Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Competing patron saints and cathedrals, plus some miracles

Above: La Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar is on the left while La Seo de Zaragoza anchors the far end of the plaza.

Although conquered by The Battler, Alfonso I (1073-1134), the Moorish rulers of Zaragoza left rich architectural contributions in their wake. The main mosque was an impressive one, so The Battler opted for adaptive reuse, making alterations for Christian purposes and consecrating the new church in the name of San Salvador in 1121.

The Battler’s predilection for war unfortunately extended to his life with his wife, with no heirs produced from the contentious marriage. Leapfrogging over the resulting confusion following Alfonso I’s death, Ramon Berenguer (1114-1162), the Count of Barcelona, was betrothed to one-year-old Petronilla of Aragon (1136-1173) in 1137. The toddler’s father, known as Ramiro II (1086-1157), transferred the rule of the kingdom of Aragon to his new son-in-law so he could retire to a normally peaceful monastic life. As this post is not really about Ramiro the Monk, we will not dwell on his priestly qualifications that include the legend of his beheading of a dozen nobles who opposed him and using the head of their leader as the clapper for the bell of Huesca.

Demonstrating his dedication to the marriage-acquired territory of Aragon, Ramon had much of Zaragoza’s mosque/Catholic church razed to begin construction of a Romanesque replacement in 1140. This church became the home for coronations of Aragonese kings, and, with the papal appointment of an archbishop of Zaragoza in 1318, a cathedral.

Continue reading “Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Competing patron saints and cathedrals, plus some miracles”

Postcard from Toulouse, France: A basilica with great bones

Above: Reliquary in the Basilica of Saint Sernin

Most people reading this headline would assume I’m talking about religious architecture, but those definitely are not the only bones on my mind. This does not mean that the architecture of the Basilica of Saint Sernin is not amazing; it is. So, we’ll just get those bones out of the way first.

Continue reading “Postcard from Toulouse, France: A basilica with great bones”

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.