Another interesting development was born out of stricter and more austere conduct rules after Islam’s expansion. The use of gold and silver was seen as ostentatious and related vessels and crockery became unfashionable. In its place ceramic lusterware gained popularity and the transparent and colourful surfaces that may be compared with the multi-layered appearance of sea shells with pearl-like finishes was introduced.
This new trend was taken over by Christian nobility of the Iberian Peninsula. New technologies in painting, glassware, textiles, tiling, calligraphy, metalwork and especially architectural design were adopted. What we call Mozarabian and Mudejar architecture, still seen in countless buildings, have the following origins: ‘Mozarabs’ refers to Visigoth Christians who first lived in Muslim-occupied territories, adopted various Arabic customs, but did not convert to Islam. Many of them made up the artisan force, erecting buildings designed in the Arabic style.
At a later stage, when Christians had liberated the northern regions of the Iberian Peninsula, the Islamic Al-Andalus regime in the south became less tolerant with their Christian subjects and the Christian kingdoms enticed the Visigothic Christian Mozarabs to emigrate northwards, bringing artistic and architectural innovations from the Muslim south with them.
The two churches I visited in Eunate and Torres del Rio are good examples of Mozarabic architecture and design details. Their octagonal shapes and the dome above are unlike the cross-formation of Christian churches and the ribbed arch motifs are a legacy of Arabic detailing.
As Christian forces reconquered regions in Spain, some Muslims remained behind and lived amongst the Christian population. They were forced to convert to Catholicism, but many secretly continued to practice Islam. They were known as the Mudéjar or Moriscos and from the 11th century onwards they had a strong influence on the design and decoration of Christian churches and other buildings. This influence also spread into France and further afield.
Along the Via Podiensis, the historic Camino in southern France between Le Puy-en-Velay and St Jean Pied de Port, I came across a number of examples of Mozarabic and Mudéjar decorative detailing, including typical horseshoe-shaped arches and windows, friezes and capitals of columns embossed with chequered patterns and ornate carvings depicting floral and nature-based motifs, demonstrating that the Arabic influence had spread far beyond the Pyrenees. These motives have a pleasant and playful appearance, hardly stemming from aggressive minds or austere Christian principles.
Mozarabic and Mudéjar decorative detailing
Despite dominating a vast empire that stretched from the borders of China in the Far East, across the Middle East, along northern regions of Africa to Morocco, and finally into Spain, Islamic conduct and governing principles were for a long period generally tolerant and fair. Those conquered were generally permitted to retain their religion and culture as long as they agreed to pay extra taxation as penance for avoiding conversion to Islam, and providing they did not rebel or cause disturbances. In this way a form of cooperation between conquerors and conquered was possible and brought benefits to both parties.
This sentiment of leniency stemmed from Muhammad, who recognized a common spiritual tradition in monotheistic faiths. Right from the outset, when formulating the new Islamic faith, he was aware and respectful of the Jewish and Christian monolithic God and acknowledged that all three religions have a common ancestry in the prophet Abraham. However, what Muslims believe is a variance to this commonality is that only they follow the true teachings of past prophets of which Jesus was the last prior to Muhammad. It is their understanding that the Quran reflects the true words from Allah as revealed to Muhammad and that this represents God’s final instructions to his people on how to live and obey him.
Islam regards some of the teachings of Jews and Christians as corrupt and lacking credibility. Christians, for instance, believe that past prophets received God’s message through the Spirit of God, granting them the mind to understand His word. I personally suggest that, if this is so, then our blueprint, giving us access to awareness, comes from the same source.
The Christian doctrine also states that Jesus was raised from the dead and that this makes him God-like or ‘the son of God’ and the concept of the Trinity (Tri-unity) evolved. It encompasses, the Church maintains, three distinct personalities united in one – all sharing the same divine nature. They are the trinity of God the Father, his son Christ and the Holy Spirit which, they believe, are combined in the monotheistic God. This concept emerged in the 2nd century and, after much debate and controversy, it was officially adopted in the 4th century. From the outset the canon created controversy, especially from Christian churches in the Middle East including the Coptic Church. They remained loyal to the God of the Old Testament. Muslims also see the Trinity as the equivalent of worshipping multiple Gods and strongly reject this concept. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses question the trinity concept.