Save the Great Mosque Cordoba
The Mezquita, or Great Mosque ofCórdoba, was for centuries a symbol of diversity and tolerance in the southern Spanish city and has long been one of Europe’s most admired historical monuments.
However recently the Catholic Church has secretly been taking steps to take it out of public hands.
The Mezquita has long been revered not just as a remarkable piece of architecture, but also one with a unique history.
The Emir Abdul Rahman I started construction of the Great mosque in 785 on the site of the old Visigoth Church. Up until that point it had been used as a shared place of worship between the Muslims and Christians. The church was then legally purchased by Abdul Rahman I who then started the construction of this masterpiece of architecture, the largest Mosque in its time.
When Christian forces conquered the city in the 13th century, they immediately converted the mosque to a church and later built a cathedral in the centre of the mosque.
Today, visitors can wander through dozens of the mosque’s horseshoe arches before reaching the cathedral, where Mass is still held. Only Christians are allowed to use the cathedral-mosque as a place of worship.
However, it has emerged that the local archbishopric is in the process of registering itself as the sole owner of the entire building – which is public property – a move that will be irreversible by 2016. Many in the city believe this is part of an effort by the Córdoba Catholic authorities to suppress the monument’s Islamic identity.
“The Mezquita is a global symbol of the meeting of cultures and today more than ever the world needs symbols like this,” said Antonio Manuel Rodríguez, a professor of civil law at the University of Córdoba.
Concern among Muslims
The prospect of the building, which is still an important Islamic symbol around the world, becoming the property of the Catholic Church has also upset Muslims.
“It’s a historical heritage belonging to all Spaniards,” saidIsabel Romero, director of the Islamic Junta, which represents Muslims inSpain. “It’s very strange that it should pass into private hands.”
Ms Romero said this was the latest of many efforts by the church, which manages the Mezquita, to eliminate the building’s Muslim identity.
In 2010, the archbishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández, publicly called for the word “mosque” to be removed from tourist-related references to the building, “to avoid confusing visitors”, a request that has been obeyed. Tourism brochures describe it as “Córdoba Cathedral”. Its website address contains the word “cathedral”, but not the word “mosque”.
“Any attempt to wipe out the identity of the Mezquita is an attack on us Muslims,” Ms Romero said.
Mr González attributed the controversy to an attempt by the extreme left to stir up hostility against the church.
Beacon of tolerance
All of this is a far cry from the period when Córdoba was a beacon of multi-faith tolerance, with Muslims living peacefully alongside Jews and Christians.
The building is UNESCO world heritage site and should remain in public hands as it belongs to the world community as do other such structures. It would be a monumental tragedy if the church was allowed to take ownership of the Great mosque of Cordoba.