11 June 2019
My visit to Spain last week began and ended in Málaga, where I visited the cathedral once again, having first visited it five years ago, during Holy Week 2014.
The cathedral stands within the line of former walls of the mediaeval Moorish city, close to Málaga’s Moorish Alcazaba or citadel.
Málaga was re-conquered by the Christians on 18 August 1487. Initially, the Aljama mosque was converted into a cathedral and consecrated with a dedication to Santa Maria de la Encarnación (Saint Mary of the Incarnation).
The minaret of the mosque became the bell tower of the cathedral, and the site of this first cathedral is more or less where the present-day sacristy, museum and gardens are located.
But the chapter or canons of the cathedral soon proposed building a new cathedral. Because of the restrictions of the site, the new cathedral was built on a north-south axis. The door of the main façade was built in Gothic style about 1510 and this is the sacristy door that today leads into the gardens.
The cathedral was built on or near the site of an early Almohad mosque in the Renaissance style between 1528 and 1782, following plans by Diego Siloe (ca 1495-1563), the Burgos-born architect who also designed the cathedrals in Gaudix and Almería.
The cathedral is built on a rectangular plan, with a nave and two aisles. The nave is wider than the two side aisles, but they are of the same height.
The façade, unlike the rest of the building, is in Baroque style and is divided into two levels. On the lower level are three arches, and inside these arches are portals separated by marble columns. Above the doors are medallions carved in stone. Those on the side doors represent the patron saints of Málaga, Saint Ciriaco and Saint Paula, while the medallion over the centre depicts the Annunciation.
The original plans envisaged two towers. The north tower is 84 metres high, making this the second-highest cathedral in Andalusia, after the Giralda of Seville.
The south tower remains unfinished. A plaque at the base of the tower says the funds raised by the parish to finish the south tower were used instead to help the former British colonies that became the United States to gain independence.
However, church records show the money may have been used to renovate the roadway called the Way of Antequera, which began in the present street Calle Martinez Maldonado.
Because only one tower was ever completed, the cathedral is known as La Manquita, or ‘The One-Armed Lady.’
Inside, the interior of Málaga Cathedral shows influences of the Renaissance and baroque styles.
Only the cathedrals of Granada and Seville, which have similar proportions, and the immense Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba can rival the architectural splendour of the interior of Málaga Cathedral.
The Gothic altarpiece in the Chapel of Santa Barbara is the oldest altar in the cathedral and is the only altar to survive from the time the mosque was converted into Málaga’s first cathedral.
There are 16th century tombs in the Chapel of San Francisco.
The Chapel of the Incarnation has a neoclassic altarpiece (1785) designed by the sculptor Juan de Villanueva and carved by Antonio Ramos and Aldehuela. A group of figures representing the Annunciation and sculptures of Málaga’s two patron saints, Saint Ciriaco and Saint Paula, were carved by Juan Salazar Palomino in the 18th century.
‘The Beheading of Saint Paul,’ a painting in the Chapel of La Virgen de Los Reyes, was painted by Enrique Simonet Lombardo (1866-1927) during his visit to Rome in 1887.
‘El Convite del fariseo’ or ‘The Banquet of the Pharisee’ (ca 1635), a large painting in the Chapel of San Julián, is the work of the Flemish painter Miguel Manrique, a disciple of Rubens.
The 17th century choir stalls, carved in mahogany and cedarwood, were designed by Luis Ortiz de Vargas. After his death, 42 finely carved statues of the saints were completed for each stall by Pedro de Mena y Medrano (1628-1688), one of the most celebrated sculptors and woodcarvers in Spain at the time and a pupil of Alonzo Cano (1601-1667).
The 18th century painter and essayist Antonio Palomino described the choir with its stalls as the ‘eighth wonder of the world.’
Some of the chapels leading off the side aisles also exhibit works by Pedro de Mena and his tutor, Alonzo Cano, the architect who designed the façade of Granada Cathedral.
The two cathedral organs are considered to be among the best of Spanish baroque organs. They were built in the 1770s by Julián de Orden, the organ-maker from Cuenca.
Despite the standing of the architects who initially designed the cathedral, building work continued at a slow pace throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In the late 1700s, the Bishop of Málaga, José Molina Larios – who gives his name to Málaga’s main shopping street – commissioned José Martín de Aldehuela (1729-1802), an architect from Aragon, to rebuild and repair the cathedral. He had designed other buildings in Málaga province, including Ronda’s New Bridge.
The Portal of the Patio de los Naranjos joins the doorway also known as the Puerta de las Cadenas. The Holy Week and Easter processions in Málaga enter the cathedral through this doorway.
Until the mid-20th century, the cathedral was attached to surrounding houses. They have since been demolished, and the cathedral stands on its own in the centre of the old town, one of Spain’s most impressive unfinished buildings.
The small Cathedral Museum is reached by a wooden staircase in the cathedral shop.
Beside the cathedral, the Iglesia del Sagrario was founded in the 15th century on the site of a mosque. The church has an unusual rectangular shape, and the 16th century Gothic doorway is all that remains of the original church, which was rebuilt in 1714.
The gardens include a number of interesting items in the so-called Museo al Aire libre de la Cathedral de Malaga.
The oft-photographed cathedral gardens on Calle del Cistner also include a strange monument of unmarked crosses to victims of the Spanish civil war.
In the square in front of the cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace is a series of buildings, some dating from the 16th century, that were joined together to form one large block in the 18th century, with a Baroque façade facing the Plaza del Obispo.
The façade in red white, pink and grey marble was designed in the 18th century in the late Baroque style by the architect Antonio Ramos, master builder of the cathedral.
Twice during walking tours of Córboda last week, I was part of groups that met at the statue of the Stoic philosopher Seneca, by the Puerta de Almodóvar, one of the main city gates.
Córdoba is a city of philosophers, poets and theologians, and I was interested to particular how the city celebrates the Jewish theologian, philosopher and physician, Maimonides. But there are other philosophers, poets and writers too from Roman times and from the centuries when Córdoba was a centre of intellectual life in the Islamic world.
Seneca, or Seneca the Younger (ca 4 BC to AD 65), was born in Córdoba and became a leading Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist. His full name was Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
Seneca was was brought as a child to Rome, where he was trained in rhetoric and philosophy. His father was Seneca the Elder, his elder brother was Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, and his nephew was the poet Lucan. Seneca was exiled to Corsica by the Emperor Claudius in the year AD 41, but was allowed to return in 49 as a tutor to Nero.
When Nero became emperor in 54, Seneca became his advisor and with Sextus Afranius Burrus he provided competent government for the first five years of Nero’s reign. But, over time, Seneca’s influence with Nero declined, and in 64 Seneca was forced to end his own life for his alleged role in a plot to assassinate Nero, although it is likely he was innocent.
Seneca is known for his philosophical works and for his plays, which are tragedies. His prose works include a dozen essays and 124 letters dealing with moral issues. These writings constitute one of the most important bodies of primary material for ancient Stoicism.
The early Church was favourably disposed towards Seneca and his writings. Tertullian refers to him as ‘our Seneca,’ Jerome includes him in a list of Christian writers, and he is also mentioned by Augustine.
Dante places Seneca and Cicero among the ‘great spirits’ in the First Circle of Hell, or Limbo. Boccaccio wrote an account of Seneca’s suicide, hinting that it was a kind of disguised baptism or a baptism in spirit. Other writers, such as Albertino Mussato and Giovanni Colonna argued that Seneca has been a Christian convert. He appears also in the writings of Chaucer, Petrarch, Erasmus and Calvin.
As a writer of tragic plays, he is best known for his versions of Medea, Thyestes, and Phaedra. Thyestes is considered Seneca’s masterpiece and has been described as one of the most influential plays ever written. His Medea is also highly regarded, and was praised along with Phaedra by TS Eliot.
Aben Hazam (994-1063), whose full name was Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Saʿīd ibn Ḥazm, was a poet, polymath, historian, jurist, philosopher, and theologian. He was born in Córdoba, and became a leading proponent and codifier of the Zahiri school of Islamic thought. In all, he produced 400 works, although only 40 survive.
He is seen as one of the leading thinkers of the Muslim world, and has been called the father of comparative religious studies.
Aben Hazam’s grandfather Sa’id and his father Ahmad both held senior positions in the court of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham II. They probably were Christians who had converted to Islam, and they became a politically and economically important family.
As a philosopher and theologian, Aben Hazam was known for his cynicism regarding humanity and his strong respect for the principles of language and sincerity in communication.
After the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate, Aben Hazam was frequently jailed as a suspected supporter of the Umayyads. He found asylum on the island of Majorca in the 1040s, but later returned to Andalusia.
Initially, he was a follower of the Maliki school of law in Sunni Islam, but switched to the Shafi'i school later and, around the age of 30, finally settled with the Zahiri school.
Many of his works were was burned publicly in Seville by his opponents, but about 40 of his books have survived.
In addition to works on law and theology, Aben Hazm also wrote more than 10 books on medicine, and discussed integrating the sciences into a standard curriculum for education. His wrote about the links between science and theology, jurisprudence, logic, ethics, language, philosophy. He also wrote poetry, but only a fragment of one of his poems survives.
Averroes or Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), whose full name was Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd, was a philosopher and thinker who wrote about philosophy, theology, medicine, astronomy, physics, Islamic jurisprudence and law, and linguistics.
His philosophical works include numerous commentaries on Aristotle, for which he was known in the west as the ‘Commentator.’ He was also a judge and a court physician for the Almohad caliphate.
Averroes was born in Córdoba into a family of prominent judges. His grandfather, Abu al-Walid Muhammad, was the chief judge of Córdoba and the imam of the Great Mosque of Córdoba.
The Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf was so impressed with his knowledge that he became the patron of Averroes and commissioned many of his commentaries. Averroes later became a judge in both Seville and Córdoba, and in 1182, he was appointed court physician and the chief judge of Córdoba.
He fell into disgrace in 1195, was charged with political offences, and was exiled to nearby Lucena. He had returned to royal favour shortly before he died in Marrakesh in 1198. At first, he was buried in Morocco, but his body was later moved to Córdoba for another funeral, attended by the Sufi mystic and philosopher Ibn Arabi (1165-1240).
Averroes sought to restore what he considered the original teachings of Aristotle and opposed the Neoplatonist tendencies of earlier Muslim thinkers. He argued that philosophy was permissible in Islam and even compulsory among certain elites. He also argued that Quranic texts should be interpreted allegorically if the appeared to contradict conclusions reached by reason and philosophy.
Maimonides was one of the early Jewish scholars who received the works of Averroes enthusiastically, saying he ‘received lately everything Averroes had written on the works of Aristotle’ and that Averroes ‘was extremely right.’
In the West, Averroes was known for his extensive commentaries on Aristotle, many of which were translated into Latin and Hebrew. The translations of his work reawakened Western European interest in Aristotle and Greek philosophers, an area that had been widely abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire.
He controversially proposed that all humans share the same intellect. His works were condemned by the Church in 1270 and 1277. Thomas Aquinas relied extensively on Averroes’ interpretation of Aristotle, but disagreed with him on many points. Averroes continued to attract followers up to the 16th century, when European thought began to diverge from Aristotelianism.
Averroes wrote at least 67 original works, including 28 works on philosophy, 20 on medicine, eight on law, five on theology, and four on grammar, in addition to his commentaries on most of Aristotle’s works and his commentary on Plato’s Republic. Many of his works in Arabic did not survive, but their translations into Hebrew or Latin did.
Other great scholars from Córdoba during this period include Muhammad ibn Aslam Al-Ghafiqi or Mohamed al-Gafequi, who was born in Córdoba and died in 1165. He was a 12th century oculist and author of The Right Guide to Ophthalmology. This book shows that physicians in Córdoba at that time had a complex understanding of the conditions of the eye and eyelids, which they treated with many different surgical procedures, ointments and chemical medicine.
He was a highly experienced eye-specialist and connoisseur of Arabic literature who had his practice in Cordoba. He studied and treated diseases of the pupil and the iris, and he discovered that cataracts were caused by the segregation of a liquid that produces cloudiness, like water falling in front of the eye.
The inscription on his monument reads, ‘Cordoba honours the famous eye specialist, Mohamed al-Gafequi, on his eighth centenary – 1965.’
Although the poet, philosopher, mystic and Sufi saint Ibn ʿArabi (1165-1240) was born in Murcia and died in Damascus, he too spent some years in Córdoba. His full name was Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad ibnʿArabī al-Ḥātimī aṭ-Ṭāʾī and his works have been beyond the Muslim world. Over 800 works are attributed to him, and 100 survive in the original manuscript.
One of his poems is ‘My religion is love’:
A pasture for gazelles, a convent for Christians.
A temple for idols, a Kaba for the pilgrim.
A table for the Torah, a book of the Koran.
Whichever the route love’s caravan shall take,
that path shall be the path of my faith.