Armando Sanz prayed to St. James several times a day. Sometimes all day. He identified with the man, often called the patron saint of Spain. Armando knew better. St. James represented hatmakers, rheumatoid sufferers and laborers.
So who better than Armando? His body was twisted, bent and ruined by wretched rheumatoid arthritis. In spite of agonizing pain, he worked his grandmother’s old loom every night, creating bright textiles—rich with goat and alpaca hair yarns which he’d colored with natural dyes—and sewing the fabric into hats. Some nights he never gave up and went to sleep. He just prayed, spun, ran the loom and sewed.
The results? Amazing. He lined, manipulated, and forged these textiles into berets, fedoras, free-form innovations and ladies’ wide-brimmed wonders. In the morning he would load the hats into a basket, heft it up onto his crippled back and head out to Barcelona’s busiest tourist spots. He would move along Las Ramblas, staying close to buildings, skirting the street performers who enjoyed almost royal status with visitors. If stopped, he would display his hats, donning one himself and grinning foolishly. To endure this humiliation, Armando mumbled non-stop prayers to St. James. He pictured the martyred apostle, friend to Jesus, rising up against anyone and everyone who troubled the Lord, so impatient and intolerant that Jesus, Himself, called him Son of Thunder.
His eventual goal was to reach the Barcelona Cathedral. That was where he made most of his sales. Touched by the magnificent architecture and the wonder of the square, tourists queued up to buy his wares. Humbled by religious fervor, they purchased this primitive indulgence. Armando blessed them with whispered absolution before they walked away sporting one of his creations.
People praised his work and often begged him to sign a hat. He would struggle mightily, exaggerating his clumsiness as he swept his signature across the fabric. He’d been told his hats were featured in movies and on American television. But that never gave him a big head or bolstered his ego. It was nothing more than the answered prayers to St. James.
At night, in those few hours when he would curl up on his cot, Armando imagined himself healed, brandishing his walking stick like a sword, chasing those patronizing tourists back to hell, terrifying them with unparalleled fury as he cleared Port Olympic or the Magic Fountain of Montjuic. In these visions, he moved with uncompromised agility in a body quite whole and straight. When he saw these things, he would sit up immediately and thank his benefactor. “Thank you again, St. James,” he would whisper. “Thanks be to God.”