THE LOVERS OF TERUEL: The story of Romeo and Juliet is an extremely old one, far predating the time of Shakespeare who brought it to widespread attention through his famous play. Shakespeare himself took the story from Arthur Brookes, who translated and adapted it from an Italian novel by Bandello, making it the subject of an epic poem.
The classic setting of the tragedy is Italy, and the oldest Italian telling dates back to the year 1476. In Italy, the legend is said to be based upon the story of two young lovers from Verona who, in 1303, took their own lives rather than be forced to live apart. But this version is actually pre-dated by almost a century by an almost identical legend originating from Teruel in Spain. There is better evidence that the Spanish lovers were in fact real, since the remains of the supposed couple have been found.
They were Don Diego de Marcilla and Doña Ysabel de Segura, and they died in Teruel in the year 1217. They were interred in a chapel of the Church of San Pedro where they remained until 1708 when they were removed to a cloister and set up in a cupboard. In 1854, the people of Teruel, realizing at last the importance of their mummified lovers, had them placed upon a walnut stand, supported in a standing position, and clothed in light guaze skirts.
The Spanish version differs slightly in that the Spanish 'Juliette' was married to her other suitor while her 'Romeo' was absent in hiding, and following the dual suicide her husband took pity and had them buried together. Whether an almost identical incident occurred in Verona a hundred years later, or the story of the Spanish couple spread there and was adopted as a local legend, is a matter of conjecture. True, there had once been two leading families in Verona, but no one has ever proved the existence of their star-crossed children. There the Spanish version has the advantage, as well as the Spanish legend existing first.