February 26, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Renaissance Church: The reconquest of Spain

John F. Fink(Fourth in a series of columns)

For this series of columns, let’s leave the Renaissance popes for a while to see what else was going on in the world that affected the Church during the 15th century. First, we’ll go to Spain and back up a few centuries.

The Muslims had conquered Spain in the eighth century, and then moved north into France before Charles Martel stopped their advance in 732. They retreated back to Spain, where they ruled benevolently for several centuries. At the beginning of the 11th century, though, the Muslim dynasty that was tolerant of Christians and Jews as “People of the Book” faced opposition from more extreme Muslims from Morocco—the Berbers.

Christians escaped to the northwest of Spain where there were still Christian communities. It was precisely at this time, too, that those Christian communities began to consolidate into kingdoms and slowly advanced south as part of the Reconquista—the reconquest.

Of all the Spanish heroes of the time, the man most chronicled was Rodrigo Diaz, known as El Cid—from the Arabic al-sayyid meaning “the lord.” Both Christian and Muslim writers praised him because at times he fought for the Christians, and at other times for the Muslims.

In 1085, Alfonso VI of Castile established a Christian kingdom with Toledo as its capital. But then the Muslims called in the Almoravids, who defeated Alfonso in 1085 and, four years later, established their kingdom. They were succeeded by even more repressive Muslims, the Almohads.

In 1198, Pope Innocent III began his reign as pope. While he was pope, the Christians in 1212 won a great victory at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. After that, the Muslim cities fell like dominoes—Cordoba in 1236, Valencia in 1238, Seville in 1248.

Finally, Granada was the only taifa (city-state) the Muslims had left. The Christians awarded this taifa to the Nasr family because of its invaluable assistance in the battle for Cordoba. The Nasrids continued to rule Granada for the next 256 years. It was during that time that they built the magnificent Alhambra, still today one of the most popular tourist sites in Spain.

Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married and united their kingdoms in 1469. They thought it their religious duty to rid Spain of Muslims and Jews. In 1492, they marched to the Alhambra dressed in Moorish clothes. There, Muhammad XII handed over the keys to the last Muslim stronghold. Spain was once again a Catholic country.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Monarchs, as Ferdinand and Isabella were called, were not as tolerant as the earlier Muslims had been. By royal decree, any Muslims or Jews who refused to convert to Christianity were expelled from the country. It has been estimated that, of approximately 80,000 Jews in the country, about half chose emigration. About 40,000 were baptized during the three months before the deadline.

The Spanish Inquisition, under the direct control of the monarchy, was established to root out Jews and Muslims who were insincere in their conversion. Estimates of those killed by the Inquisition range from 2,000 to 5,000. †

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