Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: A city filled with churches

When Ferdinand III (1199-1252), King of Castile, conquered Cordoba in 1236, he launched a flurry of construction projects to formalize the city’s conversion to Catholicism. The mosques destroyed in the process provided convenient foundations and served as quarries for building numerous of these. Through the centuries, the original medieval structures received Renaissance alterations topped by a Baroque overlay.

Shells left by pilgrims who have traveled the Camino de Santiago dangle from the statue of Santiago, or Saint James the Greater, in the temple built atop a mosque and dedicated to the saint. Following the death of Jesus, James proselytized throughout the Iberian peninsula before returning to preach in Samaria and Judea.

In the year 44, King Herod Agrippa I (11 BC-44 AD) ordered him beheaded, making James the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. According to Acts 12:20-23, Herod himself perished later that same year because: “he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Legends associated with Santiago as the patron saint of Spain claim he, with neck intact, miraculously appeared armed atop a horse to lead outnumbered Christians to victory in a battle with the Moors – 800 years following his death.

And, continuing on a saintly topic, a large silver vessel enshrined in the Basilica of San Pedro contains a jumbled assortment of skulls and bones purported to belong to the Martyrs of Cordoba. According to accounts recorded by San Eulogio, these 48 Christians were beheaded by their Muslim rulers between 851-859 for their violations of Islamic law, mainly blasphemy and apostasy, or renunciation of the Islamic faith.

Eulogio’s writings, The Memorials of the Saints, ended abruptly upon the priest’s own execution in 859.

 

Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: Mezquita Catedral

The Cathedral of Cordoba is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, yet even the city’s Catholics tend to refer to it simply as La Mezquita, the Mosque.

A Roman temple once stood on this site, but it was torn down with its building materials recycled for construction of a Visigoth church. The Moorish conquest in the 8th century resulted in another teardown and recycling of materials, particularly columns.

Cordoba became the headquarters of the independent Caliphate in Spain, and a golden age of construction burst forth to create a capital to rival the splendor of Damascus and Constantinople. This meant the mosque must be enormous.

The interior boasts approximately 850 granite jasper and marble columns. As the handsome columns were too short to attain the desired height, the arches they supported were topped with a second tier of arches, all in a striking pattern alternating red brick and white stone. A shell-shaped ceiling carved from one block of marble crowns the gilded Mihrab, the original center for prayer, at the heart of the Mezquita.

King Ferdinand III (1199-1252) reclaimed Cordoba from the Moorish rulers in 1236, and the mosque immediately was consecrated as a Christian place of worship. The original Gothic altar inserted in the middle of the former mosque was expanded and modified to reflect later and Renaissance and Baroque styles. The architectural encasement of the original minaret masks its origins. A full Renaissance nave popped up above the existing roofline during the reign of King Charles V (1500-1558). Some say the king was displeased with the resulting intrusive architectural assault upon the stunning structure.

Lawrence Boheme offers a tale involving a 1,000-mile round trip for the bells of Santiago de Compostela to symbolize the historical rivalry between the Spain’s Christians and Muslims at this site:

At the height of Muslim power, during the Omega Caliphate at the end of the 10th century, the fearsome warlord Al-Mansur led a bloody raid through northern Spain, going as far into Christian territory as Santiago de Compostela. On the loose in the great pilgrims’ city, the Moor had the audacity of riding his horse into the cathedral and letting it drink from the font of holy water, outraging the Christian townsfolk; then, even more insultingly, he had the church’s bells carried 500 miles south to Cordoba, where they were melted down to make lamps to illuminate the Great Mosque.

When, two and a half centuries later, in 1236, the Castillian King Ferdinand the Third (“The Saint”) reconquered Cordoba, his first action, to avenge the humiliation caused by Al-Mansur, was to have the lamps carried back to the shrine of Saint James, where they were melted down to make a new set of bells.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: A piece of a saint to answer almost any prayer

Above is simply the underside of one low altar found along a wall of San Luis de los Franceses. The photo probably is not clear enough for you to really get the picture, but the entire length of it is a repository for bones. Sacred bones. Remnants of saints. And they are found everywhere in this former church. Some shards are almost microscopic and certainly appear so in our photos.

But most people probably visit San Luis for its unusual architectural bones.

By way of introduction, the building is dedicated to Saint Louis of France, King Louis IX (1214-1270). San Luis was the favorite saint of the woman who originally donated the land to the Society of Jesus if they agreed to honor him.

The titular honor also represented a politically correct move for the always-in-trouble Jesuits as a respectful tribute to the Bourbon monarchs ruling over Spain at the time. Appropriately, a majestically crowned portrait of San Luis by the prominent artist Francisco de Zurburan (1578-1664) dominates the main altar.

The Baroque structure was designed by architect Leonardo de Figueroa (1650-1730) on the plan of a Greek cross. The cross is crowned by an ornate cupola and features major gilded altars at the end of each of its four arms. Figueroa also incorporated a heavy dose of my favorite columns – helical or Solomonic twists.

Distinctive octagonal towers top the sculptural façade, a façade difficult to appreciate on such a narrow street. The four evangelists, the three archangels – they were all meant to address a major plaza below. The plaza envisioned did not materialize. Despite their tribute, the Jesuits ran into problems with the powers that were.

With the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain in 1835, their properties came under the control of the crown. It is hard to imagine how much it pained the Jesuits to abandon the hundreds of precious relics of saints stored and displayed in every nook and cranny in this former church.

Repurposing of San Luis never resulted in irrevocable alterations affecting its original architectural integrity. The Provincial Council of Seville refurbished San Luis and reopened it to the public only two years ago.

While the former church is not consecrated, the bones still attract the faithful. Many of these probably received Vatican authentication for veneration centuries ago.

Think there is a portion of a patron saint housed within San Luis to meet almost any need for prayers that could arise.