July 2019

El Canto Jondo : The Medieval Culture of Granada, Spain

     These days, diversity and discrimination are a core focus of protests that often spill into public streets; unfortunately, local festivities sometimes become a hub of political turmoil. Although free speech is society’s most impressive tool of expression, opponents typically resort to censorship to dominate and oppress rival groups. In the ancient world, however, lay people could not usually resolve such issues through the arduous efforts of protest and public denouncement. July’s Tortosa Festival, for instance -- linked to the Suffragan Doicese -- developed in Northeast Spain after the Visigoths and Moors declined in Aragon. Although Tortosa’s brightly lit streets are fluid with spectacular Renaissance-styled costumes and festive music each July, we may not be fully aware of the steep internal political conflict that once rocked and devastated the peace of this charming Northeastern city throughout the middle ages and beyond. Even though this month’s discussion emphasizes the controversy surrounding medieval conflict, the Avignon Papacy is only one example of the devastating effects corrupt leadership brings. This review’s aim is to explore a society’s dissention when rendered powerless by an oppressive entity; the focus highlights peaceful options that counteract the negative effects of such forces.

     If there is any culture that best reveals a turbulent love-hate struggle with oppressive authority and race discrimination, Andalusia’s history resonates with calamity and loss, for its timeless battle against internal socio-political turmoil sets it wide apart from other European centres. This is not to say that Granada’s culture is not one of the most diverse, sensitive, yet paradoxical entities that exist on earth today: it most certainly sparks with emotional depth and controversy. Part of this diversity is due to the rich archaeological findings in Andalusia, Spain which indicate that the Phoenicians and Greeks inhabited this region long before the Roman Empire ever existed. Perhaps the controversy began during the Roman Empire, with the scandal of Simon of Cyrene, a Jew who walked behind Jesus, carrying His Cross in Jerusalem, 30 BCE. The connection between Christ, the historical founding of the Tortosa Diocese, the theology of Tortosa, and the human condition in medieval Andalusia is unmistakeable and overwhelming.

     From a historical perspective, documentation supporting the Passion of Christ exposes much controversy. As the Passion of Christ occurred during a century long expulsion of the Jews from Egypt, historical records authenticate Simon’s presence in Jerusalem at that time, although his origin city – Cyrene, North Africa – may be purely fictional. In addition to documentation, the Gospel accounts of Saints Matthew, Luke, Paul, and Mark each independently construct the controversy surrounding the Crucifixion. However, each Gospel differs in perspective. For instance, Matthew places much emphasis on the coerciveness of the Romans into having Simon carry Christ’s Crucifix, whereas Luke stresses the violent brutality of the Romans’ treatment of Christ as they force Simon into the role of Cross bearer.

     On the other hand, Saint John omits Simon from the event entirely. However, despite these variances, it is Paul’s letter to the Romans [Epistle to the Romans] that precisely links Saint Rufus to the underlaying theology of Christ’s suffering. In fact, Paul implicates that the Passion of Christ event is key to Christian theology. But the controversy surrounding Saint Rufus and the culture of Granada did not end there.

     Although Saragossa was reconquered from the Moors in 1118, medieval tradition and legend still asserted that the old Tortosa Diocese originated in the fourth century, before the Visigoths ever took control of Europe. The actual identity of Saint Rufus is another controversy. Despite some confusion Roman archives create by dating the start of Tortosa Diocese to the fourth century, it appears that its first founder and bishop remain more mysterious. For example, Lirioso, (364) Heros, (c. 400), and Urso (516) all surface as the first diocese bishops. On the other hand, oral traditions and scholarly texts reveal it was Saint Paul who founded the diocese, and pin point Saint Rufus as its first bishop.

     Contrarily, if Saint Rufus really was the first bishop of the Tortosa Diocese, then it may go back as far as the third century or earlier, for Saint Paul, c. 4 BCE-c. 63 AD, addresses Rufus as the son of Simon in his own letters. It is highly likely that some archives indicate entirely different Saints; several died before the third century. Furthermore, the Roman Martyrology records at least ten saints with the same name: the most logical chronological match is Saint Rufus, bishop of the Archdiocese of Avignon, 70 AD. However, Rufus is asserted by legend, not documented proof. In an exposition of oral traditions, a scholarly monograph [Viaje Literario, Vol. V] only puts forth enough evidence to show that the first abbot of the Tortosa Diocese after the reconquest of Tortosa from the Moors in 1148 was Godfrey. In the Renaissance, the diocese became known as the Suffragan of Tarragon.

     After the fall of the Roman Empire, and throughout the Dark Ages, Spain, and especially Andalusia, confronted many a socio-political conflict. Between the fifth and seventh centuries, the Visigoths seized control of Europe. Euric, a Visigoth king, seized Tarragon in 475 and destroyed it. In 516, Archbishop John assembled the bishops of the province and held a provincial Council of Tarragon in Catalonia, Spain. In 719, the Arabs occupied Tarragon and seized control from the Visigoths.

     More controversy followed with the conquest of Spain by the Castilian prince of Valencia, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1043-1099), who grew up serving the son of Ferdinand I, Sancho II. Although de Vivar fought for the Muslim kingdom of Al-Andaluz and worked under Sancho II and Alfonso VI, he apparently shunned his own aristocratic roots. Today, de Vivar is best known for his controversial psychological approach to political conflict and deep interest in Classical Roman and Greek military history. People of all social tenets worshipped de Vivar when he lived.

     The Valencian prince who fought so valiantly for his royal overlords against his brutally harsh landscape left behind a legacy of chivalric heroism. Toward the end of the Muslim period, in 1081, after serving the son of Ferdinand I, Sancho II, de Vivar paid service and vassalage to the Moorish king of the Northeastern city of Al-Andaluz, Saragossa – then, the province of the Umayyad Caliphate. De Vivar, whose army included a mix of Christian and Muslim loyalties, often conducted military raids against the enemy, Aragon.

     It seems that de Vivar was no stranger to victory or tragedy, for he took on the name “El Campeador”, and tales of his adventures resound an intently emotional tone. His approach in his career was based on Classical themes of war as the Greeks and Romans described – with much violence. In 1090, de Vivar defeated and captured Berenguer in the Battle of Tébar and conquered Valencia; he released Berenguer so that his nephews could marry de Vivar’s daughters and guarantee future safety. Despite de Vivar’s numerous victories, after the Battle of Cabra against Islamic Granada and Seville in 1079, he held Christians captive for three days and angered Alfonso VI enough to make him abruptly end de Vivar’s service.

     The heroic literary legacy that De Vivar left behind when he died of dehydration during an Almoravid counterbalances the violence of the fall of Islamic Europe and the subsequent Reconquest. De Vivar’s legacy includes his second and eighth swords, Tizona and Colada, respectively, which he naively gifted to his new sons-in-law. When the men beat the young girls unconscious and abandoned them in a wild bush, de Vivar demanded the swords be returned. De Vivar sensitively narrated many of these bittersweet adventures in his poem, El Cantar de Mio Cid.

     It appears that the sombre tone of Grenada’s cultural expression is the psychological product of its tragic history. Perhaps de Vivar’s life and legacy aptly expresses the spirit typical of the musical Cante Jondo, (deep, emotional song) or duende, in Andalusian art. Where a muse represents an angel’s attempt to sugar-coat notions of danger and death to make life appear benign and light, the duende instead confronts an elevated consciousness of death, along with a mix of dark, illogical thoughts and feelings – passion – as well as crudity, and malevolence.Despite the raw brutalities of clashing authoritative powers in early medieval Spain, artists and architects strove to find inner peace and express it from within their own personal margins, just as de Vivar did.

     The Aljafería Palace effectively expresses the native Gothic style of Mudéjar art -- a collaboration of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic styles. Without a peaceful and harmonic coexistence between these three focal cultures, such a style could not have evolved, especially when Muslims continued to practise their own religious habits after the Spanish Reconquest.The Aljafería Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in central Saragossa, Aragon, is a defensive, 11th century fortress castle built under the Taifa of Zaragoza in Al-Andalus. Its quadrangular plan opens into the courtyard of Santa Isabel, which is surrounded by various open rooms. The palace structure includes circular and rectangular towers, and numerous Islamic architectural features that incorporate formal techniques with precious materials, such as a coffered roof, decorous carved plasterwork, and ancient recycled marble columns.

     Another example includes the horseshoe arch in the Golden Hall of the Taifal Palace by the east bedroom door. This structure features the famous yeserias, a carved plaster method the Moors used after the Spanish Reconquest. The decorous technique included geometric shapes and Islamic motifs, such as curled leaves and flowers. Other examples of such craftsmanship are evident at the Alhambra and the Córdoba Synagogues. Most important, the palace includes a mosque at the east entrance portico to Golden Hall, as well as the Chapel of San Martín, which consists of two naves of three sections each, supported by two semi-columned pillars. One pillar depicts the King of Aragon’s shield of arms in the portal spandrels.

     Although the Moorish rule lasted until 1148, it weakened after Sancho the Great’s victories and prompt establishment of bishoprics. Mosques were purified, re-dedicated to the Saviour, and an Episcopal See – Lo Seo -- was established. What led Alfonso to take such sudden radical steps? Whatever the case, during the episcopate of 1135, more controversy began over the rightful title of the cathedral between the canons of the Pillar and canons of the Saviour.

     Nevertheless, despite the Roman and Avignon Papacy As for provincial authority in Saragossa, it was not until 1318, after an intently oppressive period, that Pope John XXII finally granted the See of Saragossa a metropolitan faction. From then on, for more than a century, only royal princes would occupy the Holy See (Lo Seo) throughout the controversial Avignon Papacy. That is not to say that royalty has always held a politically correct stance. In this case, the medieval Avignon Papacy ruled as one of the most evil, heretic, and false leaderships the world has ever known.

     Multiple unresolved conflicts throughout medieval Spain’s diverse leaderships ultimately led to centuries of administrative and political chaos. When the Moors conquered Spain, the Tortosa Diocese fell into disuse; however, when Christians reconquered Tortosa in 1148, its popularity and culture again thrived. Nevertheless, centuries after Abbot Godfrey founded his awe-inspiring monastery, Saragossa became a persistent hub of tension during the Avignon anti-popes’ notorious leadership, better known as the Great Western Schism, a period during which Europe witnessed high death tolls. So, what were some controversial issues that adulterated peace and ultimately infected much of Europe?

     Essentially, the conflicts were the election of new popes, and jurisdiction: should the Papacy rule from Avignon (France, Aragon, Castile and León, Cyprus, Burgundy, Savoy, Naples, Scotland) or Rome? (Denmark, England, Flanders, the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Republic of Venice) The Great Western Schism of the Renaissance, 1378-1417, must not be confused with the medieval 1054 Schism, which focused on dual Christian theologies: Western Christianity formed as distinct from Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Some 1054 disputes included the real nature of the Holy Ghost, proper choice of bread for the Eucharist, and most significant, the appropriate extent of the Pope’s jurisdiction. This latter dispute spilled over into the Great Western Schism, which was a purely political conflict within the Western Catholic Church.

     Two separate, rival courts of Boniface IX at Rome, and Benedict XIII at Avignon, temporarily solved that dilemma. But the dual reign increased the propensity for greed and corruption; leaders became overly obstinate, thereby making papal elections impossible. Rome would not recognize Avignon popes, and Avignon would not accept Rome’s popes. Yet, both papacies strove to end the Schism as peacefully and amicably as possible, even though it took a great deal of thought and planning to take appropriate action without resorting to violence.

     It was not until 1414 that John XXIII finally took the initiative to resolve the conflict between election legitimacy and jurisdiction once and for all. The Council of Constance met in Pisa; there, John XXIII and Pope Gregory XII both tendered their resignations for 1415. Simultaneously, the Council excommunicated the anti-pope Benedict XIII because he refused to resign. In 1417, Martin V was the newly elected pope, and the Great Western Schism was officially over.

     To conclude, although by 1135 Sancho the Great had turned his dream of an Aragon Empire into a reality, the Iberian Peninsula still had become very fractured and divided. His emphasis seemed to be on division rather than unity; Sancho also divided land between his sons in a will. Though the Spanish Monarchy was powerful, it still lacked the unified strength required to maintain its autonomy and diversity. In 1452, Nicholas V issued a bull, dum diversas, authorizing Alfonso V to capture Saracens and pagans into servitude. The desire to rid land of infidels after the Portuguese discovered land along the West African coast perpetuated a new papal bull in 1456. In 1492, Granada surrendered to the Spanish crown, and by 1502, all Muslims had to give up their faith as well and convert to Western Christianity or face deportation from Spain.

     Although these bulls had not yet led to physical violence, these measures were extremely violent. What countries today best express the strength of their national identity through diversity rather than homogeneity? This is the question that instructors and students must examine to understand the dynamics of a unified cultural identity. Sadly, despite Andalusia’s diverse demography of Muslims, Gypsies, Jews, West Africans, and Castilians today – it is still very much a region where ordinary and special people alike experience discrimination and hatred daily. Once a thriving culture of peace, multi-ethnicity, and multiplicity, these papal bulls left a profound effect on the population for centuries to come.