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Rituals of Victory: The Role of Liturgy in the Consecration of Mosques in the Castilian Expansion over Islam from Eleventh to Thirteenth Centuries

Department of Medieval History, Faculty of Geography and History, Complutense University of Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain
Religions 2022, 13(5), 379;
Received: 19 January 2022 / Revised: 28 March 2022 / Accepted: 4 April 2022 / Published: 20 April 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Liturgy in the Middle Ages)


Scholarly work on the conquest of Muslim cities in the so-called Castilian Reconquista has focused largely on political consequences rather than conquest rituals. Against the previous background, this article turns attention toward civil and religious rituals associated with the Christian conquest of Muslim cities as an expression of triumph. Among these rituals, the conversion of the congregational mosques has been discussed in chronicles and liturgical books that reveals the role of liturgy to understand both appropriation and sacralization of the mosque to remove these places from Muslim control, restoring the Christian faith in the new churches. These rituals are an evident legacy of Roman law modified in late antiquity, and this paper’s main aim is to highlight the re-use of preexisting Church consecration ceremonies gathered in the Roman Pontifical in order to clean up the “Mohammedan filth” applied to post-Reconquista churches.

1. Introduction

The Castilian expansion was a military response to Islam—justified by Reconquista ideology—that drove the kings to enlarge their kingdoms, restoring the ancient Visigoth dioceses under the Muslim rule (Lomax 1978, p. 76). It has also been argued that this Reconquista ideology was essentially a political enterprise later transformed into Holy war after the Council of Burgos of 1080, when Alfonso VI established an agreement with the Cluniacs (Catarino 1980, pp. 82–109; Ruiz 1985). Despite this ideology, Christians and Muslims rulers continued to collaborate with each other as diplomatic partners and military allies. However, it appears evident that the potential for Castilian Christians to engage in combat against Islam increased the moment popes supported the Crusades. The account of these victories over Islam were the base of medieval chronicles and the construction of a discourse that was increasingly amplified to emphasize the value and heroism of the conquerors. Likewise, medieval Spanish chroniclers served the Church and the King, building a discourse of victory according to royal propaganda and ornamented their panegyrics with flourished language from Crusade rhetoric. Thus, this ideology of Reconquista echoed in medieval narratives was created within the Church. O’Callaghan suggests that the reforming popes reinforced this idea of Reconquista using words such as recuperare, restituere, liberare, reparare, restaurare, and pendere. Such language, although referring to the restoration of churches, strengthened the idea of territorial liberation or Reconquista (O’Callaghan 2004, p. 9). Particularly, Pope Gregory VII supported the fight against Islam, sending the cardinal Hugo Candido to help Count Ebbles of Roucy whose mission was reconquering the lands that had belonged ad honorem to sancti Petri since ancient times (Mansilla Reoyo 1955, pp. 10–12, doc. 8; Rucquoi 2010, p. 106; Ayala Martínez 2013, p. 226). Urban II also referred to the liberation of the Church of Toledo, encouraging the King to restore the Churches from Muslim hands. This fact influenced the nature of the war against the Muslims, which later became a genuine Holy war (Ayala Martínez 2013). Regarding Toledo, Pascual II remarked that the Church was freed from the yoke of the Moors and the Moabites. In medieval chronicles also, the word restoratio involves the reintegration into the Christian faith of the ancient Visigoth Sees under Muslim law (Martin 2020), whether in Toledo (1085), Cordova (1236) or Seville (1248). In all these places, the city’s main (Jami) mosque became the new episcopal See after the conversion into a church. The issue of conversion has a parallel in the churches converting into mosques centuries earlier, although this paradigm has been questioned by some scholars based on archaeological records (Delgado Valero 1987; Calvo Capilla 2007; Arce 2015). With this idea in mind, not all mosques were founded in places where churches already existed, but all churches were always placed over already existing mosques. Good examples of this phenomenon are Jaén and Cuenca, both Muslim foundations.
Although there are numerous publications dedicated to the cultural implications derived from the conversion of mosques into churches (Buresi 2000, pp. 333–50; Ecker 2014), the symbolic meaning of civil and religious rituals has not been explored enough yet. Some scholars focused on the conversion of mosques as symbols of Islam and spaces of the Demon (Harris 1997, pp. 158–72); whereas others highlight the role of conversion as propaganda (Buresi 2000, pp. 333–50). Years later, O’Callaghan introduced the topic of liturgy in his book Conquest and Crusade through medieval Iberian chronicles (O’Callaghan 2004, pp. 107–209). Other approaches focus on the evolution from the Mosque-Cathedral to new gothic buildings between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, emphasizing the symbolic meaning (Kroesen 2008). The cultural change of Friday mosque in al-Andalus has been a classic topic for monographic studies: Toledo (Nickson 2015), Cordova (Ecker 2003; Ruggles 2011), Jaén (Jódar Mena 2013), Seville (Almagro Gorbea 2007; Laguna Paúl 1998), among other examples. However, scholars have rarely highlighted the importance of liturgy in the conquest process in Medieval Iberia; Carrero Santa Maria was the only one to make an accurate analysis of the case of Huesca, considering both history and liturgy (Santamaría 2005). Some historians have recognized that Christians often appropriated mosques for their faith, integrating these edifices into the Church with theritual and prayers that exorcised the contamination of Islamic devotion (Remensnyder 2000, p. 194; 2016, p. 125).
With this background in mind, this article deals with the following topics: First, an approach to civil and religious rituals as an expression of triumph developed for the Christian conquerors after the conquest of a Muslim city, derived from written medieval sources with special attention to the ritual applied to the conversion of mosques into churches. The analysis of this liturgy is crucial to understanding both, the sacred status of the new church and the removal of these places from civil jurisdiction, through the ritual of consecration. Regarding this point, there are some questions that should be answered: Is this a new specific ritual; or, on the contrary, is it a well-known practice used to clean the new churches? What were the consequences of these conversions? How were these conversions perceived by the official discourse? Furthermore, this article proves that both civil and religious ceremonies associated with victory and the consecration of places were established from Roman law and later modified in late antiquity. Finally, it seems necessary to highlight the performative meaning of the gestures and words in these rituals in the ideological context of the so-called Spanish Reconquista.

2. Old Visions and New Paths through the Study of Liturgical Manuscripts

Civil rituals are mentioned in particular analyses as part of the ceremonies of power (O’Callaghan 2004, p. 89), but they need further development as rituals of space appropriation that relate to Christian identity. They are approached from Castilian chronicles and official sources such as the Papacy and Royal Chancellery. Twelfth-century chronicles like the Chronica Nairensis, (Ubieto Arteta 1985), or the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (Maya Sánchez 1990) mentioned the conquest of cities without great detail. However, there are three major narratives in the thirteenth century: Chronica latina regum Castellae probably written by the royal chancellor, Bishop Juan of Osma (d. 1246); the Historia de Rebus Hispaniae, by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, Archbishop of Toledo (d. 1247), (Fernández Valverde 1987); and the Chronicom Mundi (Falque Rey 2003) by Lucas, Bishop of Tuy (d. 1249). All three works conclude with the fall of Cordova in 1236. Finally, the Estoria de España, written in the scriptorium of Alfonso X the Wise at the end of the thirteenth century, provides the most detailed version of the conquest ritual (Menéndez Pidal 1977). Castilian chronicles are compared to Muslim Iberian sources. First, Ibn Bassān’s tales, who witnessed the Conquest of Toledo in 1085, were gathered by Al-Maqqāry (Gayangos 1863). Regarding the conquest of Seville, Ibn Iḏārī (Huici Miranda 1953–1954, II, p. 286) or Al-Ḥimyarī (Levy Provençal 1938) provide some details. All this information is put together with documents from the Papal and Royal Castilian Chancellery (Mansilla Reoyo 1955; Quintana Prieto 1987; Gambra 1998, II; González 1986, III).
In this context, mosques were perceived as impure spaces that needed to be purified and consecrated to become worthy spaces for the Eucharist celebration. However, no specific ritual has been found in liturgical books for this purpose. Some scholars considered the ordo reconciliationis ecclesia as the ritual applied for conversion (Valor Piechota and Montes Romero Camacho 2018, p. 103), but the reconciliation is only applied in established circumstances by pontifical books and Siete Partidas. Sometimes churches could be lost their purity when blood or sperm were spilled inside the church, so they need to be purified again. This problem has been mentioned in the answer of Pope Alexander III to the Bishop of Sagunto in the Third Lateran Council: Ecclesia insuper quae sanguinis vel seminis sunt effusione pollurae, civitas clericis convocavis cum processione and aquae benedictae adspersione (Mansi 1778, col. 452) and gathered in the Decretals (Friedberg 1959, II, col. 895, 1059), which has inspired the Castilian legal code. The first book of Alfonso’s legal code defines the particular circumstances when to apply the reconciliation: when a man wounds another inside the church and blood is spilled; when the place has been profaned by adultery or fornication with a woman (Burns 2001, p. 165). Among these cases, the Muslim occupation does not appear. However, a ritual for consecrating churches with traces of other religions is gathered in the Siete Partidas. This ritual could be applied to purify mosques directly inspired by the Roman Pontifical, which arrived in Castile at the end of the eleventh century. Bearing this background in mind, what ritual was applied from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries to purify mosques, the new ordo established in the Pontifical or the old one gathered in the Liber ordinum? The council of Burgos, presided by Alfonso VI and Cardinal Ricardo, approved the Roman law in Castile (Ruiz 1985; Rucquoi 2010, p. 110). Although Pope Urban II wrote Alfonso VI to congratulate him for setting up the Reform in his lands, the truth is that the reform found resistance, particularly in Toledo. Mozarabs of Toledo felt displeasure while their liturgy was banished since the ecclesiastical leadership was exercised not by Mozarabs or even by Spaniards, but by French clergymen (Rivera Recio 1976, I, p. 208). This community was allowed to use its own liturgy in churches dedicated to their own use even after the city’s siege (Reilly 1988, p. 85), as was established in the Fuero of 1101 by Alfonso VI. In the other churches, the reform was applied from new books. After the reform, all the specific rituals were unified in the new pontifical books, removing the regional particularities. The ordo conversorum conversunque, which was used for the consecration of both the church and the altar (Ferotin 1904, pp. 82–85), was removed from the new French liturgical books that arrived to Castile with the Clunicacs. It is probable that Abbot of Sahagun Bernado of Sédirac, and later Archbishop of Toledo, who was Alfonso VI’s favorite counselor, following Cardinal Ricardo directives (Rubio Sadía 2004, p. 157) had his own French books following the Gregorian models like the Sacramentary of Sahagun written by Frenchmen, which is completely preserved in the BNE (Henriet 2004) or the Pontifical BCT Ms.Res-15 preserved in Toledo. This Pontifical only preserves two pages of the ordo dedicationis ecclesia (Janini et al. 1977, p. 269) written with Aquitaine musical notation, similar to the Sacramentary of Sahagun. The circumstances of arrival of this book to the library are unknown, maybe it was among the Cathedral original books, thus explaining the absence of information about its origin. The partial ordo preserved in this manuscript is similar to BCT Ms.39-12, an early thirteenth-century copy from the Toledo scriptorium. The scriptorium and the new books that were copied based on French models, like the Pontifical 37–27 (López-Mayán 2018), favored the flourishing of the Toledo scriptorium. In other circumstances, like the conquest of Cordova, Jaén, or Seville, the bishops were present during the siege, and probably brought their own liturgical books for Sunday mass and other compulsory rituals. Even if those books have not been preserved in the cathedral’s archives, bishops would use official roman liturgy books in the thirteenth century.
Considering these limits, the ritual for purifying a church has been reassembled from the ordo ad dedicandam ecclesiam as established in both the Pontifical of Gregory VII and Urban II (Andrieu 1938), reflected in the Siete Partidas of Alfonse The Wise (Burns 2001, pp. 21, 161–63), but completed with the partial eleventh-century French Pontifical BCT, Ms.Res-15 and compared with the late twelfth to early thirteenth centuries Pontifical BCT, Mss.39-12. This last manuscript gathers some important ceremonies: the ordo ad dedicationis ecclesia from the Roman-Germanic Pontifical (ff.92r-125v) and some ordines from the Roman Curia pontifical; the ordo reconciliatio ecclesia violate (ff.134r-137v), and finally, a blessing that is part of the ritual of the consecration of churches in the Gregorian sacramentary. This was the most common Pontifical used in Castile until Guillaume Durand published his Pontifical, which was copied in fifteenth-century luxury copies like Alonso Carrillo’s Pontifical preserved in Madrid (BNE, Vitr/18/9).

3. Rituals of Victory and Sacred Space from Roman Law to Early Middle Ages

Societies have celebrated and proclaimed their military victory over their enemies through public demonstrations. Particularly in antiquity, the procession, the sacrifice, and consecration of spoils on the Capitoline Triumph, is in fact a votive rite that has been interpreted as a tribute to the gods (Beard 2007, p. 66). Triumphus was a solemn procession in which a victorious general entered the city in a chariot drawn by four horses, inspired by previous rituals. He was preceded by the captives and spoils taken in war, and was followed by his troops, and after marched along the Via Sacra and ascended the Capitol to make a sacrificial offering at the temple of Jupiter (Versnel 1970, pp. 9–95). This triumph had both civil and religious ceremonies that may have inspired the Spanish chronicles and intellectuals trained in the classical tradition who wrote about the Castilian victory over Islam. The civil rite, the procession, pompa, was assembled in the open space of Campus Martius, probably well before dawn. From there, a slow-paced procession, interrupted by several planned stops along the way to the Capitoline temple, took place (Beard 2007). The royal entry is also present in late antiquity, from Constantine’s triumph over Maxentius in 312 to Honorius’s triumph over Priscus Atalus in 416 (Wienand 2015). Procopio de Cesare in the Byzantine period described the Triumph celebrated in Constantinople over Gelimer, king of the Vandals and Alans (530–534), who was defeated by Belisarius. This procession ended at the Hippodrome with the recitation of a Christian prayer (Beard 2007, pp. 318–21). Castilian chroniclers subverted the meaning of this tropo into a Castilian Kings’ memorial over Islam and transformed the Roman religious ceremony in the Capitol into the religious rite of consecration to purify the place of worship. Moreover, the Christian conquerors thought the mosques were placed on the site of former churches, so the ancient devil’s houses should be dedicated to God through a specific ritual: et quorum officio domus erepta diabolo “Ecclesia” sancti decicaverunt Deo (Gambra 1998, II, doc 86, p. 227). This criterion was applied to both former Episcopal Sees and new Islamic cities like Jaén or Madrid. Rather than destroying these mosques, they renovated and appropriated them as a way of establishing dominance over the previous rulers. The Christians Kings created their own religious landscape from already existing topography of Muslim Holy places. This was not the first time that the Church was confronted with the consecration of a pagan temple becoming Christian. The pagan temple was perceived as the devil’s house, so it should be purified (Caseau-Chevallier 2001, pp. 57–60). In the second century, Gregory Thaumaturgus purified a pagan temple with a ritual that consisted of the invocation of the name of Christ and engraving the symbol of the cross on the walls to purify the air in which sacrifices had taken place. Moreover, the Saint spent the whole night praying and reciting hymns to transform the house that had been abominable because of the blood on its altars into a house of prayer (Slusser 1998, p. 56). Other times, the temples were destroyed, like the pagan temple placed at the site of the Holy Sepulcher, destroyed at the emperor’s order. This event is described in the Life of Emperor Constantine (324–337) written by Eusebio of Cesarea (Saradi 2008, p. 114). The consecration set the place aside from the material world and dedicated it permanently to the service of God, this process can be traced back to the ancient world. At the time of Moses, the act of consecration involved the erection of an altar and twelve memorial stones including the use of oil for anointing, which has been described in detail in Leviticus. Centuries later the ritual was used in the Roman world applied to the consecration of secular temples and theatres. The concept of loca sacra was developed by classical jurists like Gaius and Papinianus and gathered in the Digestum (535 d.C). Loca sacra were those places that had been publicly enshrined in the law to divinities ex autoritate populi Romani, or ex autoritate principis (D’Ors 1968, I, p. 70). In all these cases, the temple was consecrated in a public ceremony. This public consecration was always done in the name of the State by a Pontifex who performed a ritual with specific formulas in the presence of official magistrates. These places had a particular status as res divini iuri established by Roman law (Thomas 2002, pp. 1433–34). Sacredness of these places was only lost by the ritual of exauguratio or when they were taken by the enemies. In this last case, the sacred nature came back when those places were recovered (D’Ors 1972, III, p. 346). Many of the public Roman rituals that set aside places from the material world were adapted to the new requests when Christianity became the state religion. Regarding the Iberian Peninsula, the Visigoth rite of blessing churches has not been exactly defined in a concrete ordo. However, some canons from the Visigoth Councils established that only the bishop could celebrate the consecration on Sunday (Vives 1964, pp. 49, 75, 88, 154). Moreover, Pope Vigilius wrote Protofuturus de Braga (538), explaining some details about the ceremony that should be applied to violated or rebuilt temples. The letter envisages two possible scenarios; temples without relics that have been violated can be restored with a single mass. However, if the relics were placed in the temple, it should be purified by sprinkling water on the walls and placing the relics back into the Church (Migne 1850, 84, col. 829–832). This is the main difference with Roman law, the sacred nature of the temples does not come back if the relics have been profaned. Pope Vigilanus’ letter mentions that the temple should be sprinkled without offering further information about the ritual. In the Iberian Peninsula, the bishop should consecrate the churches in the Visigoth era (Vives Castell 1942) but there is not a clear ritual gathered in the Visigothic Councils. Even in the Liber Ordinum, used in the Iberian Peninsula between the fifth and eleventh centuries, there is not a specific ritual applied to consecration (Ferotin 1904, p. 506). In fact, we find in this book separate ordos, which combined could be used in the consecration of churches, such as the exorcismus et benenedictino salis et aqua, benediction signi basilica, and the ordo conversorum conversunque (Ferotin 1904, pp. 7–18, 82–85, 159). These specific benedictions from local traditions were unified in a particular ordo in the tenth century Roman-Germanic Pontifical (Vogel and Eltze 1963). Rare evidence of these Pontifical books has been preserved outside of the Catalonian counties and no one from Castile has been known before the eleventh century. For this reason, to approach the ritual of consecration the chronicle information has been complemented by pontifical books gathered in Toledo Cathedral Archive, since it was the first scriptorium in Castile that copied the first Pontifical, particularly the manuscript BCT Ms.39-12. Although books from the Mozarabic rite can be found in this archive, such as the twelfth-century Liber Comicus BCT, Ms.35-2, and the BCT, Ms.35-4, a final twelfth-century Liber Misticus from Saint Eulalia Church (Fernández Collado et al. 2018, pp. 16, 22), the blessing used for the consecration of churches does not appear among these records. The books are not complete, so maybe these blessings were lost or not preserved.

4. Civil and Religious Rituals of Victory in Castilian Thirteen-Century Narratives

Most chronicles’ descriptions agree on two issues: the royal entry, and the purification of conquered mosques. Roman Victory’s legacy (Mac Cormick 1990, pp. 100–1) is present at Christian Victory ceremonies in medieval Chronicles. When a city was conquered, the victors did not immediately enter the city; in fact, a month used to pass between the fall of the city and the royal entry. Surrender treaties used to be signed by the vanquished, granting one month to decide whether to stay under the new law or to leave. The first concrete step taken by the combined kingdom of Leon-Castile was the conquest of Toledo. On May 25, 1085, Alfonso VI took the city from its Muslim rulers and his former ally al-Qādir, and established control over the Muslim population. Regarding the Cronicum Nairensis, the city surrendered once Alfonso VI and the Muslims signed a treaty, after four years of siege (Ubieto Arteta 1985, p. 116). One of the surrenders’ clauses was to preserve their congregational mosque in Muslims’ hands, while Alfonso had the free disposition of all other mosques with their endowment, al-Qādir’s royal palace, and the fortress of the Realm (Reilly 1988, p. 86). Christian occupation of the city is known through the twelfth and thirteen centuries’ chronicles. Jimenez de Rada only provides a contradictory account about the conversion of the main mosque. First, Bernardo of Sédirac ordered to seize the mosque when the King was absent from Toledo. He came into the main mosque by night with some Christian knights. Once he removed the traces of Muhammad’s filthiness, he erected an altar for the Christian faithful and placed bells in the minaret to call to prayer (Fernández Valverde 1987, p. 206). According to Ibn Bassan, these previous arrangements were witnessed in Toledo’s Friday mosque by the sage Shaik al Mogamī and other Muslims that were praying in the mosque while the Franks entered and cleaned the kibla, but they were not expelled from the building (Gayangos 1863, II, p. 264). When the King came back, he was very upset because this action broke his promise to the Muslims. Jiménez de Rada points out that the King was thinking of killing the Queen and the Archbishop, but he did not as the Muslim inhabitants from a little village called Magan dissuaded him from burning them as they would be the ones accused of the crimes (Fernández Valverde 1987, pp. 206–7). Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada wrote this book one hundred and sixty years after the capture of Toledo, so he did not witness the conversion of the mosque at night. Why would don Rodrigo add to his chronicle this novelistic story about the assault on the mosque, the King’s rage, and the intercession of the Muslims? Regarding the first issue, maybe he knew Ibn Bassam‘s book The Treasury, concerning the merits of the People of Iberia, was one of the most important sources in the field of history, literature, and culture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, so he introduced the reference to the nocturnal entry of the mosque and the previous arrangements witnessed by Ibn Bassān (Gayangos 1863, II, p. 264). However, the words “cleaning the filthiness of Muhammad” were his own. Noting Alfonso VI’s royal piety, perhaps he decided to use the argument of forgiveness besides other historical events proven in contemporary documents to show that Fernando III, to whom the book was dedicated, was an example of good governance. Jiménez de Rada’s description is not a canonical dedication that must be done on Sunday, but a hasty act involving the violation of Alfonso’s Treaty echoed in Alfonso X’s Estoria de España (Menéndez Pidal 1977, II, pp. 540–41). However, this is not a canonical consecration involving the blessings and purification rite and the financial endowment. To remove the mark of supposed Islamic idolatry from mosques, bishops and ecclesiastics performed the ritual gestures and words commonly used to consecrate any church, but for this solemn ritual. Blessing, endowment, and dedication appear in a document from December 1086 issued by Alfonso VI, more than one year after the conquest. Alfonso VI restored Christianity in the ancient mosque that became the Cathedral of Toledo. Moreover, he enlarged the mosque’s waqf (endowments) to the new Cathedral and placed the church under Holy Mary, Stephen, Peter, and Paul apostles, and All Saint’s patronage. Finally, he recognized in this document the election of Bernardo of Sédirac as Archbishop of Toledo (Hernández 1996, p. 2; Gambra 1998, II, pp. 224–28). From the Muslims’ perspective, this was spiritual dispossession, Alfonso VI and his clerics performed their appropriation of the mosque in Mary’s name as a complement to the military victory that has ushered Toledo back into Christendom (Remensnyder 2014, p. 28). The lexicon in this document expresses the emergent Reconquista ideas, offering Christian knights and Kings the possibility of believing that their war against al-Andalus was willed by God and popes. The Christians’ perception of Muslim rule is expressed as perfida gens sub malefido duce suo Mahommeth; this treachery justifies the conquest and the consecration of the church removing buildings from the devil’s hands once the bishop was elected, erepta diabolo ecclesia sacta dedicaretur Deo (Gambra 1998, II, p. 227). Kings and knights participating in the conquest did not only intend to recover the ancient former places, but to create a Christian landscape.
However, Jiménez the Rada established the consecration on the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Saints Crispin and Cyprian without setting the concrete date. Moreover, he reported Bernardo of Sédirac’s journey to Rome to meet Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) that died before his arrival; in consequence, Bernardo met Pope Urban II (1088–1099), taking with him some relics that were placed on the altar on 25 October (Fernández Valverde 1987, p. 205). The dissonance of dates has attracted historians’ attention from the seventeenth century to the present day. Francisco de Pisa established an explanatory sequence: firstly, the archbishop election and the forceful blessing of the mosque took place; secondly the solemn consecration of the Cathedral on 25 October without year (Pisa 1605, pp. 156–60). Many years later, Rivera Recio explained the discordance of dates in terms of two different ceremonies: the reconciliation in 1086, and the official consecration of the temple on 25 October 1097, a Sunday during the papacy of Urban II (Rivera Recio 1976, p. 131). The author bases his argument on two ceremonies with a similar function, the reconciliation for violated temples and the consecration of churches once cleaned from the devil’s traces. In addition, Reilly considered that the document issued on 23 December 1086 was false (Reilly 1988 pp. 213–15). In fact, the date of 18 December was carefully chosen to appease Toledo’s Mozarabic community, who celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation on this day. Consecration did not change the mosque’s structure. Christians seized the mosque placing the altar in the eastern wall (Kroesen 2008, p. 116) and left the Islamic structure architecturally intact until 1222, when the construction of the new Gothic temple began, supervised by Archbishop Jiménez de Rada (Nickson 2015, pp. 59–63).
Years later, in 1146, Alfonso VII and an army of Crusaders conquered Cordova, immediately turning its mosque into a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. In this case, French and German knights joined the Crusade proclaimed by Pope Eugenio III, participating in the siege of Cordova. A large number of Castilian bishops, exalted by crusader zeal, also joined the royal host towards Cordova, carrying out their duty as vassals of the Crown (Ayala Martínez 2017). Chronica Adefonsi imperatoris authors call the mosque Satan’s synagogue, Iohannis Baptiste in loco, ubi prius synagoga Satane costructa fuerat (Maya Sánchez 1990, p. 106). Jiménez de Rada only mentions how the Archbishop of Toledo, Raimundo, celebrated a solemn function in the mosque according to the Catholic rite (Fernández Valverde 1987, p. 106). However, this conquest is not definitive until 1236, ninety years later, when Muslim rulers surrended after a long siege. Most thirteenth-century chronicles mention the same sequence: Abul’Casan handed over the keys of the city to King Ferdinand III, some noblemen put banners on the alcazar and the mosque’s minaret, the mosque was consecrated, the royal entry and the solemn mass dedication took place. The ritual of purification is described by Lucas de Tuy with the words eliminata omni spurcicia Machometi, by sprinkling holy water with salt joined to a mass on the feast of Peter and Paul, placing the church under the patronage of Holy Mary (Falque Rey 2003, p. 341). Once the mosque was transformed into a church, the King and all the army entered the city and participated in the mass of thanksgiving. This triumphal procession is similar to the imperial entries but adapted to Christianity (Mac Cormick 1990, pp. 100–1).
The royal entry is one of the instruments of political propaganda of the Castilian Kingdom reflected in other narratives, such as the Chronica Latina Regnum Castellae, which describes the same process: the keys, the banners on the buildings, the consecration of the church, the royal entry (Charlo Brea 1997, p. 170). However, the most detailed description regarding civil and religious ceremonies can be found in the Estoria de España (circa 1238), reporting both the siege and the conditions that led to the capture of the city. This text expresses restoration and restitution of the altered order by the Islamic rulers: the idea of restoration is clearly reiterated. Firstly, the King gave back the Santiago Cathedral’s bells that were used as lamps in the Great Mosque. These bells were captured in 997 by Almanzor (Pérez de Tudela 1998). Finally, Christian faith was restored in the ancient mosque through the ritual of consecration described as “cleaning out the filthiness of Muhammad”. Many bishops participated in this ceremony: Juan Bishop of Osma, replacing Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada who was in Rome, Don Gonzalo Bishop of Cuenca, Don Domingo, Bishop of Baeza, Don Adán Bishop of Palencia, and Don Sancho Bishop of Coria. This chronicle provides more details than the others: the bishop went around the entire mosque three times, sprinkling holy water onto the different walls, while the others mixed the water with other things that the Holy Church commanded (Menéndez Pidal 1977, p. 734).
After 1212, the Castilian expansion continued over the Almohad territory. Estoria de España provides the same sequence for Jaén. First, the Muslims surrendered and delivered to the Christians the alcazar. Later, the royal entry with the clergy as a triumphal procession symbolised the political change. Finally, the bishop purified the mosque and placed the new church under the patronage of Santa Maria and established the cathedral’s endowment, transfering the former mosque’s properties (Menéndez Pidal 1977, pp. 746–47). Seville was the most important city in Almohad’s hands since Cordova surrended. After a long siege, due to a famine, the city capitulated on 23 November 1248. The terms of the treaty specified that the Castillian troops would be allowed to enter the alcázar no later than a month later (Menéndez Pidal 1977, p. 768). Ibn ‘Iḏārī mentions how on 13 January, the Muslims went out of the city (Huici Miranda 1953–1954, II, pp. 187–89). However, al-Ḥimyarī wrote a different version about the expulsion of the Muslims. He explained that they had only three days to decide their status, and most of them decided to leave (Levy Provençal 1938, pp. 251–57). The Arab sources provide different dates, this discordance has been examined recently (Garcia Sanjuan 2017). On 22 December 1248, Fernando III, King of Castille and Leon, made his formal entrance into the city of Seville, the former Almohad capital and most important city of the Islamic south (Laguna Paúl 1998). King Ferdinand III marched triumphantly over the city followed by the Christian garrison, the bishops, commanded by Gutierre Ruiz de Olea, the Archbishop-elect of Toledo, and the bishop of Cordova. The cathedral had been arranged some days before for the consecration ceremony and it was witnessed by bishops from different dioceses, princes, nobles, and knights. Once more the idea of restoration is repeated in the official discourse (Menéndez Pidal 1977, p. 769). The temple was consecrated but without the endowment that would be established three years later when Prince don Felipe was elected bishop by Pope Innocent IV in 1251. This decree granted indulgences to those who were present at the dedication of the Cathedral (Quintana Prieto 1987, II, doc. 767). However, the Cathedral increased its property with the endowment of the old mosque (González 1986, doc. 839). The building of this mosque-cathedral lasted until 1401, when a new cathedral was built to demonstrate the city’s wealth (Almagro Gorbea 2007).

5. Cleaning the Filthiness of the Prophet the Ordo Dedicationnis Ecclesia Applied to Conversion of Mosques into Churches

The chronicles describe the consecration as a way of “cleansing the filthiness of the Prophet”. This action, added to the celebration of the Christian service, was a manifestation of the Christian power over Islam (O’Callaghan 2004, p. 204). What chroniclers call the cleansing of Muhammad’s impurity is a complicated multi-part ritual named consecration, where each specific movement and word involves changes. This ritual consists of a set of gestures and words that together have the power to change the building’s nature. The walls were purified against paganism and impiety and the building was separated from men’s justice. The canon law ruled over the church once sacralised with exclusive jurisdiction (Schmitt 2001, p. 64). The first book of Siete Partidas provides some details to purify building from other religions:
“First, twelve crosses must be placed around it on the inside of the walls, so high that no one can reach them with their hands: three on the east, three on the west, three on the south, and three on the north. Second, all the bodies and bones of the dead who were excommunicated, or belonged to another religion, must be removed from the church. Third, twelve candles must be lighted, and each placed upon one of the crosses on nails driven in the middle of the latter. Fourth, ashes, salt, water, and wine must be mixed, and, while the bishop repeats prayers, this must be scattered around the church to purify it. Fifth, the bishop must write with his crozier the a, b, c, of the Greeks and the Latins in the ashes scattered over the floor of the church; and this should be done along the length and breadth of the building, so that these letters may be united in the middle in the form of a cross. Sixth, the bishop must anoint the crosses with chrism and with holy oil. Seventh, incense in many parts of the church must be burned”.
The days before the ceremony, the acolytes carried the water, salt, ashes, and all the necessary equipment for the ceremony, such as candles, crosses, etc. (Andrieu 1938, p. 176), and removed the mimbar and all the Muslim elements from the mosque as was the case for Toledo (Gayangos 1863, p. 264). The mosque should be arranged so that both the altar and the bells were installed. The altar was placed at the East of the building to change the axis, and the bells in the minaret to call for prayer. Likewise, the relics for the future altar must be near the temple that must be consecrated. According to the tenth-century Pontifical that inspired the French and Spanish manuscripts, the ritual should begin outside (Vogel and Eltze 1963, pp. 135–36). God is the actor of purification, but he operates through transitive elements that are manipulated by the bishop: water, salt, ashes, wine, oil, balsam, etc. The bishop and the civil community were outside the church while the acolytes prepared the ashes, the wine, and the incense inside. It was a performative ceremony where all the actors had a precise function. Outside the building, the bishop performed the exorcism of the water and the salt with the blessings that would be mixed with wine and ashes. The salt could be used both preserving food and disabling camps and cities of the vanquished; therefore, it was necessary to expel their negative effects. In order to achieve this, the bishop should pronounce the exact words written in the ordo exorcisms salis to change the nature of this element. The formula gathered in the Liber Ordinum (Ferotin 1904, p. 23) has been the same from the tenth to the fifteenth century. The thirteenth-century manuscript BCT 39-12 (ffº93v-ffº94r) provides the same formula as the ancient ordo. Even Guilaumes’s Durand Pontifical copies, such as the pontifical ordered by Alonso de Acuña in the fifteenth century, used the same words (BNE, Vit.19/8, fº141v). Likewise, the bishop had to purify the water by a concrete formula to remove all the power of the enemy and, supplant that enemy with his angels through the power of Jesus Christ. The salt in a water recipient was poured forming a cross; later, the bishop added the ashes that, remembering Leviticus, were required for purification (Leviticus, 19). Once the lustral water was ready, the church should be purified. The bishop, followed by the clergy and those present at the ceremony, walked around the building while sprinkling the lustral water on the walls with the hyssop. This instrument was used in Christ’s passion to offer him salt and vinegar. So, like passion is the origin of the church, the hyssop was used as an instrument of renewal according to Psalm 50, 9: Asperges me Domine, Hissopo et mundabar, sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean (Mehú 2016, p. 87). The bishop circled the new church three times while singing an antiphon, fundata est domus Domini super verticem montium et exaltata est super omnes colles et venient ad eam omnes gentes et dicent gloria tibi Domine (BCT, Mss.39-14, ffº94v). This antiphone is directly inspired in Isaias’ song (Isaias, 2, 3) and Psalm 125. Each round the bishop knocked the door asking for permission with the formula: Tollite portas, principes vestras et elevamini porta aeternales et introibit gloria (BCT, Ms.39-12, ffº97v) and deacons inside the building answer, qui is iste rex gloriae (BCT, Ms.39-12, ffº97v, Andrieu 1938, pp. 177–78). The demons left and the angels’ peace entered the temple by Christ’s merits (Andrieu 1938, p. 183). After the third round (BCT, Ms.39-12, ffº99 v), the bishop prayed a concrete formula that compares the entry of the bishop in the church with the entry of Christ in Jerusalem (BCT, Mss.Res-15, fº1). Moreover, he should pray for the protection of those believers that came into the church and chant the antiphon from the Book of Kings, II, 8, 20, benedic Domine domum istam quam aedificavi nomini tuo, that remembers the temple founded by Salomon (Ms.39-12, ffº100). This entry is represented in luxury books, such as Guillaume Durand’s pontifical copies ordered by the Spanish bishops in the fifteenth century. Before the entry, the deacons spread the ashes across the floor. The ashes were spread on the ground in the shape of a cross, from the left west corner to the right east corner, from the right west corner to the left east corner (Burns 2001, p. 162). While the choir chanted a litany, particularly the antiphon, quam metuendus est locus iste vere non est hic aliud, nisi domus Dei et porta caeli (BCT, Mss.39-12, ffº100v), the bishops wrote Latin and Greek alphabets on the ashes from left to right making a cross. Although the alphabetic inscription is not a roman practice, it appeared for the first time in the nineteenth century in the Roman liturgy in the Franco-German context and continued in the Roman practice from the eleventh century. Writing is even more powerful than the word, as through writing, God is incarnated, echoing Saint-Jean evangel’s first chapter: the Word became flesh, and the building became a church. Writing on the ashes in Latin and Greek was practiced from the tenth century gathered in the Roman-Germanic Pontifical, (Mehú 2007, p. 88; Vogel and Eltze 1963, pp. 135–36). Proof of this ceremony can be found in the thirteen-century manuscript imported from France in the fifteenth century, preserved in the archive of the Cathedral of Toledo, the manuscript 59–60 imported in the fifteenth century (Janini et al. 1977, p. 120) (Figure 1).
The double Latin alphabet writing on the floor of the church was used before the reform in Ireland and France, like the ninth-century manuscript 466 from Anger (Barbett-Massin 2011). In the Iberian Peninsula, the double language alphabet was introduced with the reform and included in the early thirteenth-century copies in Castile (BCT, Ms.39-12, ffº101v-102r, Figure 2). This writing was ephemeral in people’s eyes but everlasting in God’s eyes; the alphabet permeates the edifice, becoming as invisible as Christ himself (Treffort 2007, p. 226). The four angles of the cross are the four angles of the world to disseminate the Christian doctrine. As the inscription is the symbol of the incarnation, the consecration of the altar is the union with Christ (Mehú 2016, p. 92). Once the alphabet was written, the altar had to be anointed with the sacred oils. A particular ordo was necessary for blessing the altar, in the memory of Moyse. Oil, music, and incense created a sensory experience for all the participants (Palazzo 2000, p. 23). The altar was anointed with the chrism making a cross and the incense was burned over the altar before the relics were placed in the niche. The bishop prepared the chrism, and the cement to seal the altar. Salt, water, ashes, oils, and the lustral wine were blessed again for the new ceremony (Ms.39-12, ffº102v-103r). The bishop made a cross in the middle of the altar Scifecetur hoc altare in nomini patris et filis et spiirti sancti, amen (BCT, Ms.39-12, ffº105 r) and on all its sides, and sang the Psalm 50:9 around the altar sprinkling the lustral water: Asperges me Domine, Hissopo et mundabar, sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean (BCT, Ms.39-12, ffº106 r). However, the dedication was not finished, the bishop should walk around the church sprinkling the walls singing psalms, and blessings particularly: dominus mea domus orationis vocavitur narabum nomen tuum fatribus meus in medio ecclesiae laudabi (BCT, Ms.539-12, ffº105v). Then, the altar niche, a small oblong rectangular chamber in the body of the altar, was blessed and, the relics of two martyrs should be placed inside the altar niche (Andrieu 1938, I, p. 190; 1940, p. 240; Palazzo-Bertholon and Palazzo 2001, p. 306). According to the Roman Pontifical, relics served as a physical link between the natural and supernatural. While the relics were introduced in the altar, the people sang the antiphonam, sub altare dei accepit intercederé per nobis ad deim qui vos elegit (BCT, 39-12, fol.104 v). Once the relics were on the altar, the bishop should bless and anoint twelfth wooden crosses with sacred oil (chrism) (Burns 2001, p. 163) and place them on the wall under twelfth candles as a symbol of the twelfth Apostles.
All these ceremonies were developed inside the building while the people waited outside the future church. The ritual was only finished when the believers came into the church and participated in the Eucharist. A special mass was celebrated to place the church under the protection of a saint, or more often the Holy Mary. She was the warrior’s protector and the Church’s mother in the Iberian Peninsula. When knights and kings entered the church for the consecration mass, a ceremony of thanksgiving, they knew they were stepping into a building that was itself a monumental victory offering to her and testimony to the Christian triumph (Remensnyder 2014, p. 27). Sometimes, the memory of consecration was materialised in stone. These types of inscriptions are preserved in some churches in the north of Spain, but not in the mosque-cathedrals, since they were transformed and rearranged several times. Only Cordova preserves the former Islamic structure transformed in the sixteenth century with the insertion of an enormous choir and presbytery. Some scholars consider that the church was consecrated under the dome of the Al-Hakam transept where the inscription was preserved until 1920 (Nieto Cumplido 1979, p. 87, doc. 162).

6. Conclusions: Old Rituals for New Conquests

These stories about the conquest of Toledo, Jaén, Cordova, and Seville suggest that the royal entry and the act of dispossessing the Muslim of their former mosques, offering these buildings to the victors, entail a declaration of power expressed in thirteenth-century chronicles through a narrative of victory, based on a vast experience of conquest in the Iberian Peninsula and previous experiences in late antiquity and Roman law. When a town or fortress was taken, the victors often placed their flags on the walls in witness of their triumph. Placing the royal standards in the highest tower of the city and the cross on the minaret were rituals of victory celebration, expressing the power of the King and Christendom over Islam. Likewise, the royal triumphal march symbolises the eternal triumph from antiquity, when the victorious legions arrived at the city and closed the Janus’ temple. Moreover, the consecration of mosques involved the restoration of the faith through an established ordo, that guideline the words and gestures of the bishop to expel the devil. In this context, Christian victors staged the ritual consecration of congregational mosques as the central piece of the ritual or victory to proclaim their military triumph. This action has its parallel in ancient Rome in the blessing of the spoils in the Capitolio. Moreover, this ritual has its previous practice in public roman ceremony applied in the dedication of the loca sacra, gathered in the Digestum and transformed in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages with the new circumstances of Christendom.
The goal of the Iberian kings was to restore the faith in their realms, so the conversion of the mosque and the subsequent mass were the theological triumph that justified the conquest. Liturgy of consecration had a particular role in these rituals of victory; it meant the triumph of Christianity over Islam in medieval perception, changing the nature of the building. This conversion involves more than just a cultural change, but a specific ceremony with different parts and specific ordos from the early Middle Ages unified in the Roman Pontifical. The ritual applied in the Iberian Peninsula between the eleventh and thirteenth century was the ordo dedications eclessia that arrived at Toledo from different copies of French pontifical books, which spread throughout Castile. This ceremony consisted of defined separated parts with concrete formulas that entailed the power of expelling the devil from things, water, salt, buildings, and altar, reflected in the Siete Pertidas. Likewise, it was a multisensorial ceremony; the incense, the candles, the water, the bishop’s gesture that introduced the participants to sacred dimension. This consecration did neither involve destruction nor architectural changes. In fact, the mosques were preserved with minimal transformations: an altar was installed in the east to change the building’s axis, the bells were installed on the minaret, and the church was decorated with candles, crosses, and all the necessary things for the Eucharist celebration. Preservation of mosque-cathedrals requires a different language of victory when compared with previous Muslim campaigns in which some churches were destroyed, like the main church of Santiago de Compostela destroyed by Almazor in his raid of 997. Christian conquerors expressed their eternal triumph over Muslims using their own congregational mosque for Christian prayers once the building was consecrated.


This research was funded by Madrid Region, 2017 HUM T1/5650.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


I thank Toledo Cathedral Archive for the access and resources.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Bishop writing ACT.59-60 fº100v. © Toledo Cathedral Archive.
Figure 1. Bishop writing ACT.59-60 fº100v. © Toledo Cathedral Archive.
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Figure 2. Double Latin-Greek writing. BCT, Ms.39-12, 101v-102r © Toledo Cathedral Archive.
Figure 2. Double Latin-Greek writing. BCT, Ms.39-12, 101v-102r © Toledo Cathedral Archive.
Religions 13 00379 g002
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Bueno Sánchez, M. Rituals of Victory: The Role of Liturgy in the Consecration of Mosques in the Castilian Expansion over Islam from Eleventh to Thirteenth Centuries. Religions 2022, 13, 379.

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Bueno Sánchez M. Rituals of Victory: The Role of Liturgy in the Consecration of Mosques in the Castilian Expansion over Islam from Eleventh to Thirteenth Centuries. Religions. 2022; 13(5):379.

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Bueno Sánchez, Marisa. 2022. "Rituals of Victory: The Role of Liturgy in the Consecration of Mosques in the Castilian Expansion over Islam from Eleventh to Thirteenth Centuries" Religions 13, no. 5: 379.

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