Monday, August 21, 2017

We sought out some Spanish history ...

While walking in preparation for our pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, we've listened to The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad. These 24 lectures by historian Joyce E. Salisbury survey the enduring lineage of passing peoples -- their tribes and ethnicities, their religious affections, and how they earned and/or seized their livelihoods -- though what our maps render a minor corner of Europe but which at many periods was where the wide human world met. Salisbury loves Spain. She offers an extremely accessible, enthusiastic, and rich account of the country's oscillation between episodes of relatively peaceful creative diversity of cultures interspersed with eruptions of conflict, cruelty, and terror. There's lots to think about here. I highly recommend this course.

On topics on which I've done some prior study and so am willing to offer an opinion, I was impressed by Salisbury's short background descriptions of early post-Roman Empire Christian conflicts over doctrine, of the history and diffusion of Islam, and of the creative centuries of Jewish-Christian-Muslim coexistence in Al-Andalus. These were so convincing that I was very open to her effort to explain the peculiar features of Spanish Catholicism about which I know so little and which I find culturally very foreign. Apparently the small number of Spaniards attracted to Reformation Christianity in the 16th century were rapidly extirpated -- literally, by both monarchs and the Inquisition. Spanish rulers were just completing a religious war -- the Reconquista -- which ended with expulsions and forced conversions of Jews and Muslims. Reformation Christianity heralded an individualistic Bible-reading faith; the victorious Spanish empire was ripe for a triumphal, sacramental, and collective religiosity that upheld the institutional power of church and state. But in the northern Europe, Reformation unleashed personal religious passion that re-invigorated Christianity. How to compete? Salisbury attributes the baroque artistic expressions of Spanish church building architecture and of Spanish piety as a reaction. No wonder more Protestant-influenced northerners like me find it a little off-putting. Tridentine Roman Catholicism needed to give popular enthusiastic piety an outlet. I will walk among the buildings, shrines, and statuary with this in mind. Perhaps I'll appreciate more than I might have?

I don't have a text to quote from here, so I'll just pass along some impressions particularly relevant to the Camino that I derived from listening.
  • St. James, the "Santiago" which the pilgrimage seeks, was by held by tradition to have been martyred in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus was executed. In the ninth century, Alfonso II the Chaste, king of Asturias and Galicia, accepted a claim that his bones had been discovered and moved them to the cathedral in the town now named Santiago de Compostela.
  • Religious strife was not foreign to early medieval Spain; this lecturer suggests that the revered bones may have actually been those of an Arian heretic bishop who had a local following. Neither story rests on "evidence" in the modern sense. But the shrine quickly became the most prominent of medieval European Christian pilgrimage destinations.
  • The shrine served as a rallying focus for the small, backward northwestern Christian kingdoms that survived on the peninsula in an era when Islamic kingdoms thrived in the rest of what is now Spain and Portugal. The pilgrimage brought a lucrative "tourist trade" which helped pay for the Reconquista.
  • Pilgrimage, then as now, led to cross-cultural mingling of ideas and people. Salisbury suggests northern pilgrims brought a more vigorous anti-Semitism to Asturias and Galicia, while taking home Spanish Catholicism's particular sort of fear of Muslims. St. James -- Santiago -- became the patron of the Reconquista, acquiring the moniker Matamoros, killer of Moors (Muslims). This figure of James remains the patron saint of Spain today.
  • Yet according to Salisbury, St. Teresa of Avila -- a Carmelite nun, a mystic and one of the few women ever recognized as a Doctor of the Church -- gave St. James a close competition during the 16th century for who should be recognized as this contradictory nation's patron.
We're going to a very contradictory country. So much to learn and I know I'll only scratch the surface. No wonder I loved it the last time we visited and so much want to experience it more.

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