The reptile posing on one of the lobby walls of the Royal College Seminary of Corpus Christi, also known as the Patriarch, is a crocodile. American, to be more precise. It’s a far cry from the small geckos seen scuttling across walls when the mercury rises in the Mediterranean but nor is it the fierce dragon depicted in certain mediaeval accounts and popularised by the author Blasco Ibáñez in one of his tales from Valencia.
The most famous legend describes a ferocious being with terrible jaws that prowled around the banks of the Turia. Such was their fear of the beast that locals chose to avoid the river altogether. However, fed up of the fear to which the alleged dragon is said to have subjected the city’s residents, a youngster from the area decided to take matters into his own hands. Having heard the reports of those who had claimed to have seen the dragon, the young lad ruled out the idea of a straight fight and instead came up with a more sophisticated strategy, which involved covering his armour with mirrors.
Having done so, he hid himself near the river. It wasn’t long before the crocodile appeared. Dazzled by the sunlight reflected on the young lad’s armour, the huge lizard found itself unable to dodge the spear that pierced its scales. This was how the lifeless body of the dragon that never was came to adorn the entrance to the Royal College of the Patriarch. And from that day on, it has only ever scared the very faintest-of-heart.
The other story of the origins of the aforementioned croc states that it was the Viceroy of Peru who, in 1600, gave the live animal as a present to Juan de Ribera, Archbishop of Valencia, patriarch of Antioquia and founder of the seminary. And when the animal died, six years after its arrival in Spain, it was de Ribera who decided to preserve the body and display it at the entrance to the building. A less colourful version of events, for sure, but probably a little closer to the truth.