Cordoba Mosque Cathedral - Bells of Santiago

The bells of Santiago

by Lawrence Boheme

Before the 18th century's "enlightened" philosophers existed, with their humanistic ideas, there was no ideological precedent which made a virtue of tolerance and respect for other beliefs than one's own - something which is all too often forgotten in our guilt-ridden, altruistically-minded times. Medieval people, of all religions, were alternately fanatical and pragmatic, as the situation demanded, but never broad-minded in the liberal, relativist sense of the word. Such a thing was impossible in the Middle Ages, simply because the idea that there could be more than one "truth" did not exist. Equality, as conceived at the time of the French Revolution, is above all a political convention, not a biological fact.

Therefore, in spite of lengthy peaceful interludes and economically-motivated episodes of laissez-faire, there was generally, in the 800-year long war between Spain's Christians and Muslims, an uninhibited desire to cause as much harm and humiliation to one's adversary as possible. This explains many of the apparently irrational acts which took place - perfectly illustrated by the story of how the huge bells of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela were dragged 500 miles south to Cordoba and then all the way back again.

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.