Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Holy Toledo!

We left Almachar with sadness. It was a beautiful place and the weather was wonderful. Our first stop was Toledo, about half an hour south of Madrid. We stayed overnight on our way to the north coast of Spain.

The term “Holy Toledo” is an American expression and probably came from Jews emigrating from Spain. Toledo is/was considered the most holy of cities. It has a rich religious history. This is where for several centuries Muslim, Jew and Christian lived together in harmony. During the dark ages, when most of Europe was wallowing in post-Roman chaos, Spain was enjoying a period of enlightenment. The Moors/Muslims had taken over most of the Iberian Peninsula and had brought with them a lot of science and math knowledge previously unknown. Part of the Islamic scripture says that all prophets are of one God so whether it is Jesus, Mohammed or another, they are all recognized. This led to religious tolerance.

Now, some writings talk about the Moors controlling the peninsula for 700 years but in actual fact, they were present for that long but began losing ground almost immediately. They only controlled the whole peninsula for about 200 years and then the Christians began driving them back. The final Moorish stand was in Granada, the south of Spain. I tell you this because I am not sure whether Toledo was under Christian or Muslim rule during the period of religious tolerance. I think the tolerance may have started under one and continued under the other.

There were many learned scholars living in Toledo and the topic of discussion was generally how religion and science worked together. People were learning so much so quickly and it was rocking their religious foundations. However, rather than rejecting one or the other, they worked to align the two. It must have been an interesting time and place to live. There is something quite wonderful about religious harmony and it makes me wonder how the world would have been a different place if these guys had been able to sway common thinking.

Now, unless one begin to think that everything was happy and calm under Muslim rule, let me enlighten you by saying it ain’t so. They fought amongst themselves just like the Christian rulers did. I think it was the time. Their inability to work together probably led to their being ousted from Spain. Again, it just goes to show the power of common vision.

The town of Toledo is very medieval feeling, perched on a rock surrounded by water on three sides. It is quite spectacular. Hearing about their enlightened ways also gives one a sense of being in the presence of something quite special. And then we took the train ride and saw the “Jewish Gate” built of Muslim headstones by the Christians. So much for religious tolerance. And of course there’s the story of the Muslim princess and Christian soldier who fell in love. She was beheaded in front of him. The city lost some of its headiness for me after that. If I could add one more piece of irony, Toledo is known for making fabulous knives and swords.

Say, speaking of religious tolerance reminds me of when we were in Arcos de la Frontera. That was where we saw the Bull Run. Of course the Bull Run was the highlight but we also took a boo around town. There were two churches in town: Saint Mary’s and Saint Peter’s. Both were interesting but Saint Peter’s had the better stories. You see, the Pope would only consecrate one of the churches and he chose Saint Mary’s. The parishioners at Saint Peter’s were outraged and refused to say the word’s Saint Mary in the prayers any longer. They’d pray to Saint Peter, mother of God. I like them. They also had a caretaker for many years who was famous for bringing a donkey into his rooms in the church. You can see his balcony over the door in the picture to the right. The donkey got too big to get back out again and finally he had to kill and eat it. I’m not sure why he had to eat it. He may have been a thrifty sort. At any rate, it’s clear the group over at Saint Peter’s is the more interesting congregation.