Granada City - What happened to the Moors of Granada?

What happened to the Moors of Granada?

by Lawrence Bohme

In the earlier stages of the Reconquest, the Moors who remained in the Christian zone - known generically as mudéjares, from the Arabic for “those allowed to stay” - were traditionally given internal freedom to practice Islam and Koranic law, although their rights were steadily whittled away with time, to the point that the term came to mean nothing more than the style practiced by craftsmen and builders of Moorish origin. But by 1492, when Granada was taken,the situation was quite different in that the Christians now were the only masters of Spain and determined to rid the land of heathens once and for all. During the first years,while the Christian presence in Granada was still numerically very small,the subjugated Moors were allowed to practice their religion and lead their Islamic way of life, as they had been promised in the treaty of surrender by Isabel and Ferdinand, in these unambiguous terms: “It is established and agreed that no Moorish man or woman shall be forced to become a Christian - Es asentado y acordado que ningún moro o mora non haga fuerza a que se torne cristiano ni cristiana”. It is said to have been both the most generous surrender treaty in history, and the one which was broken fastest. Plainly, the Monarchs did not think that lying to non-Christians was a sin, and it soon became clear that they only intended to maintain this arrangement until they were able to quell an uprising. It was one thing to take the Alhambra, but another to become master of the Albaicin! At first, a priest whose intentions were more sincere, Friar Hernando de Talavera, had his missionaries learn Arabic in order to gradually persuade the Moors to convert,demonstrating to them the superiority of Christianity and thus hoping to integrate them pacifically to European society. To win their hearts, he even let them sing and dance their native zambra in the churches, after hearing Mass.

This method was obviously very slow, and during the years which followed the conquest, Talavera only got sparse results. His undertaking came suddenly to a stop when the Monarchs returned to Granada in 1499, followed by the Queen’s confessor, the dreaded Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo and future General Inquisitor. This austere figure was horrified to see that the moros were still being allowed to worship Mohammed, and wanted to halt Talavera's work immediately and force them to convert. The cynical philosopy of the churchmen was that even if the first generation of converts would not be sincere, the following ones would - or, as the Jesuits later put it,“a Catholic until six, always a Catholic”. The obstacle was a legal one, since the famous treaty guaranteed them their religious freedom, and it was feared that any infringement would lead to an uprising.

Cisneros therefore chose to interpret the provisions in his own way, and began to whittle away at the weakest points. He demanded that the Muslims who had originally been Christians but had converted to Islam should now return to their original faith. The handful of elches or renegade Christians created an uproar and everyone felt threatened by what was seen as a clear betrayal of the treaty, sparking the famous battle cry which went up at the Gate of Bab-al-Bonoud in 1499.

This “rebellion of the mudéjares” gave the partisans of Cisneros the pretext they needed to demand that all the Moors should be converted under military supervision. There was panic in the city's mosques, which the decree had transformed overnight into churches, and one description which has come down to us paints a pathetic scene in which the Moors’confusion was such that when, before being doused with holy water, they were asked what Christian name they wanted, the men might answer “Maria” and the women “José”.