against one another swords which had been vowed only to warfare against the infidels. In 1318, the castle of Alcdntara presented the lamentable spec- tacle of the Grand Master, Ruy Vaz, besieged by his own Knights, sustained in this by the Grand Master of Calatrava. This rent in their body showed no less than three grand masters in contention, sup- ported severally by the Knights, by the Cistercians, and by the king. Such instances show sufficiently to what a pass the monastic spirit had come. All that can be said in extenuation of such a scandal is that military orders lost the chief object of their vocation when the Moors were driven from their last foothold in Spain. Some authors assign as causes of their disintegration the decimation of the cloisters by the Black Death in the fourteenth century, and the laxity which recruited them from the most poorly qualified .subjects. Lastly, there was the revolution in warfare, when the growth of modern artillery and infantry overpowered the armed cav- alry of feudal times, the orders still holding to their obsolete mode of fighting. The orders, neverthe- less, by their wealth and numerous vassals, remained a tremendous power in the kingdom, and before long were involved deeply in political agitations. During the fatal schism between Peter the Cruel and his brother, Ilcniy the Bastard, which divided half Europe, the Knights of Alcantara were also split into two factions which warred upon each other. The kings, on their side, diil not fail to take an active part in the election of the grand master, who could bring such valuable support to the royal authority. In 1409, the regent of Castile succeded in having his son, Sancho, a boy of eight years, made Grand Master of .Meant ara. These intrigues went on till 1492, when Pope .Alexander VI invested the Catholic King. Ferilinand of Aragon, with the grand mastership of .Mciintara for life. Adrian 'I went farther, in favour of his pupil, Charles V, for in 1522 he bestowed the three masterships of Spain upon the Crown, even permitting their inheritance through the female line. The Knights of Alcdntara were released from the vow of celibacy by the Holy See in 1540, and the ties of common life were sun- dered. The order was reduced to a system of endow- ments at the disposal of the king, of which he availed himself to reward his nobles. There were no less than thirty-seven " Commanderies ", with fifty-three castles or villages. Under the French domination the revenues of .Alcantara were confiscated, in 1808, and they were only partly given back in 1814, after the restoration of Ferdinand VU. They disappeared finally during the subsequent Spanish revolutions, and since 1875 the Order of Alcantara is only a per- sonal decoration, conferred by the king for military services. See Military Orders. De Robles, Privilegia militia; de Atcantard a pontiftcibui (Mai-lrid, 1G62); De Valencia, Definicionea y establecimitnuos de la Orden de Alcantara (Madrid, 1602); Manrique, Annates cistercienses (till 1283) (Lyon. 1642), 4 vols, fol.; Rdi-;s y ANORAnA, Cronici'm de las tres drdenes y caballerins (Toledo, 1572): Abaujo y Cuellas, Recopilacidn histtjrica de las cuatro ordenea miliiares (Madrid, 1866): Helyot, Histo^re des ordres nligieux et militaires, 6 vols. (Tours, 1718); De la Fcente Historia eel. de Espana, 4 vols. (Madrid, 1874). Ch. Moeller. Alcantara, Saint Peter of. See Peter. Alcantarines. See Friars Minor. Alcedo, Antonio de, soldier, b. at Quito (Ecuador), 1755, where his father was President of the Royal Audiencia from 1728 to 1737. He selected the military career, and rose to the rank of Brigadier General in 1792, in the Spanish army. He wrote a dictionary, historical and geographical, of the West Indies, in five volumes, for which the work of Father Giovanni Coletti, S.J., "Dizionario deH'America meridionale" (Venice, 1771) was a substantial basis. The work of Alcedo was translated into English by G. A. Thompson in 1812, and that translation is looked upon by many as an improvement, whereas it in fact teems with errors from which the original is relatively free. Alcedo. Dircionario fjeogrdfico-histdrico de las Indias ocH~ dentales (^Madrid, 1780-89); Thompson, The Cconraphical and Historical Dictionary of America and the West Indies (London, 1812): Beristain de Souza, Biblioteca hisp. — americana septentrional (Mexico, 1816); Mendibur6, Diccionario etc. (Lima, 1874). Ad. F. Bandelier. Alchemy (from Arabic al, the, and Greek xw'^ or XTip-fla, which occurs first in an edict of Diocletian), the art of transmuting baser metals into gold and silver. It was the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry, for the first steps in the developments of the modern science were based on the work of the old alchemists. Chemistry dates from the latter half of the eighteenth century. About this time the idea was formulated that the formation of an oxide was an additive process; that an oxide was heavier than the original metal, because something was added to it. The discovery of oxygen is often taken as the date of the birth of chemistry. It established the fact that red oxide of mercury is composed of mercury and oxygen. The lack of this seemingly simple conception gave alchemy its definite existence. From old Egyptian times men had stuilied the chemical properties of bodies without e.stablishing any tangible or tenable theorj'. The name ahhennj has been applied to the work of all early investiga- tions. By their means were determined a vast num- ber of facts, which were only classified and reasonably explained by the new science of chemistn,'. Many of the alchemists were earnest .seekers after truth, and some of the greatest intellects of their time figure among them. Two motives actuated many investigators: the hope of realizing the transmutation of metals, and the search for terrestrial immortahty by the discovery of the elixir i-itcr. The fantastic element apparent in such desires operated to give