The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Originally constructed in 784, over a demolished Visigothic church, the Mosque is one of the oldest in the world. Cordoba at the time was part of a Muslim Empire. Spanish Christians re-took Cordoba in 1236. Rather than demolish the place, the Spanish decided to convert it to Christian worship. In some people’s eyes, supposedly including those of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, it’s an unholy mess. To my eyes it’s beautiful.
Throughout history, most people spend most of the time getting on well with each other. In her book A Distant Mirror, historian Barbara Tuchman made an important point:
Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening — on a lucky day — without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena.
We know the history of religion and relations between Christianity and Islam as one of unmitigated disaster, cruelty, horror and intolerance. In fact, these moments are few and far between. Most people spend most of their time muddling along. Unfortunately, all it really takes is one bad moment to rob us of an invaluable monument like the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Think of ISIS for example. In just two years, they have destroyed physical heritage going back millennia across a wide swathe of Mesopotamia. Jokers like that only emerge every couple centuries, but when they do, the potential for destruction is immense. We’re incredibly lucky that Cordoba’s monument has survived as long as it has. Spain has had it’s fair share of religious thugs. We’re lucky. The building has many lessons to teach. The video above lays out one or two.
Video Transcript after the jump…
This is the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. It’s one of the oldest Mosques in the world, dating back 1200 years. Since the Spanish Reconquista 750 years ago it’s been under the control of Christians. The Spanish king who took Cordoba was so overcome with the beauty of the place that he opted not to knock the whole thing down and build a church on it, which was the standard practice of the day. Instead he built a church inside the Mosque.
If you watch this channel with some regularity you’ll probably be aware that I’m more than a bit of a History nerd. There are a lot of churches in the world, but this, this is my church. When I visited for the first time last week I just sort of stumbled around in awe.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been diving deep into some of the nastier bits of modern Islam. It’s for a project I hope to release early in the coming year. This trip was a nice reminder that there’s a lot more to world religions than a couple decades of oil-funded hate and horror, and bloody overreaction. Not to get too sappy, but the beauty of this place reminds me that we’re all one people on this globe of ours.
Today there are vastly more Muslims and Christians working together for a better world than there are tearing it apart, no matter what Donald Trump or Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi tells you. This was true of the Spanish Reconquista as well, despite its portrayal in pop culture and conventional history. This building is a testament to that cooperation. Sure somebody was always subjugating someone. That’s just what pre-modern life was. But Whether it’s 8th century Muslim architects using Roman forms to create something new, or 19th century christian designers copying Caliphate styles, this building embodies the better side of history.
I’m not generally a fan of Popes, but John Paul II got it mostly right with an inscription he left here on the 1200th anniversary of the Mosque’s construction.
This building offers a great opportunity to show the brotherhood that exists between those that profess their faith in a single god. I’d go a lot farther than that, but hey it’s a start.
This building reminds me that civilization is about a lot more than war and competition. As we close a particularly odd year, I thought that was a message worth repeating.
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