The long farewell to my Spanish home is coming rapidly to a close, so I decided to visit Sevilla and Cordoba—the heart and the soul of Spain in Andalucia—and of course in addition to touring the tapas bars, and watching a flamenco puro show complete with virtuoso guitarist, emotional cante jondo singer, and passionate dancer—I visited the cathedrals in both cities.
Seville Cathedral is an architectural mess. The third largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London, it took 400 years to build and matches the ambitions of the builders (they wanted to be thought of as mad). It is a hotchpotch of styles—only the Giralda, the tower in one corner that resembles an ornate Doges Palace, has any grace. And inside it is like all the cathedrals I have ever visited—an exercise in the overwhelming arrogance of power and wealth.
A high altar of huge proportions, ornate and heavily decorated with gold leaf, and all around the walls various chapels competing with each other in their opulence. And a Treasury that contains solid gold chalices, headdresses and altar pieces made from solid gold presumably stolen from the Incas. This is not exactly what Christ taught is it? “It is more difficult for a rich man . . . camel through the eye of a needle etc . . .”
And Cordoba was even worse because they have built the cathedral on top of the pre-existing mosque—the world famous Mezquita or Al Jama mosque. At eye level the Mezquita is mesmerizing, hundreds of interlinked arches of alternate pink and cream stripes that are stylized palm trees dimly lit by bronze lanterns that hang on chains. But when you raise your eyes you are into Christian Cathedral Gothic. Soaring columns and vaulted ceilings that make you giddy built on top of the delicate Moorish arches. And at the centre they have added a huge high altar with plaster images of saints and virgins. Sacrilege, or whatever is the Arabic equivalent.
What is worse they have bricked up the Mihrab, the holy place where the Imam led prayers, and you can only look above the wall and see the brilliant Ajulejos (colourful and intricate tilework that is yet another legacy of the Moors) and delicate filigree of carvings in clay that have survived for more than 1,000 years. And even here the Christians have added a plaster saint on one wall of the Mihrab. Is triumphalism a Christian virtue?
In my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” you can read how another Western sin—Greed—has been the cause of so much of the trouble between Arabs, and Jews, and the Western world. It’s all about the search for cheap oil supplies, and the effects that the endless flow of petro-dollars has had on the expatriates who live highly paid, but isolated, dangerous and lonely lives in order to fulfil this greed.
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