El Niño de las Monjas

Jordi Pérez Presencia was born in the Valencian village of Carlet in 2000 where he lived and grew up until the age of 11 when dire domestic circumstances forced the local social services to place him and his two siblings in the care of the Hogar San José de la Montaña, an orphanage in the capital run by nuns of the order of Las Madres de los Desemparados. It was in these devout surroundings that he was able to develop his passion for bullfighting. Encouraged by Mother Elisa, a great admirer of Antonio Ordoñez, he was admitted to the Escuela de Tauromaquia of Valencia and soon after made his first public appearance dressed in lights.

I remember first seeing him in 2018 in the Valencian bullring with five other young hopefuls. Looking back at my notes of that evening I see I wrote the word ‘entrega’, (dedication) next to his name, as a comment on the way he confronted his two-year-old bulls. It was something I also noticed on the two other evenings I saw him torear. Jordi Pérez was a dedicated young torero. And I remember seeing a white cloud of nuns in the stands, passionately waving their white handkerchiefs to make sure their pupil was well awarded for his efforts.

At the beginning of his career Jordi was announced as plain Jordi Pérez. On one occasion I saw him lined up as ‘Jordi de San José’, using this alias as a reference to his upbringing in the San José orphanage. And although many of my Valencian friends jokingly already called him that, it must have been after an episode of the television programme Tendido Cero that Jordi Pérez became ‘Jordi Pérez El Niño de las Monjas’. He is 19 years old when he makes his debut in a novillada with picadores in the typical plaza de toros of Algemesí.

El Niño de la Monjas first appeared as the title of a novel by Juan López Núñez which was published in 1922. The story is said to be inspired by the hard life and sad times of a torero called Florentino Ballesteros and tells of Rafael, an orphaned boy taken in by the nuns. As he grows older, his dream is to be a famous bullfighter, like those whose names he sees printed on the posters at the bullring. But it means he must leave the nuns and the orphanage. Time passes and he becomes the star of the bullring, earns lots of money, and enjoys the good life but just in time remembers his modest upbringing and the nuns who took him in. He humbly returns to the orphanage and begs them for forgiveness. Having made his peace, he invites them to his next corrida. But that afternoon tragedy strikes and what happened is best illustrated in the words of a popular song by La Niña de la Puebla: – It was the afternoon of the feria – An afternoon of sunlight – The boy fell on the sand – The bull gored him. – The wound was deadly – They couldn’t save him – In agony and in tears he cries: “No longer am I a bullfighter – For I die as Granero, Valerito and the Great José.” – “Dear nuns – Cry for me. Pray for this poor boy – You so lovingly took in and who – Now lies here.

The impact of the novel is enormous. El Niño de las Monjas becomes the inspiration for a play, a pasodoble and several songs. Three years after its publication, the first film (silent and in black and white) is released. Its bullfight scenes are enacted by real-life torero Eladio Amorós. The second version follows in 1935. With sound this time but still in black and white. The role of the young matador is now played by Luis Gómez ‘El Estudiante’ a well known torero from Alcalá de Henares. In 1944 Mexican matador Luis Procuna interprets the part of Rafael El Niño de las Monjas in the third version, the first in color. Finally, in 1958 the last film based on the novel is produced with Enrique Vera in the leading part. Like the others he too is a bullfighter-turned-movie actor but also the uncle of Juan Carlos Vera, a Valencian torero who would become one of Jordi Pérez’ maestros at the bullfighting school.

It is extraordinary that exactly one hundred years after Juan López Núñez published his story about a young boy from an orphanage who becomes a famous torero, someone with exactly the same background, brings the fictional Niño de las Monjas to life. Let us hope that reality is stronger than fiction and that Jordi Pérez will not end his career like the young torero in the novel though maybe, just to be sure, he should change his alias back to Jordi de San José.

Crónica de Pieter Hildering

Fotografías de. Mateo.Tauroimaqenplus