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La devoción de la cruz (1628-1633), Pedro Calderón de la Barca

English title: Devotion to the Cross
Date written: sometime between 1628 and 1633
First publication date: 1629
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > justice-revenge, violence > personal, family > brothers/sisters, family > marriage, ideology > honour, ideology > religion and faith, love > relationships, family > incest
Genre and type: tragedy
Title information

The play was first published under the title La cruz en la sepultura and was attributed to Lope de Vega. Attribution issues dog this play, as subsequent publications credited the play to Lope and others to Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. The first time the play was published under the title La devoción de la cruz and attributed to Calderón was in 1636.


The gripping drama of a brother and sister, twins separated at birth, who fall in love later in life. They discover that they have the same mark upon their chests, a scar in the shape of a cross. They were born at the foot of a cross to a mother who was almost murdered on that day, as she was suspected of infidelity. The lovers only learn of their true relationship as the brother dies fighting for the woman he loves, and their father recognises the sign on his chest and makes the connection.  A story of faith, miracles and the tragic, destructive power of love.


Curcio, father to Lisardo and Julia, has squandered the family fortune. Leaving her with no dowry, the family plans to force Julia to become a nun. She has a suitor, Eusebio, who wishes to marry her anyway. Eusebio’s upbringing was highly unusual; he has no living parents, as he was abandoned in the woods. He was found near a Cross, and he claims that the Cross has protected him his whole life, saving him from death on multiple occasions. His chest bears a cross-shaped scar. However Lisardo does not want Eusebio to marry his sister, and they fight a duel in which Lisardo is wounded. He begs Eusebio not to kill him, invoking the mercy of the Cross. At the mention of the Cross, Eusebio takes pity and carries his enemy to a hermitage where he may receive absolution before he dies.

Meanwhile, Julia weeps in her father’s house, dreading her forced entry into the convent. Eusebio comes straight from Lisardo’s deathbed to see Julia, trying to convince her to run away with him before she learns of her brother’s death. Her father, Curcio, demands she prepare herself for the convent, and Eusebio hides as he approaches. When Julia resists the convent, Curcio explodes in a rage, revealing that he has been unsure of her legitimacy for her whole life. His story of how he sought revenge on her mother, suspecting her of infidelity when she was pregnant with Julia, is interrupted by the delivery of Lisardo’s bloody corpse to the house, and the news that Eusebio was his killer.

The father locks Julia in with the corpse and says both his children are dead to him. Eusebio comes out of hiding, Julia forgives him for the death of her brother, and he escapes.

Act 2 begins with gunfire: an old man, Alberto, has been shot in the chest, but he lives because the bullet landed in a book on ‘The Miracles of the Cross’ he was carrying in his breast pocket. Eusebio is touched by the man’s devotion and Alberto vows to give Eusebio confession before he dies.

By this time, Curcio has put a bounty out on Eusebio’s arrest for the death of Lisardo, offering a reward for his capture, alive or dead. Julia has entered the convent.

Curcio, out on the road alone, finishes the tale of his wife’s suspected infidelity. He took her out to a place marked by a cross, intending to kill her. She was able to convince him of her innocence, so he spared her, leaving her at the foot of the cross. Upon his return home, however, he miraculously found her at the house, holding the newborn baby Julia, who bore a cross-shaped mark on her chest. But the mother had given birth to twins, and left the other child there next to the cross.

Meanwhile, Eusebio breaks into the convent and attempts to seduce Julia.  Although she relents, he is unable to take advantage of her because he is scared off by the cross-shaped scar on her breast. He has the same mark on his own chest, and seeing it on Julia frightens him. He climbs back down his ladder to get away from her. Abandoning her vows to be a ‘bride of Christ’, Julia follows Eusebio down the ladder but once she has escaped the convent, she changes her mind and wishes to return.  However, the highwaymen have taken the ladder away and she is left outside the convent with nowhere to turn.

In Act 3 Julia dresses as a man, keeping her face covered to protect her identity, and is captured by the highwaymen. She threatens Eusebio, and after revealing who she is to him alone, she admits that she has killed several people, stealing their clothing and weapons. Curcio and his men pursue Eusebio in revenge for Lisardo’s death, and a battle breaks out. Julia fights on Eusebio’s side. Eusebio kneels and asks for Curcio’s forgiveness; they both lay down their swords, but then fight bare-handed. Curcio lets Eusebio escape.

Pursued by Curcio’s men, Eusebio falls down a cliff and lands, wounded, at the spot marked by the Cross where he was born. He calls to Alberto to keep his promise to give him confession before he dies.  Curcio enters instead, and recognising the cross on Eusebio’s chest, realises that Eusebio is his own son, whom his wife had abandoned under that cross. He mourns the loss of his son, despite having fought so hard for his death.

Curcio’s men and the peasants cover Eusebio’s body with branches, but Alberto appears and uncovers Eusebio, who comes back to life just long enough to give his confession, before dying (properly this time).

Julia and Curcio witness this and stand in disbelief. Alberto explains that God was so impressed with Eusebio’s devotion to the Cross that he kept Eusebio’s soul alive after his body was dead, to allow Eusebio to confess his sins and have a chance to enter Heaven.

Horrified to learn that she was Eusebio’s lover as well as his sister, Julia confesses her sins and promises to do penance for all she has done. Curcio, enraged, decides to kill her himself, but she appeals to the Cross for salvation. As Curcio is about to kill her, she holds on to the Cross as it is raised off the ground and ascends to Heaven. Curcio praises the miracle and the play concludes.


Valbuena lists among the potential sources for this play the Historias prodigiosas y maravillosas de diversos sucessos [sic] acaecidos en el mundo, by Père Bovistau, Claude Tesserant and François Belleforest, published in Spanish (translated from the French) in 1603 (Calderón de la Barca 1953). The book is a possible source because of the ‘chapter which deals with tales of miraculous appearances of the sign of the cross, generally on clothing or trees’ (Neugaard 1973). Valbuena also mentions a story from the Libro de los exenplos por a.b.c [sic] by Clemente Sánchez de Vercial. This story includes a man who ‘forgives another who had killed his own brother because he begged him for forgiveness with his arms in the form of a cross’ (Neugaard 1973). The theme of incest between brother and sister is also found in Lope de Vega's play La fianza satisfecha and a group of outlaws living as bandits is similarly portrayed in Mira de Amescua’s El esclavo del demonio (Neugaard 1973). However the combination of the themes of an outlaw living outside society and his salvation due to ‘devotion to the cross’ had not been found together until Neugaard's discovery of its instance in the Flor de virtudes, a tract on virtue and vice, published in Spanish translation from the Italian in 1491. This story includes the element of the outlaw confessing his sins to a holy man, a hermit, and finding salvation in the Cross. The Flor de Virtudes was very popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and Neugaard believes it would have been possible that Calderón knew the work or parts of it, either first- or secondhand (Neugaard 1973).

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1953. Comedias religiosas: ‘La devoción de la cruz’ y ‘El mágico prodigioso’, ed. Angel Valbuena. Clásicos Castellanos. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe (in Spanish)

  • Neugaard, Edward J. 1973. ‘A New Possible Source for Calderón’s La devoción de la cruz’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 25, 1-3

Critical response

Although this play is admired by scholars and was the subject of relatively frequent analysis in the 1960s and 1970s, it is one of Calderón’s lesser-known religious plays and has not received as much attention in recent years. In universities it is more common to teach ‘El príncipe constante’ and/or ‘El mágico prodigioso’ than this play, despite its dramatic merits. It is worthy of more attention, both by scholars and on the stage.

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1640. La devoción de la cruz. In Primera Parte de Comedias de Don Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Madrid, Viuda de Juan Sánchez

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1982. La devoción de la cruz / El gran teatro del mundo. 8th edn. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2000. La devoción de la cruz, ed. Manuel Delgado. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Calderón de la, Pedro. 1636. La devoción de la cruz. In Primera Parte de Comedias de Don Pedro Calderón de la Barca, pp. 103-24. Madrid, María de Quiñones

  • Vega, Lope de (attributed to Lope, later versions credited to Pedro Calderón de la Barca). 1629. La cruz en la sepultura. In Veinte y tres parte de sus comedias, a la mejor parte que hasta hoy se ha escrito. Valencia, Miguel Sorrolla

  • Vega, Lope de (play attributed to Lope, later versions credited to Pedro Calderón de la Barca). 1634. La cruz en la sepultura. In Parte veinte y ocho de comedias de varios autores. Huesca, Pedro Blusón

Useful readings and websites
  • Benabu, Isaac. 1988. ‘La devoción de la cruz y su “felice” fin’. In Hacia Calderón, ed. Hans Flasche, pp. 212-20. Archivum Calderonianum 5. Stuttgart, Franz Steiner (in Spanish)

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1953. Comedias religiosas: ‘La devoción de la cruz’ y ‘El mágico prodigioso’, ed. Angel Valbuena. Clásicos Castellanos. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe (in Spanish)

  • Entwistle, William J. 1948. ‘Calderón’s La devoción de la cruz’, Bulletin Hispanique, 50, 472-82

  • Friedman, Edward H. 1982. ‘The Other Side of the Metaphor: An Approach to La devoción de la cruz’. In Approaches to the Theater of Calderón, ed. Michael D. McGaha, pp. 129-41. Washington, DC, University Press of America

  • Hesse, Everett W. 1973. ‘The Alienation Problem in Calderón’s La devoción de la cruz’, Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, 7, 3, 361-81

  • Huerta Calvo, Javier. 1999. ‘Un Calderón joven y rebelde: La devoción de la cruz’. In Doce comedias buscan un tablado, ed. Felipe B. Pedraza Jiménez, pp. 179-90. Cuadernos de Teatro Clásico, 11. Madrid, Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (in Spanish)

  • McKendrick, Melveena. 1969. ‘The bandolera of Golden Age Drama: A Symbol of Feminist Revolt’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 46, 1-20

  • Neugaard, Edward J. 1973. ‘A New Possible Source for Calderón’s La devoción de la cruz’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 25, 1-3

  • O’Connor, Thomas Austin. 1986. ‘Mito y milagros en La devoción de la cruz.’ In Actas del VIII Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas, II, pp. 367-73, eds. David A. Kossoff, José Amor y Vazquez, Ruth H. Kossoff and Geoffrey W Ribbans. Madrid, Istmo (in Spanish)

  • Parker, A. A. 1962. ‘Towards a Definition of Calderonian Tragedy’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 39, 222-37

  • Parker, A. A. 1966. ‘The Father-Son Conflict in the Drama of Calderón’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 2, 2, 99-133

  • Sloane, Robert. 1977. ‘The “Strangeness” of La devoción de la cruz’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 54, 297-310

  • Smieja, Florian. 1973. ‘Julia’s Reasoning in Calderón’s La devoción de la cruz’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 25, 37-9

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 25 February 2011.

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