In this follow up to Should The Pope offer St. Maria’s of Alhambra to Islam, I want to consider what the Catholic church has to gain by offering St. Maria’s as an offering to interfaith worship.
The short answer is that The Church has peace to gain, with a start toward reconciliation among faiths, which need to come together rather than grow further apart. The long answer is that it is only through an unsolicited offer by The Catholic Church, in advance of pressure from outside events, that The Church can authentically make a gesture that other faiths can trust as an offering to peace. The act needs to take place prior to strife, for it to be clear that The Church’s hand was not forced in the matter – which it is not, but could seem so, should such an offering occur after an event of great distress. This means that it is the right moment for such an offering.
Open dialog between faiths is much needed, so that theoretical reconciliations can be reached, which promise to support a broader day to day acceptance of other faiths living together in the same community. There is no better way to reach a state in which reconciliation can be achieved than through a community of shared worship. Seeing and hearing and feeling those in prayer and worship inevitably makes the practice and people of other faith less alien, more akin to yourself and your own needs and fulfillment. And the setting at Alhambra is the most perfect given the history of intolerance in Spain and the history of Alhambra, not to mention its beauty.
On a plateau over Granada, Spain stands Alhambra. It is a grand palace and former settlement of the Moors. It is today well preserved in its full history, but its history is still alive.
Inside the grounds of Alhambra is a church. It is a nice church, in the renaissance style, but it’s history is not so nice. Alhambra was a Moorish palace and settlement, and where the church of Santa Maria de la Encarnacion stands once stood a mosque. That mosque was torn down and in its place was put the church. It was common practice throughout Andalusia, Spain to convert old mosques to cathedrals. The major cathedrals of Andalusia were once mosques. But tearing down this mosque and building in its place a church, on the grounds of Moorish Alhambra, was a clear show of power by Catholic rule, and no mere convenience.
In The Alhambra Trinity I address – in literary and indirect form – some reasons for turning St. Maria’s of Alhambra into an offering of peace. What I do not address directly – though it is an underlying current – is its historical significance as a symbol of religious struggle and the domination by Catholicism in Spain. As such it holds a unique place for potential as a symbol of peace as Spain enters an age of religious diversity and tolerance, but I do not believe the proper action is to convert St. Maria’s to a mosque. It should instead be made symbol of interfaith peace and not a symbol of triumph by one side over another – diplomatic or otherwise. A place where all people of faith are welcome, including those of the Jewish faith, who have a long history in the region of Granada, and also worked on Alhambra.
To that end I, a Catholic, suggest it be converted to a place where all faiths can practice together, though in a unique way. I realize that the suggestion of re-architecting a renaissance style church in Europe may fall on deaf ears. And some may look at this approach as opening a can of worms, but I look at it as the most supreme offering of peace that the Church can make. And peace should be the goal of all faith, Catholic, Islamic, Jewish or otherwise.