We have so much to be grateful for and for which to offer thanks. I am so grateful for the time that I have had in Spain and all that I have seen and learned. I am terribly grateful for my family and our church and for their letting me spend this time abroad. I have tried to make the most of each day.
I have 24 more hours in Seville, before traveling to Toledo where I will study Spanish intensively for five days. At this point, I am studying four hours each day with a professor one-on-one, which is the very best way to learn. I listen to Spanish on the radio or on television, read books and the newspaper, write a four-page paper each day which my professor corrects and I later recopy, study some grammar and try to do at least one cultural thing a day.
Today, I visited the Inquisition Museum here in Seville. It is not one of the top ten sites, but it’s well worth a visit. Seville, Toledo and Granada were three of the places in Spain where the Inquisition was strongest. The Inquisition also existed in France, Italy, Germany and other countries, but its worst excesses occurred in Spain. I walked through the old castle lining the River Gaudalquivir, where the Chief Inquisitor used to live.
I strolled past the cells where men and women were held captive by the Church, were charged with being heretics or witches and were tortured until they confessed often to heresies and matters that they never committed. It was the Church at its very worst.
Yesterday, I travelled to Cordoba for the day, which until about six years ago was the only province in all of Spain to be governed by the Communist Party. Today, it’s leadership leans more toward the right, because of the economic crisis plaguing Spain.
Cordoba is a wonderful, ancient city and a place of enormous learning. I did not know until recently that Cordoba is where the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides, the renowned Muslim philosopher Averroes and the great Latin writer Seneca were born. These are among the greatest thinkers of the Western world, and all three were born in Cordoba, which is not a very large city.
I toured the synagogue and was astounded to learn that this synagogue, which was built in 1311, is one of only three synagogues from the Middle Ages to survive in Spain. The other two are in Toledo. I have toured one of these earlier in my trip. Jews in Cordoba came under tremendous pressure in 1391, when they were accused of spreading the plague. They were given the option to convert or leave Spain.
Those who converted were known as “conversos.” Those who converted, but continued to practice Judaism secretly were called “marranos,” a pejorative term. The great Jewish philosopher Spinoza was a marrano. I toured the synagogue and then a Sephardic museum, which was constructed in and above the mikvah (a site for Jewish purification baths for women) next to the synagogue that was formerly connected through a series of underground tunnels.
This was one of the most interesting museums that I have visited in Spain. I learned more about Judaism in this museum in the nearly two hours that I spent there than I have learned in the same amount of time anywhere. Nearby, there is a statue of Maimonides. It is said that “Between Moses and Moses there was no Moses.” Maimonides is considered the second Moses, signifying that there has never been as powerful a Jewish thinker as Moses until Maimonides came along and wrote his “Guide for the Perplexed,” which is one of the great treatises of Western thought.
Maimonides and his family fled from Cordoba in 1391 when it was evident that being a Jew in Cordoba was a great risk. They moved to a variety of cities before Maimonides settled in Cairo, which is where he died. During my visit to the Sephardic Museum, my eyes were opened wider to the enormous pain and suffering that Jews worldwide have experienced while almost always being a minority in a Christian or Muslim world.
In 1492, Columbus discovered America, and Seville was given the sole access to trading routes with the new land. Hence every trading company of any size in all of Europe created a branch office in Seville and the city’s population grew with incredible speed. That same year Granada fell as the last city in Spain to be controlled by Muslims. The “Re-conquest of Spain” was over. Christians controlled the whole land. In that same year, King Fernand of Aragon and Queen Isabel the Catholic expelled all Jews and Muslims from Spain in an attempt to “purify” the country. Jews fled to other parts of Europe and beyond. To this day, Spain has a very small Jewish population.
I studied Averroes somewhat in college and was amazed to be walking the same streets and visiting the same neighborhoods in which intellectual giants like Averroes, Maimonides and Seneca once lived, studied and wrote. Averroes is credited with translating Plato and Aristotle from Arabic into Latin. The West had lost these great writings, but thanks to Averroes they once again had access to these intellectual powerhouses. Averroes’ translations of Aristotle in particular had a major impact on the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great.
I ate my best meal in Spain after visiting the Sephardic museum at “La Fragua.” I literally ate bull, which was the best dish I have eaten in three months of wonderful Spanish food. The restaurant was rustic with tables fashioned from old tree stumps and an old stove in the corner and an empty paint can sitting near the stove. The food was divine. Regretfully, I chose a different restaurant for dinner so that I could watch the Real Madrid soccer game. The game was fun, but the food paled by comparison.
In the afternoon I visited the mosque, which was converted into a Christian worship site when a cathedral was built in the middle of the mosque. It is one of the most interesting sites in all of Spain. The mihrab, which signifies the direction to Mecca and hence the direction in which Muslims must face to prostrate themselves and pray, was ornate and stunning. I love beautiful Arab architecture and art. Muslims are forbidden to depict human beings and animals in their art. Their designs are thus otherworldly and often involve Arabic letters and plant-life found in Muslim countries.
It was fascinating to be in ancient city where Christians, Jews and Muslims once got along well and learned from one another. I find this to be a compelling vision of how the world should be today. We must find ways to embrace the differences that others share with us and not to fear one another’s differences.
In the afternoon I toured the home where Julio Romero de Torres was born and died. He has become one of my two favorite painters in all of Spain, along with Velasquez. I bought a book about Torres so that I had study his life and his paintings, because they utterly fascinate me and they capture Andalusian life and culture unlike any other artwork that I have seen.
Afterwards, I toured the alcazar or castle which overlooks the city and protects it. It was dark and fascinating to walk around the castle virtually alone. My final event of the day was to take in the equestrian show in honor of our daughter, Marguerite, who loves to ride horses and is excellent at it. These horses literally danced to flamenco music. They were graceful beyond imagination. It was just one more fantastic aspect of the Andalusian culture which I find utterly compelling.
May we continue to count our blessing and give thanks to God for all that we have and all that we are.
With love and prayers,