NEWS ANALYSIS: The Cathedral of Córdoba has become a battleground in the campaign to reduce the influence of the Church in Spain and beyond.
The Cathedral of Córdoba, officially titled the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and also commonly known as the Mosque-Cathedral, has been the ecclesiastical heart of the Diocese of Córdoba since 1236.
Ranked as one of the most impressive architectural wonders of the world, and honored since 1984 as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and visited by more than 1.5 million tourists every year, the cathedral’s ownership is now also a target of protest from both the Spanish left and Muslim activists.
The dispute is part of a long-running campaign to seize the church on the basis that it should not belong to Catholics, but to the whole world. While the civil government’s claim to the church is legally tenuous and the Muslim claim hearkens to a legendary golden age of Moorish Spain, the campaign is testing the religious freedom for Christians in a still-majority Catholic country and should be of concern to Catholics everywhere.
As former Spanish ambassador to Washington Javier Ruperez observed to the Register, “We do have a problem in Cordoba. … What we are watching there is not only an anti-Catholic operation. It is an anti-Western operation.”
The Reconquista and Al-Andalus
In an era of revisionist history, the Reconquista is certainly a cause célèbre. That centuries-long campaign to free the Iberian Peninsula from the control of the Moors after the Muslim invasion of the eighth century ended officially in 1492, with the fall of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada to the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella and the political unification of Spain.
The crusade is today depicted not as a war to free the peninsula from the domination of Muslim states, where Christians and Jews lived under sharia law, but the destruction of an advanced and peaceful Muslim civilization by barbaric and unenlightened Catholics.
This rewriting of the past is especially common when looking at the recapture of the city of Córdoba by Christian armies in 1236 under the saintly King Ferdinand III of Castile.
The region of southern Spain known as Andalusia, al-Andalus in the Arabic, was the political center of Moorish control of the peninsula.
Moorish culture reached its zenith under the Ummayad Dynasty of rulers who claimed the title of caliph with their capital at Córdoba. During the glory years of the caliphate in the ninth-11th centuries, Córdoba was renowned for its art, architecture, learning — the library of al-Hakam boasted 400,000 volumes — and engineering, including running water.
But the crown jewel of all al-Andalus was the Great Mosque, the symbol of Ummayad power and glory.
The mosque was commissioned in 784 by Abd ar-Rahman I and was subsequently expanded by his successors until it was able to welcome 40,000 people and was considered one of the largest and greatest architectural achievements in the entire Islamic world, with its striking arches and columns made of jasper, granite, onyx and marble.
The site of the mosque, however, had very ancient roots. According to archaeologists, after Visigoths captured Córdoba in 572, they established a church on the site that by the time of the Muslim invasion had the title of the Basilica of St. Vincent. It was initially allowed to continue as the last Christian church by agreement with the new Muslim overlords, but, soon, half of it was taken to provide additional prayer space for newly arriving Muslims from Damascus.
The rest of the basilica was eventually “purchased” from the Christians and destroyed in order to build the new Great Mosque.
Such was the beauty of the Great Mosque, the Mezquita in Spanish, that when Córdoba was captured by King Ferdinand, one of the first decisions he had to face was what to do with it.
The new ruler decided to transform the mosque into the city’s new cathedral. Respectful of the architecture, he maintained the columns and even preserved the ornate horseshoe-arched mihrab, or prayer niche, and its stunning dome above.
The minaret, meanwhile, was converted to a bell tower, with bells brought from Santiago de Compostela. In effect, Ferdinand preserved the mosque’s beauty for posterity.
With the exception of the chapels found throughout, the one major structural change was made in the 16th century, when Emperor Charles V permitted Bishop Alonso Manrique to construct a Renaissance cathedral in the middle of the building.
Unquestionably, the Caliphate of Córdoba was marked by great artistic and intellectual achievements, and the caliphate has been heralded as proof of the convivencia, or “coexistence,” of the claim that al-Andalus was a place in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in peace under a tolerant Islam. This is an image that persists stubbornly.
President Barack Obama hailed Córdoba’s “proud tradition of tolerance” in his infamous speech on Islam in Cairo in 2009, and similar claims were made by Imam Feisal Abdul Rau when he worked to erect the mosque at Ground Zero in New York under the name of the “Córdoba House.”
As Dario Fernandez-Morera has convincingly demonstrated in his important study, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain (2016), Andalusia was far from a paradise for Christians and Jews, as they suffered from political and social disabilities, had to pay the jizya (religious tax), and endured persecutions and oppression under sharia (Islamic law).
The Church honors the ninth-century Martyrs of Córdoba who died under Muslim persecution.
A New Crusade
The propaganda surrounding Muslim Córdoba is also a key element in the campaign by socialists in Spain who have found common ground with Muslim activists in trying to seize the cathedral.
In 2004 and 2006, Muslims in Spain and elsewhere, mostly recent converts to Islam, petitioned the Holy See to allow Muslim prayers in the cathedral. In 2007, the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, used a summit in Córdoba on “Islamophobia” by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to demand publicly that Muslims be granted the right to pray there.
In April 2010, during Holy Week, two Muslims grew violent when asked to stop praying in the cathedral and seriously injured two security guards; and by that August, Islamic groups renewed their calls for the right to worship.
In 2013, an organization called the “Platform for the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba” secured more than 350,000 names for a petition demanding the seizure of the cathedral, a push heavily promoted by the Spanish socialist newspaper El Pais. The petition coincided with Andalusia’s Socialist-led coalition government’s condemnation of the Church’s supposed efforts to strip away the Muslim history of the site.
The regional government went on to declare that the diocese has no legal claim of ownership. Echoing the propaganda of the Muslim groups and the Platform, the regional civil officials claimed that the real owners “are each and every citizen of the world from whatever era and regardless of people, nation, culture or race.”
These moves have understandably caused immense concern for Church officials and Catholics around the world. During a meeting on the controversy organized in June by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., Bishop Demetrio Fernández González of Córdoba said, “For eight centuries we have lived peacefully with the cathedral in Catholic hands. But right now, the kind of idea that the Muslims have had, this dream that they’ve had to somehow take back the cathedral, is being helped by the political left. So it is a kind of alliance coming in from the left. The politicians realize that the cathedral is property of the Church, but what they would like is for it to become public property. So it would be a type of expropriation.”
Fortunately, the current governing laws in Spain prevent such outright seizure, and Bishop Fernández has also been assured that, should this actually happen, Pope Francis and the Holy See would enter the fray. That will, of course, not stop opposition officials from trying.
And while the current law blocks such expropriation, other goals might be more attainable. The bishop warned of “the more immediate objectives, such as asking for them [Muslims] to be able to share the cathedral … but that’s not possible, neither for the Catholics nor for the Muslims.”
Equally, there is no desperate need for prayer space on the part of Muslims, as there are barely 1,500 in the city, which is served by two mosques. The Islamic population in Spain, while growing through immigration, makes up barely 4% of the total population.
Local Muslims are also not behind the controversy. The push is coming from outside of Spain, and it is believed that much of the funding is being provided by Arab countries, with some Church officials and even Ambassador Ruperez warning that funding may even be coming from Qatar, which is facing many accusations of being a state sponsor of international terrorism.
Ambassador Ruperez stresses that religious freedom and the legacy of the West are at stake.
“The basic values which have been the basic foundation of the West,” he says, “which is individual freedom, which is respect for the rule of law, which is the separation of church and state, are being put into serious doubt.”
The irony of this, of course, is that political leaders in Spain are actually proposing that Christian churches be seized once more, just as they were 1,200 years ago, and handed to Muslims.
Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, told the Register, “What is unique in this case is it is not an Islamist government doing this, but a left-leaning one — left-leaning officials who are anti-Catholic, and maybe anti-Muslim too, but they see this as a convenient way of suppressing religion; suppressing Catholicism in Spain.”
Should this alliance succeed, it would be an immense victory — and not just a symbolic one — for the Islamist cause at a time when Europe is already purging its own Christian history.
As Bishop Fernández notes, “They want to reverse the Reconquista.”
Matthew Bunson is a senior editor for the Register and senior contributor to EWTN.
What an exquisite masterpiece!!! This is cathedral is possessed by 2 fronts. This becomes an emotional issue without resolve. Since it has changed hands over the centuries, each group claims ownership from its own perspective, both having emotionally-powered arguments. History has been rewritten so many times these past centuries, do any of us know the truth or the intentions of the leadership at the time? The financial backing by the Arab states may be more powerful than the Catholic Church and stronger than the protestations by her leaders, even if only 4% of the population in spain is Muslim. This could be a repeat of history, since no one pays attention to sins of the past. We’re only human, right?
Nobody, but nobody, comes to Cordoba to see the cathedral itself – which was, when built, was a deliberate act of vandalism.
The reigning Spanish Cathoilc king said so at the time:
“…the cathedral chapter in 1523 undertook to build a large Gothic/Renaissance chancel (capilla mayor) and choir in the very middle of the Mosque. (the current King) Charles, who had not seen the Mosque beforehand, later regretted his decision, and reportedly exclaimed upon seeing the completed alteration: “You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world.”
People come to see the Mosque as an architectural marvel. Which it is.
Doesn’t matter who it belongs to, anymore than does St. Paul’s, in London
… no one pays attention to sins of the past…
We pay little attention to anything else on CP&S, Mary.
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Good comment, Toad. I think.
An “architectural marvel” it may well be …. the Spanish ‘reconquisterdores’.recognised that and preserved it….unlike the Muslims today and yesterday, who care nothing for exquisite monuments and buildings that are non-Islamic!
But building a beautiful Cathedral to give honour and glory to God on the same site where the original Catholic Church was razed to the ground by the invading, bellicose Moors in order to build their mosque, is NOT “vandalism” in the slightest way. It is right and fitting. Also, I doubt the veracity of your quote.
Spain was Christian long before the Mohammadans arrived, killing, burning, raping, destroying and enslaving. There is no church or shrine in central and southern Soain older than that time of the Spanish Reconquista when a frenzy of rebuilding of churches began.The old ones had all been destroyed by the Moors. This was brought home very vividly to me when I walked the Camino de Santiago with my sister and a friend in 2004. After our (on average) daily 25km. walk we used to try to hear Holy Mass at the towns, villages and hamlets we stayed at. There were so many exquisitely beautiful ancient little churches and chapels in that northern part of Spain where the Moors had never reached, or settled long enough to destroy all signs of Christianity. It made us sad to think of how many Christian masterpieces had been forever lost thanks to those Christian-hating invaders.
Yet it bothers you… plus all those hypocritical “far left” antagonists mentioned in the article – who are all non-believers to boot – that a Cathedral was built on its own original site?
Shame on you all!
But the crux of the matter, the author reminds us, is that the funding for the call for the expropriation of Córdoba Cathedral is not coming from local Muslims now, but from “outside Spain”, Muslim countries that also fund Iskamic terrorism – much more sinister and dangerous! – aided and abetted by Christian-phobic left-wing political leaders.
“I doubt the veracity of your quote. says Kathleen to ‘spittle.
NOW JUST HOLD ON a goldarn sec! You’re saying ‘spittle makes things up? I never.
…but yes, which is why I said above: “Good comment, Toad. I think“.
The time is coming when, I fear – I really do – Muslims and Africans will be killed in Europe. As I’ve said before, this could be (or could have been) avoided by domestic policies supportive of the native population’s desire to survive, as well as by foreign policies with the gumption to plow over the greed of UN corruptocrats and primitive tribal chieftains.
The amphibian supports the massive invasion of Europe by Muslims and Africans – not because he is evil – but because he sees no other way to save and help those people except by us committing cultural and economic suicide. He is not evil, but he is something else which I will not say despite it not being libellous.
“The amphibian supports the massive invasion of Europe by Muslims and Africans …”
No he doesn’t. Immigration like this causes a lot of social and economic problems, and it would be better if it didn’t happen. But I do understand why they do it. And sympahise. I’d probably do the same if I was a starving Somali, or a Syrian trying to escape slaughter, or whateever.
As to the Mosque in Cordoba:
Look at the second picture on the link. If you still think it was an OK thing to do, that’s your business.
All this has has noting to do with religion*, by the way. Just taste and architecture.
It’s a prefectly good cathedral. Except it should be somewhere else. We can only be thankful that the mosque was not utterly destroyed, I suppose. I don’t need to recommend a visit. Except that the temp in Cordoba today is 98. Last week it was 107, and is due to be again next week.
(What quote do you doubt, Kathleen? The King’s? It’s very frequently reported, but maybe it’s a Muslim lie. You decide.)
“There were so many exquisitely beautiful ancient little churches and chapels in that northern part of Spain where the Moors had never reached, “
There is nowhere on the Camino Frances that the Moors did not reach, and settle, including Santiago itself. And you will have seen chhurches that were re-converted mosques. That’s what people did back then. Leon cathedral is on the site of a Roman temple. Probably most, or at least a very great many, churchs stand on pagan siles. Shame for us today that they didn’t leave the temple as it was – and buid the church next door to it, I suppose. But cut stone is valuable, and invariably gets re-used.
*Except everything does, to some.
Churches have always had a broadish main nave to accommodate the style of worship; which is why they had to incorporate one into the Mezquita. I suspect this was done by knocking out some of the original more than 1000 pillars in the mosque in order to make a wider hall. The original pillars made 19 naves, which is all right for muslim prayers – but not for Christian liturgy, in which the main focus for the congregation is the sacred action taking place in the sanctuary. No such thing in the mosque; just prayers, prostrations, sitting on their heels and usually a sermon on Fridays.
I’d say also that most mosques don’t have all these naves, but more like just a single large prayer hall.
By the way, if the muslims want Cordoba Cathedral, perhaps they can press to have Hagia Sophia returned to us too?
Sorry, Toad, your denial of support for illegal immigration falls on deaf ears. *Talk to the hand* as they say. Your passive resigned acceptance of the problem is tantamount to support. Your sympathy for the plight of these so-called refugees takes precedence in your mind over the death knell they sound for our people, for our way of life, compromised and foolish though it may be.
Madness in the Med: how charity rescue boats exacerbate the refugee crisis and collude in people-trafficking
Diversity and Disintegration”
Yes, the sight of Muslims “praying,” is somewhat comical to us Christians, isn’t it? All those buttocks sticking up in the air. Looks a teeny bit “rude,” do it not?
Certainly looks pretty odd to me.
So unlike knee-jerking, with our hands placed together and pointing upright – which looks perfectly reasonable. To Christians, at least. Possibly to Satanists, too. I don’t know.
Cos it’s traditional, innit?
(Nice tiles, though. Sure, give Hagia Sophia to anyone who will look after it lovingly.)
Why say “Sorry, ” when you patently aren’t, JH?
Be honest. Call me a naive fool. No doubt you are right. I will offer it up for the Souls in Purgatory. Or whatever.
“Your sympathy for the plight of these so-called refugees takes precedence in your mind over the death knell they sound for our people, for our way of life, compromised and foolish though it may be.”
You may be right. But, if the Western Way Of Life cannot look after itself – tough luck. Anyway, God keeps saying It Will Be All Right In The End – or so I seem to keep being told .
Perhaps you need a little more “faith”?
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“Be honest. Call me a naive fool.”
If your Lordship pleases.
Your: *I’m all right, Jack – I’ve got a defined benefit union protected pension every man for himself survival of the fittest devil take the hindmost narrow-focus narrow-gauge Darwinian selfishness trotted out and gussied up as a civilized, pragmatic and mature philosophy of life* is perfectly pithily summed up by your casual sneer: “…if the Western Way Of Life cannot look after itself – tough luck.”
A sad attitude too often displayed by persons acting out their final scenes.
p.s. to the brassy, tawdry Toad:
I appreciate and I’m flattered by your totally gobsmacked admiration of my witticisms (^) but I forgot to share and must share that honour with someone who posts under the pseudonym of “Kofi” and who I believe to be our old friend Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce reincarnate.
Toad: Yes, the sight of Muslims “praying,” is somewhat comical to us Christians, isn’t it? All those buttocks sticking up in the air. Looks a teeny bit “rude,” do it not?
Not absolutely so, although the sight of all those “bottomae” (feminine plural of “bottoma”, bottom in Latin) in the air does seem to be distasteful. Christians of the Syriac and Coptic convictions still prostrate, or semi-prostrate perhaps, during the liturgy. Perhaps it’s a mercy that they are suitably togged and photos are not taken from the rear.
It is quite of interest how much of original muslim custom and religious practise is not . . . well . . . original, but more like a carrying through of Christian middle eastern practise, including the design of mosques.
You may or may not know that the word mosque is a corruption of the Arabic word “masjid”, which means “place of prostrating” (sajada – to prostrate). The word sajada could well be of Syriac Christian origin and incorporated into Arabic. Many other Arabic words seem also to be, such as the name of Jesus, “Isa”.
Not to forget our Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic brothers and sisters.
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I find the sight of new priests lying prostrate before the altar to be very moving:
Now that’s a complete non-semi-prostration, JH. The full monty. Like Pope Francis on Good Friday.
A little something in (Dominican Republic) Castilian for Toad (though it seems pretty standard Spanish to me, kathleen will know) – to make him perhaps more of a “fighting” toad there at his leisure in all those Castilian backblocks. “El luchador” is what I think those severely costumed Mexican wrestlers on TV in America call themselves – “the fighter”. I think he’s saying all his life he’s fighting to stay faithful to his Divine Lord.
God bless you. So good at quickly linking interesting material, sometimes obscure.
I never expected to see an image of a prostrate PF. Supine possibly, but not prostrate.
“Supine eventually” is what I meant 😉
What a farce religion in general is – as this “thread,” clearly demonstrates.
No matter what absurd variety of belief each of us espouses.
Let’s demolish both the mosque and the cathedral – and put up a giant Pizza parlour.
Far more usefu, and less problematic for the religious nuts on both sides.
Still, all this phoney angst gives us a good laugh. (Well, some of us.)
JH, I remembered seeing that photo of Francis recently in the Catholic Herald, so it was easy to find.
As for the current occupant of the throne of Peter, they say he does accurately “say the black and do the red” in the missal and any other official liturgical material, unlike many a priest.
Er, thank you, Toad.
“What a farce religion…”
So, that’s Toad’s taod (sic) – his punk ill-tempered contribution. Totally gutted I am by his stilettos – knives or heels – it makes no difference to me. Not senile, but too arrogant by half he is.
You are right, JH.
I was wrong. Ill-tempered, irritated. My own fault.
That negative line of “reasoning” gets nobody anywhere.
But toads are only human, and get annoyed, now and again, by silly stuff.
..Must try harder.
“….say the black and do the red.”
Religious roulette, really. Nothing wrong with that.
Golden: It has been observed, however, PF does not always kneel during Benediction.
Jesus is my friend, Taod, as are you – I hope you know 🙂
Yes, I seem to recall that, JH. Gammy leg or hip, I’ve heard. He does sometimes have a very noticeable limp. Not fatal to prostrating, though, obviously.
And that group^ was actually a Catholic group! (As is the one in the Dominican Republic, but I know which one I prefer)
Toad, “say the black and . . .” is something Fr Z says quite often.
“Gammy leg or hip”?
Perhaps, GC, although there are pictures of him kneeling for Confession (thank goodness!) but then – all I can manage when I walk in front of the altar to the ambo is a deep bow. I can only cope with a full genuflection when there’s a pew to hang onto with my left hand. Not my right one, due to SLAC in that wrist (find “SLAC” on the web and win a Toadspittle bobblehead doll).
“And that group…Catholic”?
I never knew that. They look so gay. I first saw them when Damian linked them on his old blog many years ago. But he would like them, wouldn’t he 😉
I’ve been called away.
I stand corrected about everything on this subject. I know nothing, but that for centuries there has been struggles with many churches in Spain. The fact that this is not taught in history lessons today, is the real sin. It tells us that young people don’t see the real problem with what’s going on in Europe.
“The fact that this is not taught in history lessons today, is the real sin.”
In which countries do you think it should be taught, Mary?