CFor some reason the multicultural history of Spain – and especially Andalusia – seems to ignite claims about who owns its cultural heritage. Recently The Islamic Society of North America has published an article that calls Andalusia a “paradise” that will return when “the only victor is Allah.” It claims that Andalusia was a region of tolerance “for 800 years” when occupied by Muslims, was then ruined by “the insanity following the Spanish reconquista” and, only today, has regained some of its former lustre thanks to growing interest in Islam in the region. Indeed Islamic Andalusia was a cultural centre for western Europe, did tolerate the presence of Jews and Christians and did see a great many natives convert to Islam. Interesting approach.
On the other side: Córdoba’s Mezquita cathedral has become one of the most visible symbols of the battle that citizen groups are waging against the privileges of the Catholic Church. The Mezquita is one of the world’s most stunning examples of Moorish architecture. It was built as a mosque in 987, but was converted into a Catholic cathedral in 1236. With its mixture of columns, arches and chapels, it remains one of the Andalusian city’s biggest tourist attractions, and reflects Spain’s Christian and Islamic past.
But a legal tug-of-war has now emerged over its ownership. Spain’s Franco-era Mortgage Law has allowed the Church to register thousands of properties in its name via a simple process that a number of law experts say is unconstitutional. In 1998 the conservative Popular Party government of José María Aznar extended this privilege to also include places of worship. Since then thousands of properties of all types – cemeteries, smallholdings, chapels and cathedrals – have passed into its hands. One estimate made by EL PAÍS a year ago with the help of sources close to the Land Registry talked of around 4.500 properties across Spain.
The Bishopric of Córdoba registered the Mezquita in 2006 for just €30. At the end of 2013 a group of citizens created a platform to demand that the ownership and management of the monument be passed into public hands, and thus try to stall the bishopric’s attempts to wipe out the traces of its Islamic past (it even removed the word mezquita, which means mosque, from leaflets and posters).
But the Heritage Office, which is part of the Finance Ministry and is responsible for state properties, has just ruled that the Bishopric of Córdoba did not “usurp” the Mezquita, and has shelved a complaint that was filed by citizen Fernando Jabonero – who, of his own accord, denounced this “usurpation” of the property with the Heritage Office. The office replied in a May 6 statement, arguing that Ferdinand III of Castile had decided that the site should be “consecrated and converted into a cathedral” in 1236 – the same reference that the bishopric used when it actually registered the Mezquita in 2006.
At the same time as citizen groups were campaigning for the Church’s privileges to be revoked retroactively, the Justice Ministry in April presented a reform of this Mortgage Law. But not only will it takes months for the changes to pass through parliament, but the ministry has also seen to it that they will not come into force until one year after they are published in the official state gazette.
Let’s hope that this old school thinking comes to an end soon and enjoy the wonderful left overs from (what seems now) a more tolerant multiculti past.