Friday 30 October 2009

A bit more about the Moors...

The name of the Moors derives from the ancient Berber tribe of the Mauri and their kingdom, Mauretania, which became a Roman province after its last king Bocchus II willed it to Octavian in 33 BC. Mauretania lay in present day Morocco and Western Algeria. The name of Mauri was applied by the Romans to all non-romanised natives of North Africa still ruled by their own chiefs.

In 711, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, (from whom we have the name “Gibraltar”), the Moors brought most of Spain and Portugal under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. On the eve of the battle, Tariq is alleged to have roused his troops with the following words:

"My brethren, the enemy is before you, the sea is behind; whither would ye fly? Follow your general; I am resolved either to lose my life or to trample on the prostrate king of the Romans."

Surprisingly quickly, Iberia came under their domination. They attempted to move northeast across the Pyrenees but were defeated by the Frank Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. However, with the notable exception of the north west (which was occupied only briefly)and the Basque regions, the Moors ruled Iberia, especially in Al-Andalus where they were to remain a presence until the fall of Granada in 1492.

The north of Iberia (the former "Duchy of Gallaecia") even though nominally conquered, was not the most ideal place for the Moors, who just sent a military force and collected taxes. As had the Romans before them, the Moors did not bother the Astures and Cantabri. But the relative peace was not to last. The Berbers in the north did not like the lands they were given and a rebellion broke out(perhaps they didn’t care for the weather). They repressed by the forces in several battles until the rebellion stopped, but then the Berbers turned against the Astures, claiming higher taxes and setting punishment patrols against their villages. This forced the Astures to start a guerrilla war.

The Moors were driven out of Galicia in 739 by Alfonso I of Asturias. From then on, the kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Asturias until 924, when it became the Kingdom of León. “Almanzor", as we have seen, perhaps recognising the increasing power wielded by those who claimed St. James as their own saint, raised the growing settlement of Compostela to the ground and took back with him the bells and doors of the church. But although he destroyed the shrine, he did nothing to remove the relics. This was not an attempt at invasion per se; it was more of a punitive expedition. As far as Al Mansur was concerned, the north west was getting a bit too big for its boots.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Moorish Threat: Al Mansur...

And so, as Santiago became famous as the conqueror of the Moors, what we need to remember is that at that time during the 10th century, Spain such as we know it now, did not exist. Instead it was a number of small kingdoms: Navarra, Aragon, Leon, Castilla. Most of it was, however, overrun by the Moorish conquerors, most especially, Al Andalus, very loosely, today’s Andalucia. The Caliphate of Córdoba was so powerful as to be a rival to Baghdad. Enter Al-Mansur, also known to the Christians as Almanzor: The Victorious One.

"Al-Mansur" was born Muhammad Ibn Abi Aamir into a noble Arab family. He was not born into the royal circles; in fact he came originally from the strategic port of Algeciras. He eventually arrived at the court of Córdoba as a student studying literature and law. He was an ambitious man and fast rose to power as the manager of the estates of Prince Hisham II and as such he rose to ever increasing positions of influence, ruthlessly eliminating his political rivals along the way. Hisham II became Caliph, but he was only 12 years old. Al-Mansur used his influence and occupied and added to the beautiful new palace on the outskirts of Córdoba called Medina Azahara (Medinat al-Zahra) which can still be seen today. The palace became a city where the royal mint and the administrative quarters of the Caliphate were located. Built by the Caliph Abd al-Rahman III in 940, it is said that his young bride (one of - al-Rahman had hundreds) missed the snows of her native land, and so al-Rahman planted almond trees around the palace so that their blossom in the spring would remind her of her homeland.

Al-Mansur was less romantic. After the death of Al-Rahman III, the heir to the Caliphate, as we have seen, was a mere boy, Hisham. Al-Mansur brought the young ruler under his power so completely that he made him a virtual prisoner in Medina Azahara while Al-Mansur secured his position and carried forward with agendas of his own.

As you can imagine, the court of Córdoba was full of intrigue and Al-Mansur knew that he would have to act ruthlessly if he was to maintain his position of power. This took him into many battles. One of these was in the year 981 when he engaged his last remaining rival, Ghalib Al-Nasiri, in battle. He returned victorious. What was seemingly unimportant to him that the leader of the opposition was his own father-in-law.

Ruthless, as we have said.

Upon his return to Córdoba, he assumed the title Al Mansur bi Allah – Victorious by the grace of God. To the Christians, who had every reason to fear him, he was known as Almanzor.

Al-Mansur’s grip on Al-Andalus was now without challenge. He was absolute ruler. He dedicated himself to military campaigns against the Christian states of the peninsula. He organized and took part in 57 campaigns, and was victorious in all of them. To wage these campaigns against the Christian states, he brought in many Berber mercenaries from what is now Morocco, which upset the political order over time. Although he mainly fought against León and Castilla, in 985 he sacked Barcelona and in 997 he turned his interests towards Compostela.

The church was sacked. He took the doors to use in his navy, and he returned triumphantly with the church bell carried on the back of captured Christian slaves.
The legend says that he spared the tomb of St. James. And this fascinates me. Supposedly he rode into the church upon his horse, but he found a pious monk (perhaps the bishop) in prayer by the side of the tomb who refused to leave the site. Again, legend tells us that he was so taken with this man’s piety that he left the shrine,and the priest, alone.

Now what intrigues me is why would this be? Al Mansur was not known for his mercy. He had attacked Compostela for the simple reason that he knew (and I imagine it hadn’t taken too much for his spies to learn this) that the church contained a rival – and a powerful one at that – to his own beliefs. One which had been promoted as a figurehead to rouse the people of the Christian north against him. It would have been understandable if along with the doors and bells (he burned the new church to the ground) he had returned even more triumphant with the remains of the saint with whom the Christian might of the northern kings had planned to threaten his power.

But he didn’t. Why not?

The compelling thought which grips me is that Al Mansur learned something from this monk; something which enlightened him as to the real remains in the tomb. That is to say, that it did not contain St. James, his nemesis, but someone else. Someone perhaps who posed no threat at all? Someone whose own views were not so dissimilar to those of his own religion. Could he have learned from this monk about Priscillian? We will never know. But there are so many mysteries surrounding this tomb that this is one we should not discount.

Al Mansur was not to enjoy his power for much longer. Within five years he was dead. And a new church was to arise from the ashes of the old one. Supposedly, with its relics still intact.

Monday 12 October 2009

The Cult of St. James Begins...

We have seen that Alfonso II and Bishop Theodemir took an interest in the discovery of a tomb which they claimed must have been St. James. A church was built – not a very impressive one by all accounts. Most texts claim monastic buildings erected there also, although by no means all. Things go on without much ceremony at the simple church for some time. The Battle of Clavijo comes and goes with, or without, St. James depending on whether you want to ignore history or not. Ordoño succeeds Ramiro and then he too passes into that great battle in the sky, or wherever it is that warring kings choose to go. There is then a brief dispute about territory as Alfonso III comes to the throne.

Remember it is Oviedo which is the centre of all the action at this point. Galicia is little more than a troublesome outpost – hard to get at. Count Froila of Galicia makes an appearance here by trying to claim some property belonging to the church at Santiago (we are not told whether this was actually in or near Compostela. Churches used to own property well away from the actual church precincts). Froila is defeated, and after his death the lands are returned to the church. As a mark of “gratitude” to St. James (for being on the right side) Alfonso III sends a jewelled cross to the church of St. James in Compostela which bears the words Hoc Signo Vincitur Inimicus. Just before the Battle of Milvian Bridge,the Roman Emperor Constantine was said to have had a vision in which he saw a cross in the sky. He dreamed that this meant “By this sword you shall conquer”. That the Latin words mean more of less the same, Alfonso clearly intended as a parallel with his golden gift. St. James was to be seen on the side of the righteous and dutiful, not the enemy. This, at a point where the Moors were overrunning the Peninsula and moving north at an accelerated rate, is not a point to be overlooked in our story of how the Cult of St. James began. (This, by the way is the accepted term, not mine.)

There follows a period in which Alfonso and Bishop Sisnando begin to heap rewards on the church of Santiago and the little wattle and daub church is thought not to be grand enough to receive such attention. Alfonso digs deep into his pockets (or whatever they had in those days) and a new and improved church is built, bigger, better. In 899 no less than 17 bishops come to the consecration, one from as far away as Zaragosa. As if St. James’ remains were not enough, Alfonso adds relics from Santas Leocadia, and Eulalia too.

Around about this time there is evidence of a letter written by Alfonso to the clergy of Tours in France, famous for being the burial place of St. Martin. It would appear that a question had come Alfonso’s way: “Who is buried in Galicia?” His response is unequivocal: “Let them know that it is James the son of Zebedee.” The letter makes reference to miracles at the site which would seem to indicate that some pilgrimage on what was later to become the Camino de Santiago had already begun.

What I find intriguing about this letter is that Alfonso seems to be asking for some assistance setting up his relics shop. He asks for more information about St. Martin, (who was a contemporary of Priscillian, not in agreement with Priscillian’s form of Christianity but appalled by the treatment he received. It is St. Martin’s biographer Sulpicius Severus who has provided just about everything you will read about Priscillian with the agreement of the Catholic Church, i.e. not very sympathetic). Alfonso wants details: miracles etc. Fletcher makes the acerbic observation that perhaps Alfonso is “…a man who is still something of a beginner in the business of shrine promotion”.

Yet despite all the fuss surrounding Compostela at this time, Oviedo is still the royal seat and it was characteristic for relics to be translated to more important centres. Oviedo was a “veritable spiritual fortress” at the time (I had the same observation as Fletcher when I visited Braga this year. There are so many relics there that when I saw the word SAN ITARIOS on a wall in the Cathedral it took a minute for it to dawn on me that this was the sign for the toilets. True story! That’s what happens when you get research-obsessed).

Where was I?

Ah yes…I think the point that intrigues me at this point is: why didn’t Alfonso take the remains to Oviedo to add to his collection? That is what kings in those days did. Alfonso III didn’t.

Why not?

Sunday 4 October 2009

Competition Winners...!

Congratulations to Maggie Croft of New Zealand, and "Sillydoll" of South Africa for being the first to identify the mystery picture as being a detail of the wonderful cross-section model of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the Museo das Peregrinaciónes in that city.

If you haven't been to the Museo, and especially if you are on your way to Fisterre and have time for only one museum, don't miss the Museo das Peregrinaciónes. It's full of fascinating stuff (the models alone are worth the visit), in my opinion far better than the cathedral museum (staff who actually know what they are talking about), and best of all, it's free!

I vowed almost 8 years ago that I would bring Priscillian the bishop and the story of the injustices surrounding his life and execution to the notice of as many people as I possibly could. Very shortly he and his message will be winging their way to two more places in the south hemisphere. I am always absolutely astonished at the locations visitors to this site come from: everywhere from Virginia to Vanuatu. It is truly a wonderful reward for a lot of hard work put into researching and writing Pilgrimage to Heresy, and also very gratifying for me and The Blog Dog to see that so many of you are enjoying my posts. Thank you for your super comments and keep them coming!

Saturday 3 October 2009

Don't Drop the Dishes...!

A Farewell to Banned Books Week 2009

In the United States, Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1872. Using slogans such as “Morals, not art and literature,” he convinced Congress to pass a law, thereafter known as the “Comstock Law,” banning the mailing of materials found to be “lewd, indecent, filthy or obscene.” Comstock is estimated to have confiscated 120 tons of printed works. 3,500 people were prosecuted although only about 350 were convicted. Books banned included many classics: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (in which the Wife of Bath has walked the Camino de Santiago, The Arabian Nights, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Contemporary authors whose works were subsequently censored under the Comstock Law include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo, D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill and many others whose works are now deemed to be classics of literature.

Paul Boyer, in Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age, writes that the Comstock Law only formalized what had been a “gentleman’s agreement” among publishers, booksellers and librarians upholding a type of Victorian “code” of literary propriety. Nationally publicised trials over such novels as James Joyce’s Ulysses, began to erode this. Boyer says that the terrifying specter of the Nazi book-burnings in Germany in 1933 crystallised anti-censorship sentiment in the United States. So much so that within a short time after the book-burnings in Germany, the landmark federal court decision in United States v. One Book Called "Ulysses" clearing Ulysses broke the back of the Comstock Law.

Nevertheless perhaps with the increased interesting in Fundamentalism in the U.S. classic works such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men were among the top 10 most frequently challenged books from 1990 to 2000, according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Of the 448recorded challenges in 2001 (down from 646 in 2000), the most often challenged were those in the Harry Potter series, for its focus on wizardry and magic and “Satanic influence.” Shel Silverstein’s delightful book of children’s poems A Light in the Attic was challenged in the 1980’s because it 'encourages children to break dishes so they won't have to dry them'.*

So as we stand today Pope Benedict may not approve of Peregrinos de la Herejía with its Gnostic content, but there is little he is likely to do about it while I could still be excommunicated by the American Book Banning Boys.

Funny Ole World, innit

* Parents Discretion Warning (with tongue firmly imbedded in cheek)
Could lead to the serious de-stabilisation of the "caregiver"/child hierarchical structure...
from A Light in the Attic, my second favourite book of poems for children of any age. My favourite is Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends...

How not to dry the dishes

If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
('Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor-
Maybe they won't let you
Dry dishes anymore.

Shel Silverstein

Thursday 1 October 2009

Book Banning History Continued...

In days gone by, of course, destroying a book, generally by burning, was an easy matter. If a book was thrown into the fire and it burned it was ipso facto "heretical". Books were printed by hand and fabulously expensive. Burning all copies meant that no-one was ever able to read them again. Many were hidden, especially, with Pilgrimage to Heresy in mind, in Egypt, and the Nag Hammadi "Gospels", the "Gospel of Judas", and the Dead Sea Scrolls are also cases in point.

With the invention of the printing press however, book burning was more symbolic than practical and it became more and more difficult to destroy the ideas and the books themselves.

Within 40 years of Gutenberg’s invention – when most of the printed books had been printed and sold in Germany – an archbishop complained to the town hall for censorship of “dangerous materials”. Henry VIII required printers to submit all manuscripts to church authorities and outlawed all imported publications in 1529.

In 1535, Francis I of France issued an edict prohibiting ALL publications. So it is not surprising to find the Catholic church issuing the Index Librorum Prohibitum (the Index of Forbidden Books) in 1559 in reaction to the spread of Protestantism and scientific enquiry. The Index continued until 1966 when Pope Paul VI terminated the publication. Still, literally 1000’s of books remain on the list.

It was thought up until the end of the 19th century that none of Priscillian’s works remained. However, the Würzburg Tractates were discovered by Georg Schepps in 1885 and published at the Vienna Corpus in 1886. While the jury is still out on whether or not Priscillian wrote all of the tractates there is a general consensus amongst scholars that the First Tractate is of his authorship. What we read contrasts alarmingly with the entries in the Catholic Encyclopaedia and the like, all of which is based on Sulpicius Severus the biographer of St. Martin, and none of which is very flattering. Severus is thought to have obtained his information for Hydacius, Priscillian`s chief accuser. This seriously biased “disinformation” has sullied Priscillian’s reputation ever since.

Next year a much awaited (by me and several of my readers) translation of the Tractates will be available in English. Up to this point if you want to know his religious viewpoints your have to be fluent in Latin or German. This new translation should encourage new interest in this deeply spiritual and charismatic man. And at least the work won’t be in the Index! Though I am not sure about the United States (hopefully only a joke but read on.)

Manifesto for Open Minds...

To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you're afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you're afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you're afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.