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A Methodological Approach to the Study of Arabic Inscriptions in Castilian-Aragonese Kingdoms

Department of Hispanic and Lusophone World Studies, Lumière University Lyon 2, 69007 Lyon, France
Histories 2022, 2(2), 157-169;
Submission received: 16 December 2021 / Revised: 23 May 2022 / Accepted: 24 May 2022 / Published: 31 May 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Revisiting the Legacy of Al-Andalus)


Re-using Arabic inscriptions on the objects and monuments of the medieval Hispanic kingdoms (11th–15th centuries) bears witness to the valorization, selection, and reinterpretation of the al-Andalus heritage by the Christians. The aim of this article is to propose a methodological approach for a global study of these inscriptions, which will be based on the constitution of an exhaustive corpus on the scale of the peninsula. This will allow us to have an overview of these inscriptions, to identify a typology and the different stages of their evolution. Then, a comparison with the inscriptions of al-Andalus will highlight the heritage of the various traditions and the dynamics resulting from this appropriation. Finally, a focus on the actors as well as the different historical circumstances of the epigraphic production will lead to a better understanding of their symbolic value and the complex intention behind certain inscriptions. It will also help to better understand the mechanisms of their reception, in line with a reflection on the role and status of ornamental writing.

1. Problem and Status of the Issue

The different forms of contact between Christian and Muslim kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula and the gradual conquest of the territories of al-Andalus by Castilians and Aragonese favoured the transfer of knowledge, techniques, and artistic forms. Ornamental Arabic inscriptions are part of this Islamic heritage that the Christians of Castile and Aragon valued, selected, and reinterpreted between the 11th and 15th centuries. This epigraphy, like the monuments or objects it decorates, is often called Mudejar, a term that originally referred to an ethnic reality (the Muslims under Christian domination) but which since the 19th century has also characterised an art that partly re-uses Islamic aesthetic codes in Christian lands. The use of this term in the field of art has been controversial since its appearance, due to its ambiguous definition, sometimes considered as a new artistic tradition and sometimes as an extension of Islamic art (J. Amador de los Ríos 1872; Borrás Gualis 2000). Moreover, the assimilation between ethnic and artistic meaning has tended to reduce the emergence of this art to the expertise of Mudejar craftsmen, while the role of Christian patrons is not negligible in the artistic choice. Finally, this name confirms a chronological, political, or religious boundary between artistic manifestations, which some researchers question (Ruiz Souza 2009; Robinson 2003). The impact of this frontier on the form and meaning of Arabic inscriptions in a non-Islamic context is at the heart of the matter. These have often been attributed solely to the presence of Muslim craftsmen, who lived under Christian domination and perpetuated al-Andalus’ craft the best they could for Christian clients who were only concerned with the decorative aspect of this ornament. The sponsors’ deficiencies in Arabic may explain the presence of texts that seem to contradict the Christian faith, reflecting the subversive intention of Muslim craftsmen who wanted to reaffirm their faith (Ocaña Jiménez 1990; Ocaña Eiroa 2013). However, these inscriptions were not always made by Muslim craftsmen. Some of them were made by Christians who did not have a good command of Arabic and sometimes clumsily copied texts from objects from al-Andalus, probably with the intention of reflecting the victory over Islam in the ideological context of the Reconquest, as Martínez Núñez has shown with regard to the 11th century reliquaries of Oviedo Cathedral (Martínez Núñez 2016). Rather, the current tendency is to consider that we are dealing with a common court culture in the Iberian Peninsula, to which religion would be subordinate (Robinson and Rouhi 2005; Robinson and Feliciano 2006; Dodds et al. 2008). In this context, the change in the political, religious and linguistic context would not imply a rupture or contradiction in the meaning of these inscriptions in al-Andalus.
This diversity of interpretations, sometimes contradictory, which characterises the historiography of Arabic inscriptions in Castilian-Aragonese kingdoms is linked to the lack of a global and diachronic approach. We have partial corpus thanks to the work of José and Rodrigo Amador de los Ríos (J. Amador de los Ríos 1845; R. Amador de los Ríos 1883, 1905, 1998). These have proved to be very valuable in locating inscriptions, especially those that have disappeared, and in helping us to decipher them, even if there are sometimes misinterpretations. However, these works date back to the 19th century and therefore need to be completely revised, as they do not meet the requirements of current research. Basilio Pavón Maldonado devotes some useful pages to locating the inscriptions, but he only gives the Spanish translation and relies on the work of Amador de los Ríos (Pavón Maldonado 1990, 2009). There are also partial studies on a particular inscription, a type of support (monument, fabric) (Barcelò 1997; Cano Ávila and Essawi 2004; Cano Ávila 2016; Feliciano 2005, 2019; Valencia 2005; Mahmoud Dokmak and Sayed 2015). Among these works, we can also mention the corpus of inscriptions of the Alcázar of Seville by Pedro Cano Ávila and Aly Tawfik Mohamed Essawi, which is a revision with photographic illustrations of the corpus elaborated by Rodrigo Amador de los Ríos. However, this work, which was completed almost ten years ago, remains unpublished to this day. Finally, the only publication that deals with the theme of Arabic epigraphy in Mudejar art as a whole is the article by Rafael Valencia, which remains succinct and worthy of further development (Valencia 2010). He recognises the specificity of the Arabic epigraphy of the Christian kingdoms in relation to that of al-Andalus, from which it draws its inspiration by synthesising the various traditions. This synthesis seems to be consistent with the search for a certain unity in the peninsula, but it nevertheless leaves room for a specific evolution depending on the production centre, and it grants the craftsman freedom to some degree.
These approaches, which focus on the formal and material aspects of the inscriptions, deserve to be verified, developed, illustrated and enriched with a semiotic approach which is sometimes lacking. The questions of the meaning of these inscriptions and their place in visual communication are not always taken into account. After studying the Arabic inscriptions of the palaces of Peter I of Castile (1350–1369) (Marquer 2014) in my thesis, and specifically their role in royal propaganda, I concluded that a number of the uses and functions assumed by Arabic inscriptions in al-Andalus are preserved in the kingdom of Castile. For example, they retain a sacred and prophylactic value, and may play a role in the legitimisation of power. Aside from referring to issues that similarly arise when studying inscriptions intended for an Islamic context—such as, for example, the paradox of ceremonial scriptures that are difficult to decipher even though their message was a priori written to be understood, the predominance of visibility over legibility, of the sign over discourse—the Arabic inscriptions in Castilian-Aragonese kingdoms raise other issues that are specific to them and which make them a rich object of study. Their integration in another context necessarily entails selections, adaptations and resemantisations, which deserve to be highlighted. Even if we can speak to some extent of a common court culture, the religious, social and linguistic differences between al-Andalus and the Christian kingdoms must still be taken into account as they may have some influence on the nature and meaning of these inscriptions.
In order to highlight the specificities of this heritage and to better understand the meaning that the inscriptions had for their contemporaries, it is necessary to establish an exhaustive corpus on the scale of the Iberian Peninsula, to compare these inscriptions with those of al-Andalus, and to look at the historical context in which they are inserted, as well as at the relationship that they maintain with their support.

2. Constitution of a Comprehensive Corpus for the Iberian Peninsula

Establishing a comprehensive peninsula-wide corpus is necessary to have an overview of all inscriptions between the 11th and 15th centuries. The corpus will therefore include inscriptions from various media commissioned by Christians. The vast majority will be architectural inscriptions found in situ in palaces, churches and private houses (around 500), but the corpus will also include and analyse inscriptions found in museums, which come from monuments that have disappeared, objects, fabrics, coins or paintings. Inscriptions coming from monuments or objects of the Muslim community in the Christian kingdoms (mosques, cemeteries, houses...) (Jiménez Gadea 2016; Labarta and Barceló 2019) will not be included in the corpus but can be used as a point of comparison with those commissioned by the Christians in order to highlight the specificity of the latter. This overview will show their evolution and provide a better understanding of the different stages and factors involved in the adoption of Arabic inscriptions in the Hispanic kingdoms. Different stages can already be identified, which also correspond to different centres of production.
The first Arabic inscriptions appear in the northern Christian kingdoms from the 11th century onwards, on objects or fabrics, in churches (the church of San Juan de Busa in Huesca (11th century), the monastery of Leyre in Navarre (11th century), the church of Santa María de Atienza, in Guadalajara, which dates from the 12th century. Highlighting the links between objects, fabrics and architecture will provide a better understanding of the conditions that favoured the use of Arabic epigraphy by Christians. This phenomenon can be explained in part by the circulation of artefacts peacefully acquired, through diplomatic exchanges, gifts, trade, but it is also the result of spolia, trophies acquired by Christians in situations of belligerence with Muslims. A comparison with the spolia or artefacts made in a Muslim context and found in Christian holy places such as reliquaries is interesting insofar as they participate in the circulation of epigraphic motifs and refer to the problem of cultural appropriation.
The second stage of this process takes place in the 13th century, during which time inscriptions developed in Burgos and in the region of Toledo and Madrid. Here it is necessary to distinguish the role played by the Mozarabs in the transmission of knowledge from the Arab-Muslim world to the West and in the adoption of cultural elements of al-Andalus by Christians. In the twelfth century and during the first half of the thirteenth, the Mozarabic community of Toledo, whose use of Arabic was a sign of their identity in the face of the new Christian conquerors using Latin in their Roman liturgy, made it possible to accept an Arabized culture that did not necessarily have an Islamic connotation (Ruiz Souza 2021, pp. 276–80).
The apogee of Arabic inscriptions in Castile and Aragon occurred in the 14th and 15th centuries. After the basin of the Guadalquivir was attached to the Crown of Castile, the assimilation of the aesthetic codes of al-Andalus was at its peak. Mudejar art asserts itself as a courtly art for the Castilians, “an artistic option” in the words of María Teresa Pérez Higuera, both for reasons of taste or fascination and for convenience. In fact, Hispanic Christian monarchs found a model residence in Muslim palaces (Ruiz Souza 2004, 2019). Although this has been a fashion since the 13th century, the heyday of Arabic epigraphy is linked to particular historical circumstances, especially during the reign of Peter I of Castile, which corresponds to a period of great political and cultural proximity with the Emirate of Granada. This rivalry between the two courts gave rise to an upsurge in Arabic epigraphy, which can also be explained by the capacity of these inscriptions to convey an image of power that corresponded to the political project of Peter I. They symbolically support his desire to strengthen royal power and his dream of hegemony (Marquer 2012, 2013, 2018). The same texts were to develop in the palaces of the nobles who constantly sought to compete with the royal power. In addition to this political dimension, the inscriptions obviously had a sacred value because they were mostly praises to God, which explains their place in religious buildings as well. During these centuries Arabic epigraphy developed in several centres: Toledo, Seville, Cordoba, Duero and, to a lesser extent, Aragon.
This general overview will also reveal the common characteristics or differences that exist between the different centres of production of these inscriptions. Although these inscriptions seem to be characterised by a certain homogenisation on the scale of the peninsula, it will nevertheless be necessary to highlight the specific characteristics of each focus (Toledo, Andalusia, Aragon, Burgos). This approach will also facilitate the possible emergence of the artist’s personal expression within an established norm, as Rafael Valencia suggests (Valencia 2010, p. 298), and thus to assess the amount of freedom that the commissioner leaves to the craftsman. Although the majority of the texts are basic content copied in a repetitive manner, there are also some original texts which sometime seem a priori problematic in a Christian environment. The corpus will allow us to highlight them. Thanks to this overall vision, it will also be possible to establish a typology of inscriptions and to distinguish original and problematic texts from more common and repetitive contents. This will make it possible to evaluate the quantity of problematic inscriptions, that is to say, those that would contradict the Christian faith, and to see if there is really a will to select, to adapt the texts to the Christian faith, as I believe there is, and what is the meaning of these problematic inscriptions.
The most frequent formulas are adciya, doxological or propitiatory phrases that proclaim the sovereignty, the power of God: “al-mulk li-llāh”, (‘sovereignty belongs to God’); His permanence or eternity: “al-mulk al-dā’im li-llāh, al-cizz al-qā’im li-llāh” (‘lasting sovereignty, conspicuous glory belongs to God’). He also appears as the source of blessings: “al-ḥamd li-llāh cala nicmi-hi” (‘Praise be to God for his favour’). Morever we can find words referring to happiness, prosperity, health, accompanied by adjectives referring to perfection, eternity, permanence “Al-ghibṭa al-muttaṣila, al-nicma al-shāmila, al-baraka al-kāmila” (‘unceasing happiness, complete favour, perfect grace’). They have prophylactic value similar to one of the most recurrent phrases: “al-yumn wa-l-iqbāl” (‘bliss and auspicious fate’) (see Appendix C). According to Virgilio Martínez Enamorado, this phrase comes from the decorative programme of the palaces of Ibn Mardanish in Murcia (12th century) and identifies his dynasty (Marquer 2012, p. 28). Christians appropriated this motto as they did with the Umayyad motto (al-mulk) and the Nasrid (“wa lā-ghāliba illā-llāh”, ‘Only God is victorious’).
There are also a few phrases of praise for the sovereign, mainly in the Peter I of Castile palaces: “cizz li-mawlānā al-sulṭān don bidru ayyadahu Allāh wa naṣrahu” (‘Glory to our lord the sultan don Pedro, may God help and protect him’), which follows the same structure as the praises for the Sultan of Granada in the Alhambra palaces.
Another kind of text consists of foundation commemorations. I have only identified two. One is that of the Alcazar of Peter I in Seville on the wooden doors of the Media naranja Hall, the translation of which was revised by Pedro Cano and Aly Tawfiq Mohamed Essawi. It takes up the elements of the Umayyad foundation epigraphs (Cano Ávila and Essawi 2004, p. 56), (Martínez Enamorado 2009, pp. 126–29). The second is the partial inscription of the foundation of the palace of Suero Téllez de Meneses in Toledo (14th century), inscription written in Arabic and translated by Amador de los Ríos, but it only mentions the name of the promoter and the date of construction 1335 * (J. Amador de los Ríos 1845, p. 272).
Finally, we can find some poems or rhyming prose “Ya thiqatī ya āmalī anta al-rajā anta wali, ikhtam bi-khayr camalī” (‘O my trust, or my hope, you are my hope, you are my protector, seal my works with goodness’) that appears in the Alcazar of Seville, Taller del Moro as in the Alhambra. “Udkhul bi-ḥilm wa untuq bi-cilm qallil /bi-l-kalām takhruj bi-l-salām” (‘Enter with moderation, express knowledge, measure your words and you will come out safe and sound (Cano Ávila 2016)’). This is a common sentence addressed to the courtiers (advisors) to warn them to act prudently, to speak little, but to show their knowledge. It is found in an archway leading to the entrance to the Media Naranja room in the Alcazar of Seville, the sovereign’s private space. It is also found in one of the alcoves of the ambassadors’ salon in the Alhambra, perhaps in a place where the monarch awaited his audience (Puerta Vílchez 2010, p. 132).
The Christian use of these stereotypical formulas and motifs expresses a continuity between the courts of al-Andalus and the Hispanic kingdoms. However, these inscriptions still have their own formal and semantic characteristics, which can be highlighted by comparing them with those of al-Andalus and looking at their specific context.

3. Highlighting the Meaning of the Inscription in Context

3.1. Comparison with Those of al-Andalus

The Arabic epigraphy of the Christian kingdoms takes up the characteristic repertoires of the previous or contemporary dynasties of al-Andalus, but it also develops its own features. Thus, a comparison with the inscriptions of al-Andalus makes it possible to distinguish the different dynamics that resulted from the appropriation of Arabic epigraphy by Christians. Any process of cultural transfer is accompanied by loss, innovation, selection, adaptation and resemantisation (Glick and Pi-Sunyer 1969, p. 152). First, the loss of the Arabic language among Muslim craftsmen is often pleaded as a reason for the mistakes in some inscriptions, their sometimes-clumsy character and cases of pseudo-epigraphy. Similarly, some scholars underestimate the impact, in terms of reception and meaning, on an audience no longer fluent in Arabic. However, I think that these remarks must be qualified because the errors and pseudo-epigraphy are also found in Islamic and Arabic-speaking contexts. Manuel Ocaña Jiménez gives the example of commemorative inscriptions dating from the time of the Caliph al-Hakam II (964–965) and adorning the capitals of the Alcazar of Cordoba. The epigraphist shows that, because these were common texts, craftsmen caught up in a certain routine could make graphic errors. He gives the case of عبكا لله instead of عبد الله. (Ocaña Jiménez 1970, pp. 35–36). Moreover, even in an Arabic-speaking context, the elaborateness of these inscriptions does not make reading easy. This is the paradox of ornamental writing, which contains a message that is meant to be read but is difficult to decipher (Pastoureau 1989, pp. 125–37). Beyond the literal meaning, the inscription functions more as a sign than as a discourse, as Cécile Treffort has shown about Latin epigraphy (Treffort 2008, p. 18), or as José Miguel Puerta Vilchez has studied with the caligramas in the Alhambra (Puerta Vílchez 2015). This sign refers to a publicly known symbolism, as shown by the proliferation of such inscriptions in both Muslim and Christian contexts.
It seems, however, that Arabic inscriptions in Castilian-Aragonese kingdoms are characterized by a great repetition of textual content. In the face of this loss of diversity, formal and textual innovations are noticeable, as in the exceptional case of the bilingual aljamiado-Arabic inscription of the Casa del Conde in Toledo. As well as being a graphic originality, because it is a Romance text written in Arabic characters, this inscription expresses a prayer to the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus (Marquer 2022a) (see Appendix A). In addition, a selection of the epigraphic texts of al-Andalus has been made, as well as an adaptation or resementisation of the contents, especially in the case of texts with a clear Islamic connotation. Take the example of the monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos, specifically the stuccoes of the cloister of San Fernando, which date from the third quarter of the 13th century. On the panels of the peacocks, we find this inscription: “Allāh rabbunā” (‘God is our Lord’). This is the beginning of the Almohads’ motto: “Allāh rabbunā, Muḥammad rasulunā, al-Mahdi, imāmunā” (‘God is our lord; Muḥammad, our prophet and al-Mahdi, our imam’). We can see, therefore, that a selection probably took place because the part referring to the Muslim faith does not appear. There is also an adaptation or resemantisation of the contents as in the inscription “ḥasbī Allāh” (‘God is enough for me’) which also appears on the stuccoes of the Monastery of Las Huelgas. This sentence is the answer recommended by the Koran to every good believer who is confronted with the associationist or shirk creed, which consists in associating other beings with God. The dogma of the trinity is indeed much criticized by Islam, which insists on the oneness of God or tawhīd. The Almohads, whose name in Arabic means “the unitarists”, al-Muwaḥḥidūn, have thus propagated tawhīd through inscriptions such as “ḥasbī Allāh” (‘God is enough for me’), which we have just mentioned, and above all “Allāhu waḥda-hu” (‘God is one’). These inscriptions, which proclaim the oneness of God, are certainly strongly connoted in an Islamic context insofar as they are a criticism of the belief in the Christian trinity, as Susana Calvo Capilla has shown in relation to the texts from the Mosque of Cordoba (Calvo Capilla 2010). In Las Huelgas, Manuel Ocaña Jiménez interpreted this text as the result of a subversive desire on the part of Almohad craftsmen to reaffirm the Muslim faith, specifically to insist on the uniqueness of God in opposition to the Christian Trinity, and to leave a clearly recognisable imprint so that there would be no ambiguity as to the authorship of the work. He concluded that the nuns of the monastery must not have known the meaning of the work because they would not have tolerated statements that contradicted the Christian faith (Ocaña Jiménez 1990), but in this Christian monastery, this decontextualized inscription loses its semantic connotation and does not contradict the Christian faith. It is part of the Christian appreciation of divine and spiritual things, all that is gathered under the term “contempt of the world” or “contemptus mundi”. Most of the content of the Arabic inscriptions inherited from al-Andalus is sufficiently neutral or general to be suitable for a Christian environment. As mentioned above, the vast majority are doxological formulae, prophylactic or propitiatory texts. However, some inscriptions remain problematic, such as the case of the Islamic profession of faith of the Church of Maluenda (15th century), in which the name of the Prophet of Islam is mentioned: “lā-ilāha illà-Llāh wa Muḥammad rasūl Allāh” (‘There is no divinity except God and Muhammad is his envoy’). How should this example be interpreted in a Christian church? Moreover, the architect signed his work in Gothic characters, right next to the Arabic inscription: “era: maestro: yuçaf: adolmalih”. Is this a cultural claim on the part of the Mudejar craftsman? A subversive act? A loss of meaning? (Marquer 2022b) (see Appendix B). In order to better understand the complex intention behind certain inscriptions and the meaning they may have had for contemporaries, it is necessary to analyze different elements related to the context of their production.

3.2. Addressing the Historical and Spatial Context of the Inscription

Information on the sponsors of the monuments or objects that adorn the inscriptions or their potential craftsmen—more difficult to find—can enlighten us on the motivations of the actors, on the possible part of freedom that could be left to the craftsman within a pre-established norm. Similarly, the cultural environment is important, particularly information concerning the knowledge of the Arabic of the “producers” and “receivers”, in order to better understand the mechanisms of their reception, in line with a reflection on the role and status of ornamental writing. Knowing who was able to understand these inscriptions and who were the different recipients helps to distinguish different levels of analysis “the general effect sought and the detail of the artistic achievement that is coherently articulated to coherent manner to express specific concepts” as Annliese Nef has shown for the Arabic inscriptions on the ceiling of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo (Nef 2011, pp. 157–58). Indeed, a distinction must be made between reading a text, which is within the reach of those who understood Arabic, and seeing a text, for others. The effect that the inscription can produce is not only the result of reading and deciphering the text, but this impact also often transcends the content of the message. This is why inscriptions can be found in places that are difficult to access, indecipherable, because “what counts is the symbolic connection, the outward sign of magnificence capable of impressing subjects, ambassadors, enemies” as Elisa Ruiz García reminds us about the power of writing (Ruiz García 1999).
The question of the location of these inscriptions and the links that they maintain with their support, their legibility or not, are therefore part of this reflection on communication and the meaning that could be attributed to these inscriptions.

4. A Digital Corpus

I plan to present this corpus in a digital form, which will be published on TITULUS, a digital medieval epigraphy project developed within the Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de Civilisation Médiévale de Poitiers (CESCM). It is a database with an elaborate graphic interface, including records with photos and a detailed commentary. This site is hosted by the CNRS Huma-Num Very Large Research Infrastructure, and all the data are in open access. Originally dedicated to the inscriptions of medieval France, TITULUS intends to open up to other corpuses. I plan to follow the format of the TITULUS records, adapting certain elements to the specificities of Arabic epigraphy. For this, I have taken inspiration from the records of the Alhambra epigraphic corpus (DVD published by the Escuela de Estudios Arabes de Granada (CSIC) and the Patronato de la Alhambra) and also from the online Thesaurus of Islamic Epigraphy (TEI), set up by Ludvik Kalus and Frédérique Soudan, with the support of the Max van Berchem Foundation, and which aims to list all the Arabic, Persian and Turkish inscriptions of the Middle Ages.
The notice of inscription will include the following information:
General description (size, support, location in the monument, dating) and information about the monument
Palaeographic description:
Epigraphic style (kufic, naskhi, mixed)
graphic characteristics
combination with other decorative elements
Imitative editing:
letter games
highlighting of possible errors
Critical editing
Transliteration and translation
Typology: eulogy, doxological formula, propitiatory, of a commemorative nature… Possible confrontation with the reading that some scholars have made of it, explain the general meaning, the structure, the formula, recontextualise historically and epi graphically (establish the link with other inscriptions and the legacy of al-Andalus), comment on the link between the inscription and the monument, the coexistence with inscriptions in other languages. Reference to articles for further development.
This format offers particularly useful possibilities for analysis. First, it provides a global understanding of what an inscription is through detailed instructions with illustrations that consider form, content, location and context (see previous schema points 1, 2, 8). The dynamic edition with photos facilitates reading by highlighting the calligraphic text, and visually clarifies the paleographic and philological analysis by underlining errors, specificities, innovations (see previous schema points 4, 5, 6). Then, a digital corpus will also facilitate the exploitation of the results. Statistical applications and cross-tabulation of variables will make it possible to evaluate which texts are the most widespread according to periods, zones, media. Furthermore, dynamic mapping makes it possible to show the geographical distribution, the extent of the phenomenon according to the area, and to highlight networks. Finally, this tool lends itself to collaborative work and the dissemination of data in free access. This implies multiple spin-offs for historians, linguists with translation or revision of translations (see previous schema point 7), heritage (museums, churches and even private individuals who have an inscription in their house as in Toledo).

5. Conclusions

With this project, which concerns one of the forms of convivencia, I wish to contribute to the more general reflection on the question of the interaction between the Christian and Muslim worlds and rethink the nature of the historical legacy of Islam in Europe. The case of Spain should indeed be linked to other areas where the dominant references are not those of the Islamic world either: the Sicily of the Norman kings and more generally Italy, the Byzantine Empire, France, the Latin states of the East. It will allow us to understand how the heritage that identifies a society is constructed and what is the place of the written word in this process: in what way does the written word enable us to divide or reunite, to convey meaning beyond language and understanding.


This study is part of a project funded by the Spanish State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation: “Al-Andalus, art, sciences and contexts in an open Mediterranean. From the West to Egypt and Syria” (Al-ACMES. RTI2018-093880-B-I00).

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Example of a Notice: Inscription of Casa del Conde, Toledo.
Table A1. Example of a Notice: Inscription of Casa del Conde, Toledo.
Plasterwork arch of the Casa del Conde with inscription Histories 02 00012 i001
Histories 02 00012 i002
General description and information about the monumentRomance text written in Arabic characters.
Inscription on a wide oblong medallion in the plasterwork arch of the Casa del Conde, in situ (with a copy in the National Archaeological Museum) Plaza del Consistorio, Toledo, 5
247 cm long, 49 cm wide
Dates from the 15th century (mid-to late 15th century).
This arch is the last vestige of the Casa, of which we have very little information (it was probably the house of the archdeacon of Madrid in the 15th century, according to the Archivo de Obra y Fábrica (Of) 356 of the Archivo Capitular de Toledo (ACT)–1492.
BibliographyAmador de los Ríos y Villalta, Rodrigo, “La casa del Conde Esteban de Toledo”, Boletín de la Sociedad Española de Excursiones, 35 (1896), pp. 205–12.
Caviró Martínez, Balbina, Mudéjar toledano, palacios y conventos, Madrid, Vocal Artes Gráficas, 1980, pp. 187, 193
Marquer, Julie, “Jesús y María entre el islam y el cristianismo en las inscripciones árabes de la Casa del Conde de Toledo”, Al Qantara, forthcoming, (accessed on 5 December 2021). sssss ficha 000175- “Friso mudéjar con inscripción aljamiada”
Palaeographic descriptionMixture of kufic and cursive or naskhi style, sometimes neither one nor the other, as shown by the peculiar rā’.
The overlapping or superimposed position of the letters is striking, as are the raised upstroke and the complicated knots that form the final letters.
The phrase ‘Santa María mi mejor guía, a nos mejores’ is repeated with some slight variations related to the interlacing of the upstroke and the ornamentation.
Imitative editionشَنْتَ مَارِية مِمَجُرْ غِيَ اَنُشْ مَجُرَشْ
Inscription read by Rodrigo Amador de los Ríos
Transliteration and translationŠanta Mārīa mimaŷur ġia anuš maŷuraš
Santa María, mi mejor guía, a nos mejores
Holy Mary, my best guide, make us better
CommentaryPrayer to the Virgin Mary in which the use of the subjunctive as an imperative denotes a performative and propitiatory value.
This inscription is doubly original in its form and content. It is the only known example to date of an inscription written in aljamiado, i.e., in Romance with Arabic characters, and it is the only example of a text mentioning the Virgin Mary in Arabic letters in the Iberian Peninsula.
In addition, this text coexists with another inscription that repeatedly mentions Jesus as the son of Mary, in Arabic and in aljamiado (link to the other inscription).
Although we have little information about the building, we can affirm that the commissioner was a Christian, perhaps the archdeacon of Madrid, and that the craftsman was a Muslim or a Christian who knew Arabic, because this is not a common text that could be copied without understanding the language.
The inscriptions on the ensemble should probably be understood as reflecting a desire on the part of the Christian commissioners to synthesise various religious and cultural traditions. We do not think, however, that this reconciliation between Islam and Christianity should be seen as an expression of an openness towards foreign beliefs, but rather as a hegemonic attempt to embrace all under Christian power.
For more details see the article Marquer, Julie, “Jesús y María entre el islam y el cristianismo en las inscripciones árabes de la Casa del Conde de Toledo”, Al Qantara, XLIII 1, enero-junio 2022, forthcoming

Appendix B

Table A2. Example of a notice: Inscription of Santa María de Maluenda.
Table A2. Example of a notice: Inscription of Santa María de Maluenda.
Alfarje of Santa Maria de Maluenda Histories 02 00012 i003

Histories 02 00012 i004
General description and information about the monumentInscription painted in black letters on a white background on a frieze located at the bottom of the alfarje or coffered ceiling on which the high choir rests, in the western part of the Santa Maria church, Maluenda (Catalayud). The frieze is located below the coat of arms of the Luna family. Around 1400, Pope Benedict XIII, don Pedro Martinez de Luna, had the part corresponding to the old mosque in the west destroyed and replaced it with a new building.
The text is about four metres above the ground, on the right-hand side, above the arch marking the passage between the part under the choir and the rest of the church.
The frieze is divided into five parts: on the first part on the left, the text has disappeared and the second and third parts bear a Latin inscription in Gothic characters which corresponds to a quotation from the Gospel according to St Luke (IV, 30). The fourth part displays the signature of the craftsman in the same Gothic characters ‘era maestro yuçaf adolmalih’. The Arabic inscription on the fifth part of the frieze corresponds to the Islamic profession of faith or shahāda.
BibliographyPeña Gonzalvo, Javier, “Santa María de Maluenda. Evolución tipológica y constructiva “, Segundo encuentro de estudios bilbilitanos, Calatayud, 1989
Borrás Gualis, Gonzalo, Arte mudéjar aragonés, 2 t., Zaragoza: Caja de ahorros y monte de piedad de Zaragoza, Aragón y Rioja, Colegio oficial de arquitectos Técnicos y aparejadores de Zaragoza, 2, 1985, pp. 215–37.
Marquer, Julie, “La shahāda dans une église. Le cas exceptionnel de l’inscription arabe de Santa María de Maluenda (XVe s.) “, Atalaya, forthcoming
García Marco, Francisco Javier, “Un capítulo para la historia social del trabajo del yeso: familia Domalich de Calatayud y su entorno en el siglo XV”, Actas del V Simposio Internacional de Mudejarismo: Teruel, 1991, pp. 345–64.
Palaeographic descriptionIt is a fairly simple cursive script with no graphic elaboration or decoration. The sentence is vocalised.
Imitative editionإله إلا الله، مُحَمَدْا رَسوُل للَهْ لا[غيَر]ِإلا الله لا First interpretation
إله إلا الله، مُحَمَدْا رَسوُل للَهْ لا[عمَر]ِإلا الله لا Second interpretation
Critical editionPresence of an alif after Muhammad, while the dāl preceding it bears a sukūn. This is probably a residual alif, a confusion with the alif which has the function of marking the accusative in the full, and therefore performative, version of the shahāda:
أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله، (وأشهد) أن محمداً رسول الله.
Secondly, the alif of the second occurrence of Allāh is missing. Finally, the second part of this profession of faith is novel, it is not a usual formula and the word following the negation particle poses a transcription problem. It could be the morpheme ghayr غيَر which, together with the particle renders the restrictive négation, but this negation would then be redundant and the sentence incorrect because of the presence of the particle illà لاغيَرِالا الله. Another hypothesis would be to consider the second letter of the word not as a but as a badly closed mīm. In this case it could be عمر: life or civilization, ‘there is no life or civilization outside of God’.
Transliteration and translationlā-ilāha illà-Llāh wa Muḥammad rasūl Allāh, lā [ghayr] illà-Llāh
there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet, there is no other but God
lā-ilāha illà-Llāh wa Muḥammad rasūl Allāh, lā [cumr] illà-Llāh
there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet, there is no life outside of God
CommentaryThe presence of the Islamic profession of faith in a church is surprising, especially as this example mentions the Prophet Muhammad, unlike other inscriptions in Christian monuments which only mention the beginning of the shahāda. Furthermore, the Muslim master builder who signed his work and who is therefore the author of the Arabic inscription belonged to a dynasty of recognised craftsmen in Calatayud, the Domalich or Abd al-Malik family, one of whose members, Musa, had worked on the construction of the church of San Pedro Martir de Calatayud.
These families therefore enjoyed a certain prestige and had the full confidence of their patrons. It is therefore difficult to believe that the master builder’s intention in making this profession of faith was to defy his patron and the Christian community.
The status of the Aragonese Mudéjar master builders explains the degree of freedom they had in their artistic work. This freedom and desire to claim authorship of his work was accompanied in Maluenda by a religious affirmation. But we do not think that it should be considered as the result of a polemical intention. It is more a question of a desire to mark his construction and to pay homage to God, the only creator of things.

Appendix C

Table A3. Example of a notice: Inscription of San Roman of Toledo.
Table A3. Example of a notice: Inscription of San Roman of Toledo.
Alfiz of the window in the western wall of San Roman of Toledo Histories 02 00012 i005
Histories 02 00012 i006
General description and information about the monumentInscriptions painted in white on a black background framing the alfiz of the windows in the western wall of the central nave. The same inscription adorns the other two windows in the upper part of the wall and the archivolts of the upper arcades of the nave.
The church was consecrated in 1221 by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo.
Horizontal band approx. 1.20 m and 20 cm wide
Vertical bands approximately 80 cm
BibliographySouto, Juan Antonio (2011), Los textos árabes en la Iglesia de San Román de Toledo, “Círculo románico” [en línea],, accessed on 5 December 2021
Abad Castro, Concepción (2004), La iglesia de San Román de Toledo, Madrid, Iberdrola.
Ruiz Souza, Juan Carlos (2021), Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada y la valoración del patrimonio de al-Andalus como algo propio. Arabización e islamización, “Anuario de Estudios Medievales” 51/1, pp. 269–301,
Virgilio Martínez Enamorado, Inscripciones árabes de la Región de Murcia, Murcia 2009
Martínez Núñez, María Antonia, “El proyecto almohade a través de la documentación epigráfica: innovación y ruptura”, in Las Navas de Tolosa 1212–2012 Miradas cruzadas, Cressier, P.; Salvatierra, V.; Eds., Universidad de Jaén: Jaén, 2014, pp. 139–57
Palaeographic descriptionCursive style
The same graphic sequence is repeated several times (eight times)
The coordinating conjunction ‘wa’ is always placed on the first term of the eulogistic construction, which causes a break in the writing line. The qaf of ‘iqbal’ is also slightly raised and it is the only letter that receives a diacritical point.
Imitative editionاليمن والاقبال
Critical editionIt is noticeable that the division of the graphic sequences is not always continuous or timely. The first sequence of the inscription begins with a lām that corresponds to the last letter of the word iqbāl, which seems to be attached to the alif at the beginning of the sequence ‘al-yumn’.
Transliteration and translationAl-yumn wa-l-iqbāl
Happiness and prosperity/bliss and auspicious fate
CommentaryEulogy with prophylactic value
According to Virgilio Martínez Enamorado, this typical motif originated in the palaces of Ibn Mardanish of Murcia (12th century), as shown by its omnipresence in the decorative programme of the Saghir Alcázar. According to the epigraphist, by identifying the dynasty of the Taifa of Murcia, this motto would have acquired a political meaning. However, María Antonia Martínez Núñez shows that the association of these two words can be found in various epigraphic manifestations in the 12th and 13th centuries, especially in the Maghreb on the Bāb Janā’iz of the Qarāwiyyīn mosque in Fez and is frequently used in Almohad ceramics.
According to Martínez Núñez, this expression belongs to the “theme of happiness and well-being” that is linked to Sufi contributions in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is mainly afterwards, in the 13th century (post-Almohad period), that this phrase will be established in a stable and recurrent way in the peninsular epigraphy. It is found a lot in Castilian architecture from the 13th century onwards with the same graphic characteristics and in Nasrid architecture.
The mystical exaltation to which this phrase refers seems to be preserved in the church of San Román, which is the only Arabic text, it is visible and repetitive. The same is true of the Cristo de la Luz church, where the phrase is found on the arch of the apse, painted in black on a white background with the same graphic characteristics.
According to Juan Carlos Ruiz Souza, the presence of Arabic inscriptions in Christian monuments in Toledo is strongly linked to the Mozarabic presence, especially in San Román, whose visual programme corresponds to Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada’s desire to reconcile the Roman and Mozarabic rites.


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