Is it a mosque or a church?

columns in the mosque cathedral of cordoba andalusia spain

Throughout history, places of worship have swapped hands between religions. So, Roman pagan temples became churches….and in some cases, churches became mosques. In Spain and Portugal, a church might become a mosque only to revert to being a church later on. Such were the stormy religious times in that region!

Mosque to church to mosque to church…

Only in Spain and Portugal can you see this phenomenon so clearly – a building that started out as a church, became a mosque and then reverted to being a church.  It’s even got the mixed up name of ‘La Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz’ – the Mosque of Christ of Light.  I visited the now disused mosque/church last year and it’s one of the few identifiable mosques left in the city of Toledo.

Toledo was a jewel in the Moorish crown of Al-Andalus – the Islamic caliphate ruled from Cordoba from 711 AD.  For 350 years, the city was a centre of Muslim learning and trading.  Musa Ibn Ali built this mezquita in 999AD – or 390AH if you prefer – and an inscription can still be seen above the horseshoe arches.  There had once been a Christian church on the site in the Visigoth era – that came after the collapse of the Roman empire – but the mosque obliterated any remnants of it.

The main square part of the building constituted the original mosque while the curved apse at the end was added when it became a church in the 12th century – after the crusaders had taken the city for the kingdom of Castile.  The apse is built in the same style as the mosque – a style called ‘mudejar’.  This is basically a lingering Moorish aesthetic that continued long after the Moorish expulsion – partly because many of the craftsmen were Moors now living under Christian rule.

As well as the Arabic inscriptions, you can see faded Christian painting from the medieval era.   All the photos that follow were taken by me.

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