History Image Slideshow

Spanish Religious Intolerance

Spanish Religious Intolerance - How did it Start?!

In the aftermath of catastrophic events of World Trade Centres (at Twin Towers – New York) (11/9/2001) and that of Madrid commuter (March 2004), Chris Lowney, a successful Managing Director of JP Morgan & Co. (extending on 3 continents) wrote in his excellent book entitled: "A vanished World – Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain" [published by Oxford University Press in 2006]:

(Though Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worship the same God revealed to Abraham, that common bond paled in their eyes before the differences dividing the three faiths. These 3 monotheistic religions share not only a lineage back to Abraham [Jews, Christians, and Muslims share the blood of Abraham through their leading prophets: Moses, Jesus (are both from the progeny of Abraham's wife Sarah), and Muhammad (a direct descendent of Ishmael from Abraham's wife Hagar)] but also the ritual practice of pilgrimage. Long before ninth-century Christians first journeyed to Santiago de Compostela [see below], devout Muslims were traveling to Mecca for the Hajj and devout Jews to Jerusalem for Pilgrimage… In all 3 faiths, the pilgrim's journey metaphorically embodies deeper human yearnings. Only a tiny handful will be privileged to know in an earthly lifetime whether our irreconcilable dogmatic differences, once illuminated under the pure light of perfect Truth, will somehow be reconciled by some logic we Muslims, Christians, and Jews cannot humanly comprehend. Until then, we apparently suffer the tyranny of those brutally incompatible facts: either Jesus is the Messiah or Jesus is not; either Muhammad is the Prophet, or Muhammad is not) (7). (The opening scene of the New Testament Acts of the Apostles relates a startling occurrence. The risen Jesus gathers his disciples, and "as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight". Before ascending, Jesus imparts this final instruction: "You shall be my witness … to the end of the earth". The apostle James, Santiago in Spanish, took the instruction literally. His purported remains are today venerated in the small Spanish town bearing his name, Santiago de Compostela [Compostela means 'field of stars' in reference to burial site].

Santiago de Compostela in Spain (burial site of St James, one of Jesus' disciples)

It lies a few dozen miles from the end of the earth; the burial place is said to be discovered between 818-842 and his shrine immediately became a pilgrimage attraction. [However] the tensions that tore medieval Spain were mirrored in the schizophrenic image of her chosen patron, Santiago (St. James). James was –and is– never far off in the Spanish imagination. A thousand-year-old route of pilgrimage snakes across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, by tradition the resting place of James's earthly remains and, after Rome, Europe's most important pilgrimage site. Spain's churches everywhere enshrine James's image in altar pieces, paintings, and sculptures. One discomfiting depiction occasionally appears in churches along the pilgrim route: James bestride a horse, his muscular right arm swinging a sword down upon a turbaned, darker-skinned figure cowering beneath the rearing steed's hooves. The iconography is a clear today as it must have been to 13th century pilgrim: this is Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Killer of Moors (i.e. Muslims), patron of crusading Reconquest. James the Muslim Killer embodies one strand of this story: religiously grounded hatred that shredded medieval Spain and still haunts humanity. Yet, instead of this violent killer-apostle, a statue of a more serene St. James stands sentinel at the great cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. Santiago Peregrino (St. James the Pilgrim) wields no sword, bearing only by the great law of charity: love neighbours as self, a command revered by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. [Thus] James the Muslim Killer finds alter ego in James the Pilgrim; while the former inspires the hateful frenzy of war, the latter engenders the reconciliation and concord that proceed from love of neighbour.


Three pictures depicting:

'Santiago Matamoros' i.e. St. James, the Killer of Moors (i.e. Muslims), he is considered the patron of crusading Reconquest of Spain.


[But] with the 1492 extermination of Muslim rule in Spain, St. James the Moor Killer had seemingly outlived his militant usefulness and could have been retired in favour of St. James the Pilgrim.

Three pictures depicting Santiago Peregrino i.e. St. James the Pilgrim, the charitable peace-loving man (who wields no sword).

But Santiago the militant was drafted to combat a new enemy [the New World Americans]; its reminders still resonate in South American atlases, from the benignly named Santiago, Chile, to the more sinister-sounding Mexican town of Matamoros (Muslim Killer). Thanks in part to Inca gold, Spain entered what historian typically call her Golden Age. The age was golden in one obvious respect, as precious metals lifted from New World colonies gilded Spain's altars and financed her European conflicts. Yet, in other respects, the Golden Age label is at a minimum incomplete. For this was at least the third Golden Age Spain had enjoyed. Spain's Islamic Golden Age had blessed Europe with new models of architecture, mathematics, ceramics, agriculture, philosophy, medicine, and astronomy, to name a few disciplines among many. Spain's Jewish Golden Age [not independently, but during Islamic Spain] had nurtured Europe's most prosperous, accomplished, and largest Jewish population, and through Maimonides and Moses de Leon bequeathed masterworks that still fundamentally influence Jewish thought and worship. The enduring contributions of medieval Spain's Muslims and Jews reveal an unfortunate gap in Spain's third Golden Age. Cleansed of non-Christians and striving for homogeneity, Spain's encounter with alien cultures now occurred almost exclusively beyond Iberia's borders, most notably in her New World colonies. And what she extracted from that Golden Age encounter with other civilizations was for the most part only, well, gold. Tourists to Spain are everywhere reminded how profoundly Spain once benefited from her encounter with Islamic civilization, from Cordoba's cathedral rising from the roots of her dizzyingly arcaded great mosque, to the Almohad minaret that dominates Seville's skyline as its cathedral bell tower, even to Moorish churches in northern provinces never ruled by Muslim Spain. Visitors to the Inca remains at Machu Piccha can't help but note that Inca architects might have made an equally profound contribution to Spanish masonry and construction technology. But the Spain of this (third) Golden Age was no longer forced to encounter and absorb the gifts of foreign civilizations on her own home soil and perhaps had lost the knack of doing so elsewhere. Still, if the foreign cultures no longer blessed Spain, those exiled from Spain blessed their adopted homelands) (7).




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