The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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The Church at the Top of the Hill Summary

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Last Updated on April 9, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481

When Castilians took control of Toledo in 1085, they chose to develop a Visigoth church into the Church of San Roman at the highest point in the city. Although it was a Christian building, it was designed to include arches like those in the Great Mosque, and Arabic script was embedded throughout. Although this Arabic is impossible to decipher, Menocal asks why these Christian conquerors would choose to include so much of the culture and, by extension, the religion of the conquered.

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Toledo had been developed by the Visigoths in the sixth and seventh centuries and was later a major city of the Umayyads. During the eleventh century, it was ruled by al-Mamun. Toledo’s cultural and military rival was Saville, and like many of the other taifas vying for power, these two cities were often engaged in battle. All of this Islamic infighting had a price, and the Christian church on the hill in Toledo is the result. But how, Menocal asks, did it come to this point?

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Latest answer posted May 9, 2020, 4:08 pm (UTC)

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In answer, Menocal writes that in 1065, just after Barbastro had fallen, the Christian king of Saragossa allied with Muslims to fight other Christian factions. Then, in 1066, anti-Jewish riots swept Granada, where Joseph, son of Samuel, was killed, as the purist Berber Muslims saw Jews and Christians as enemies. The largest influence at this time, Menocal suggests, was the death of Ferdinand I, who split his kingdom among three of his four sons (the fourth was Rodrigo Diaz, or “the Cid”). The three brothers, Sancho, Alfonso, and Garcia, warred with one another over territories. Sancho bested his two brothers but was soon killed. Alfonso, with his brother Rodrigo, took control of Castile. Soon thereafter, al-Mamun was assassinated, and it seemed unlikely that Andalusia would ever be able to unify. Al-Mamun’s grandson, al-Qadir, strove to rule over Toledo but needed help from Alfonso. Alfonso agreed, but al-Qadir became essentially a puppet governor. In 1085, with overwhelming political unrest in Toledo, al-Qadir gave control of the city to Alfonso and exiled himself. Toledo thus became the capital of Alfonso’s empire.

In light of Toledo becoming an established Christian city, remaining Muslim cities panicked, as Christianity was now dominating Andalusia. With al-Qadir now serving as his puppet in Valencia, Alfonso demanded that Seville submit to him. However, the Berber Almoravids came to rescue their Andalusian Muslim brethren and almost immediately defeated Alfonso. The relief for the Muslim taifas was short-lived, as the Almoravids returned and made Andalusia their own territory, implementing more purist laws across the land. Now, it seemed that the only safe place for Jews, Muslims, and Christians to coexist was Toledo, which Alfonso still ruled and kept open to various religions. This led to Toledo becoming the intellectual capital of Europe, and it is this mixing of cultures that explains the enduring Islamic influence on the church at the top of the hill.

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