A Reflection on the City of Cordoba in Spain
The Great Mosque and Cathedral of the Assumption in Cordoba make a unique blending of Christian and Muslim architecture. Locals hold that the site was first a place for Iberian, then Roman worship, followed by a synagogue before the advance of Christianity. Archaeology and history continue the story with Visigothic Christianity. Muslim invaders of the 8th century then converted the Visigothic Christian cathedral into a mosque, which was later elaborated into the monumental mosque created during the reign of Caliph Abd ar Rahman in the 10th century. After the Christian reconquest of the city in the 13th century, the mosque once again became a Christian cathedral.
The Christian architects built a gothic church within the interior of the mosque and side chapels around the inside perimeter, leaving many of the remaining naves of the mosque intact. There are many beautiful instances of gothic pointed arches rising above and supported by finely-decorated Muslim arches. The Christian conquerors from Castile preserved much of the monumental structure they inherited, including the outer walls and the orange-grove garden precincts that lead from the outer walls to the interior prayer spaces.
The monumental size of the structure can easily accommodate the visitors who crowd into its vast and darkened aisles. No matter the number of visitors, upon entering, one leaves the outside world behind. One cannot help but imbibe the spiritual air of both Muslim and Christian religions as you wander among the seemingly endless naves and chapels, here and there finding official points of orientation, at the mihrab (small apse with the qibla facing Mecca) or various Christian altars, but for the most part finding no other spiritual compass within the walls save one’s own. There is room for all here and the spirituality that one brings is awakened and welcomed home. This is a good place.
The people of Cordoba, along the banks of the Guadalquiver River in Spain, have a found a way to cultivate peacefully the best of many religious traditions that have passed their way—old Iberian, Roman, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Besides the monument in stone, Cordoba gave to the world three of its native sons, Seneca, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Moses Maimonides. None of them were conquerors, generals, or statesmen. They were teachers, who, by their lives and writings, showed themselves to be men of wisdom and greatness of soul.
“Let the mind find out what is good for the mind. If a man ever allows his mind some breathing space and has leisure for communing with himself, what truths he will confess to himself, after having been put to the torture by his own self!” (1)
“Whenever we find in the works of our predecessors of former nations a theory about beings and a reflection on them conforming to what the conditions of demonstration require, we ought to study what they said about the matter and what they affirmed in their books. And then should accept from them gladly and gratefully whatever in these books accords with the truth, and draw attention to and warn against what does not accord with the truth, at the same time excusing them.”(2)
“All the great evils, which men cause to each other because of certain intentions, desires, opinions, or religious principles, are likewise due to non-existence, because they originate in ignorance, which is absence of wisdom.” (3)
(1) Seneca, “Of a Happy Life/Book II,” Wikisource , https://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Of_a_Happy_Life/Book_II&oldid=3255948 (accessed July 14, 2017).
(2) Averroes (Ibn Rushd), On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy, trans. George F. Hourani, 1976, chapter 1, http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ir/fasl.htm (accessed July 14, 2017).
(3) Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, trans. M. Friedländer, 1903, part 3, chapter 11, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/index.htm (accessed July 15, 2017).
photo credits: Wikimedia Commons (Seneca monument) and Brother Charles (all others)