THE TWILIGHT OF MOORISH SPAIN by DAVID NICOLLE
THE TWILIGHT OF MOORISH SPAIN
THE CHRISTIAN KINGDOMS BEFORE 1480
Long before the fall of Granada in ] 492, Castilian ambitions were growing and already looked beyond the Iberian peninsula. Dreams of conquering Morocco, for example, stretched back as far as the 13th century.
The struggle against Islam within Spain and Portugal was, of course, far older. It was political as well as religious, and the centuries of what is now called the Reconquista gave Spanish Christianity a warlike character.
The Reconquista also resulted in a powerful Marian Cult in the frontier regions, with captured mosques often being rededicated to the Virgin Mary, often in association with other saints.
The Virgin was also believed to be present during battles against the Moors, as the Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of Iberia were then called.
In the conquered territories, new churches and monasteries were also built over old ribdts, the places where devout Muslims lived a religious life and fought for their faith.
Similarly, new Christian saints ‘took over from previous Muslim holy men, and as a result Moors and mu.dejars (Muslims living under Christian rule) might revere a Christian shrine on the grounds that its saint was ‘a relative of the Prophet Muhammad’.
In complete contrast to this blurring of religious identities, the 15th century saw growing intolerance towards Muslims, Jews and above all ‘heretics’ throughout Spain. As a result, both the Inquisition, which came to Spain in 1478 and the war against Granada was widely popular.
Religious persecution also had a political purpose, with the rulers of Castile and Aragon using the Inquisition as a tool to impose modern concepts of national unity. The first to feel the heat were the Convn:ws, mostly Jewish families which had converted to Christianity in earlier decades but retained various distinctive social habits.
Only later did the . Jews themselves and the Muslims become direct targets of official persecution. Given this feverish atmosphere and the unfinished business of the Reconquista, it is hardly surprising that the defeat of the Moors featured prominently in popular Spanish culture.
In Andalusia re-enactments of the triumph of Christianity often ended with the actor playing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad being thrown into the village mountain, while the diabolical and sexual perversions attributed to Muslims fuelled fear and hatred.
The area of Castile most immediately involved in this struggle was Andalusia. The fertile Guadalquivir valley with the once Islamic cities of Cordoba and Seville had never really recovered from Christian conquest in the J 1th century and it remained underpopulated following largescale expulsions of the original Muslim inhabitant, although a large Muslim minority of· 11111.rlr’.Jrn: 1·emained. At the top of the social tree were