Crusader Feasts and the Conversion of Granada

As we have seen before, the Spanish Reconquista was as much a military enterprise as a religious one; as Diego de Valera told King Ferdinand the Catholic, “the Queen fights [the Muslims] no less with her many alms and devout prayers than you, my Lord, armed with the lance”. This is especially true of the final chapter in that long saga: the liberation of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella on 2 January of that portentous year for Spain, 1492.  

benamarin
The feast of the Miraculous Triumph over the Most Impious Infidel King of the Arabs, Benamarin by Name, Around the Year of Our Lord 1340, in a Missal of Palencia from 1567.

The battle of Las Navas de Tolosa on 1212, liturgically remembered as the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, was a decisive Christian victory from which the Mohammedans were never able to recover. Within a few decades, their hold on the Iberian peninsula was limited to the rump kingdom of Granada, a vassal of the kingdom of Castile. In a final bid to undo Christian advances, in 1340 the Sultan of Granada called upon his counterpart of Morocco (whom the Spaniards called the king of Benamarín) for succour, and the latter obliged with a massive host. In the ensuing battle of Río Salado, despite being outnumbered by more than three to one, the combined forces of Castile and Portugal struck a splendid victory which proved the harbinger of the end of Muslim Iberia. The triumph was duly commemorated liturgically on 30 October as the feast of the Victory of Christians (Victoriæ Christianorum) in Portugal and Victory or Triumph against Benamarín in Spain (in some manuscripts, confusingly, it is called the Triumph of the Holy Cross, like the feast of Las Navas de Tolosa).

The beleaguered Mohammedan kingdom of Granada still ambled on for over a century, though wracked by civil wars and at the perpetual mercy of Castile’s benevolence. In response to Granadan raids and internecine struggles for power within the sultanate, Ferdinand and Isabella made war upon it with the approbation of the Lord Pope Sixtus IV, who granted a Bull of Crusade in 1479. The Pope gifted the Monarchs a great silver crucifix, which was borne by the soldiers during the entire campaign; after the surrender of each city, the soldiers adored the crucifix and sung the Te Deum. The papacy also provided much financial aid for the campaign, and this was administered by the Hieronymite friar Hernando de Talavera, bishop of Ávila and confessor of Queen Isabella. 

hernando_talavera
The Lord Hernando de Talavera, first Archbishop of Granada.

Talavera accompanied the Catholic Monarchs to Granada when its last sultan, Boabdil, finally surrendered in 1492, and, at the suggestion of the Monarchs, was appointed the first archbishop of Grenada by the Lord Pope Alexander VI. He set upon the task of organizing his new diocese and converting its Moorish population with zeal. He commissioned his Hieronymite confrère Pedro de Alcalá to write an Arabic grammar and Spanish-Arabic dictionary to help his priests evangelize the region, and he himself tried to learn the Moorish language. He owned a copy of the Koran and took counsel with the local alfaquíes, and encouraged the zambras—Moorish musical ensembles—to participate not only in processions such as that of Corpus Christi, but even in Mass itself, where he also made use of his knowledge of Arabic, as recounted by his one-time page Francisco Núñez Muley, a Moorish convert:

When His Lordship said Mass in person, the zambra was in the choir with the clerics. At the moments when the organ was to be played, since there was none, the zambra responded with its instruments. He said some words in Arabic during Mass, especially that instead of saying Dominus bobyspon [sic!] he said Y barafiqun. I remember this as if it were yesterday, in the year five hundred and two.1

moors
A Moorish dance, by Christoph Weiditz, 1529.

In these pre-Tridentine days, Talavera had full freedom to dispose the liturgy of Granada, and he decreed that “the Divine Office be prayed in accordance with the Roman, and the chant be as that of the Church of Toledo”. When setting up the kalendar, Talavera was keenly aware of the power of the liturgy to cement the Christian conquest and convert the local population, and became a prolific composer of new Offices for these very purposes. The Archbishop, who  had become a choirboy in the collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor in Talavera de la Reina at the age of five, was renowned for his musical talent, being described as “as learned in chant as he was in theology”, and put these abilities into use when writing the musical propers of these Offices. 

deditionis granatae
A manuscript of the propers of the Feast of the Surrender of the Most Renowned City of Granada.

He established 2 January as the feast of the Surrender of the Most Renowned City of Granada (In festo deditionis nominatissime urbis Granate) and composed its Mass and Office, which were effusively praised by the German traveller Hieronymus Münzer: “Oh! I can scarcely describe how noble and elegant is the Office he composed about the [surrender of the] kingdom of Granada by the mercy of God and the victory of the King”2. Like other Crusader feasts, the Office contains many echoes of the Easter liturgies: the first lesson of Mattins, for instance, is a beautiful panegyric of the Day of victory, which brought an end to the Night of Mohammedanism, reminiscent of the Exultet:

A solemn and illustrious day has come to us, most beloved brethren, a day of gladness and rejoicing, a day of joy and jubilation, a day of good tidings, in which it would be criminal to keep silent. A venerable day, a holy day of the Lord, a most renowned day, a day to us more renowned and holy than all others, for it is the day of God’s mercy. A day for which our forefathers yearned and waited, but saw not. But blessed are our eyes, for they are merited to see it. A day which is almost double, and one day better than a thousand. A day the Lord hath made that we might rejoice and be glad thereon. A day on which the city of Granada is made subject to the Catholic faith and acquired by the Christian religion and restored to the empire of the Spanish. A most powerful city, with secure bridges and surrounded by walls. A most mighty city, a city of refuge and excellent dwelling, a city full of delights, a glorious city, deservedly renowned throughout the whole globe, the mistress of the gentiles and prince of the provinces, a city of perfect beauty, the gladness and pride of the Sarracens, the head and summit of the Mohammedan madness in the lands of the Spanish.3

The Mattins responsories, too, connect the day of victory over the Mohammedans to Christ’s day of victory over Death:

To-day true peace has come down to us from heaven. To-day has shone down upon us the day of our redemption, of renewal of the old, of desired happiness.4

Mattins of the feast of the Surrender of Granada, composed by the Lord Hernando de Talavera, sung by Schola Antiqua.

The Paschal theme continues in Mass, where the Gradual is Haec dies, and the Alleluia Dies sanctificatus, though taken from Christmas Day Mass, follows the same idea. The Gospel pericope is from Luke 10, 21-24, which is by the line “Blessed are the eyes that see the things which you see” tied into the Mattins lesson. The Epistle, from Isaias 54, 1-5, appropriately represents Granada as the city of Jerusalem awaiting her salvation. But the liberation of Granada is not only a type of the day of Resurrection, but the antitype of Old Testament figures and events: in the Mattins lessons, King Ferdinand is called an alter Iosue and Queen Isabella an altera sapientissima Delbora (sic, Debbora) and altera venustissima, religiosissima ac honestissima Iudich (sic, Judith). The antiphons are expertly written to link the psalm to the victory at Grenada; e.g., in First Vespers:

Ant. Let us celebrate the solemn day in which God the Father almighty placed the gable of the enemies of His Son as His footstool. Psalm 109.
Aña. Solemnem agamus diem in qua Deus Pater omnipotens fastigium inimicorum Filii sui posuit scabellum pedum eius.

Ant. Let us praise the Lord, and magnify His works, Who on this holy day hath given his people the inheritance of the gentiles, and redeemed many captives. Psalm 110.
Aña. Confiteamur Domino, et magnificemus opera eius qui hac sacra die dedit populo suo hereditatem gentium, et fecit redemptionem plurimorum captivorum.

Ant. King Ferdinand with Queen Isabella shall enjoy eternal memory, for by his works and toil to-day the Lord hath given to the Christian people the glory and riches of the Saracens. Psalm 111.
Aña. In memoria eterna erit Fernandus rex cum regina Helisabeth, quia sua opera et labore dedit hodie Dominus populo Christinano gloriam et diuicias Agarenorum.

Ant. From the rising of the sun unto its going down let the name of the Lord be praised, who by the works of faith made barren Granada a joyful mother of many churches. Psalm 112.
Aña. A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudetur nomen Domini, qui Granatam fidei operibus sterilem matrem fecit multarum ecclesiarum letantem.

Ant. All the peoples of the Spains praise the Lord, who to-day hath confirmed his mercy upon you, putting an end to the ancient sin. Psalm 116.
Aña. Omnes populi Ispaniarum laudate Dominum, quia confirmauit hodie super uos misericordiam suam, finem imponens antiquo peccato.

Thus does Talavera deftly weave the liberation of Granada into the history of Salvation.

compostela
The feast of the Exaltation of the Faith, i.e. the feast of Granada, in a Breviary of Santiago de Compostela from 1569.

This feast does not show up in later propers for the archdiocese of Granada, but it might have survived in certain monasteries, such as the Abbey of Sacromonte, where copies of this office have been found dating as late as the 18th century. A much longer future was enjoyed by another Office and Mass for the liberation of Granada, under the name of the feast of the Exaltation of the Faith (Exaltationis fidei), composed for the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela by the Mercedarian friar Diego de Muros, bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo, on the orders of the Catholic Monarchs, who wanted the feast inserted into the kalendar of that important archdiocese. In remained there until the 18th century, and some of the propers were put into polyphonic settings. A third Office and Mass in memory of the liberation was written by the humanist Juan Maldonado for the diocese of Burgos at the request of its bishop, Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca. It was expunged from the kalendar of Burgos by Rodriguez de Fonseca’s successor’s Antonio de Rojas, who went on to succeed Talavera in the see of Granada, and therefore might be responsible for the suppression of the feast there as well.

Talavera himself also set his sights upon the old Office for the feast of the battle of Río Salado. Disappointed with the quality of the Mattins lessons of that feast, he rewrote them, as he explained to Queen Isabella herself:

Since Your Highness is so fond of the writings that I present or communicate, and shews them with, perhaps, not much prudence and too much charity, when they are things that ought not be shewn; because of that and because it is in Latin, I am sending it to Doctor [Rodrigo Maldonado] de Talavera5. so that, if he approves it, he might present it to Your Serenity: the most excellent victory, worthy of immortal memory, which Our Lord gave to the Lord King Alphonse XI, your four-times grandfather, near the river they call the Salado against the King of Morocco and Bellamarín, etc., which I put into Latin accompanied by some phrases from Holy Scripture so that we might read them as lessons on Mattins of that feast, which we began to celebrate some time ago with much solemnity, as is reasonable, because the lessons I saw in the Breviary of Toledo seemed to me brief and not such as I should like, and so Your Highness shall see some of the occupations that fill up my time.6

Talavera also wrote an office for the feast of the Guardian Angel, which was celebrated in Toledo and Aragon on 1 March in thanksgiving for King Ferdinand’s victory over King Alphonse V of Portugal in the battle of Toro in 1476. By establishing this feast in Granada, he may have been trying to exploit Mohammedan belief in the angels. Indeed, he also wrote the propers for the feast of the Archangel Gabriel, who is mentioned in the Koran.

Knowing that Our Lady was highly regarded by the Muslims, and seeing this as an opportunity for their conversion, he established and wrote two Marian Offices. One was for the feast of the Expectation of Our Lady, or Our Lady of the O, the celebration whereof was already widespread in Spain on 18 December. In it, Talavera emphasizes the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Our Lady, since it was an idea widely accepted amongst Muslims. The other was for the feast of the Transfixion of Our Lady.

Finally, Talavera composed an office for the feast of St Joseph, to whom he had a particular personal devotion. One of the first churches he set up Granada, taking over a former mosque, was dedicated to him. 

Any perusal of such compositions should suffice to demonstrate Talavera’s deep piety and firm orthodoxy, but unfortunately, his benignity towards the local population of Granada, which revered him as el santo alfaquí, earned him the distrust of churchmen eager to pursue a tougher policy with respect to the Moors. The Inquisition especially resented his refusal to allow it to operate in Granada, and in 1505, after the death of his protectress Queen Isabella, Diego Rodríguez de Lucero, the Inquisitor of Córdoba, ordered the arrest of Talavera’s friends and family on suspicion of heresy, and tried to gather, or rather, fabricate evidence arraign the Archbishop himself on charges of heresy and apostasy. He was firmly defended by the Lord Pope Julius II, but died, before the matter was entirely settled, on 14 May 1507, having fallen ill after walking barefoot during a procession whilst it was raining. After his death, the scandal caused by Lucero’s witch-hunt against Talavera, and his numerous other excesses, led to the General Congregation of the Spanish Inquisition to investigate Lucero, and he was finally removed from his post, whereafter he died. 

We finish with the excellent hymn Talavera wrote for Vespers of the feast of the Surrender of Granada, inspired by St Venantius Fortunatus’ well-known panegyric on the triumph of the Holy Cross:

Pange, lingua, voce alta
triumphi preconium.
Laudes Deo semper canta,
conditori omnium

qui, edomita Granata,
bellis dedit somnium.

Dedit quippe pacem plenam
populis Ispaniae;

dedit autem malam cenam
Mahumeti insanie

qui illusit Sarracenam
gentem et Arabie.

Personarum Trinitatem
diffitetur impius,
et sumpsisse humanitatem
Deum negat inscius;
tollit fidei pietatem
multis aliis nescius.

Deum Patrem nos laudemus
atque Sanctum Spiritum;

verbum quoque adoremus
vere carni insitum;

et uterum honoremus
quo fuit nobis editum. Amen.

Sing, my tongue, with lofty voice,
the praise of victory.
Sing praises to God for aye,
to the author of all,
who, with the conquest of Granada,
hath put war to sleep.

Lo! he hath given full peace
to the peoples of Spain,
but hath given a bad banquet
to the madness of Mohammed,
who cozened the Saracen people
and the Arabians.

That blasphemer rejects
the Trinity of Persons,
and, benighted, denies that God
took up humanity;
this fool destroys the piety of faith
in sundry other ways.

Let us praise the Father
and the Holy Ghost;
let us also adore the Word
who truly became flesh;
and let us honour the womb
whence he was begotten for us. Amen.

The Mass and parts of the Office of the feast of the Surrender of Granada, composed by the Lord Archbishop de Talavera.

Notes

1. Y quando su señoría dezia la misa en persona, estaua la zanbra en el coro con los clerigos, y en los tienpos que avian de taner los organos porque no los avia rrespondia la zanbra y estrumentos della, y dezia en la misa en algunas palablas en arabigo, en espeçial quando dezia «dominus bobyspon», dezia «y barafiqun». Esto me acuerdo dello como si fuese ayer, en el año de quinientos y dos.

2. O quam nobile et elegans officium de regno Granate, misericordia Dei et victoria Regis scripsit, non possum scribere.

3. Adest nobis, dilectissimi fratres, dies solemnis et preclara; dies gaudii et exsultationis; dies leticie et iubilationis, dies boni nuntii, in quo, si tacuerimus, sceleris arguemur. Dies uenerabilis, dies sanctus Domini, dies celeberrimus, dies nobis celebrior et sancior uniuersis, quia dies miserationis Domini; dies quam optauerunt et expectauerunt patres nostri, nec uiderunt. Nostri autem beati oculi, qui eam videre meruerunt. Dies que facta est quasi duo. Et dies una: melior super millia; Dies quam fecit Dominus ut exultemus et letemur in ea. Dies uidelicet in qua fidei catholice subiicitur; in qua Christiane religioni acquiritur; et in qua Ispaniarum imperio restituitur, ciuitas Granata. Ciuitas fortissima, firma pontibus et muris circumsepta. Ciuitas potentissima. Ciuitas refugii et optime habitationis. Ciuitas plena deliciis. Ciuitas feracissima. Ciuitas inclita. Ciuitas gloriosa. In toto terrarum orbe merito nominatissima. Domina gentium, et princeps prouinciarum. Urbs perfecti decoris. Gaudium et superbia Agarenorum. Caput et fastigium Mahumetice insanie in partibus Ispanorum.

4. Hodie nobis de caelo pax vera descendit. Hodie illuxit nobis dies redemptionis nostre, reparationis antique, felicitatis optatae.

5. Rector of the University of Salamanca and counsellor of the Catholic Monarchs.

6. Porque vuestra alteza es avarienta de las escripturas que le presento o comunico, y no las muestra quizá con mucha prudentia y no menos caridad, sino son tales que se deban mostar, por esso y porque va en latín, envío al doctor de Talavera para que si le pareciere bien, la presente a vuestra serenidad, la muy excelente victoria y digna de inmortal memoria que nuestro Señor dió al Rey D. Alonso XI, vuestro cuarto abuelo, cerca del rio que dicen del Salado contra el Rei de Marruecos y de Bellamarín etc.: la cual puse en latín acompañada de algunas sentencias de la santa escritura para que la leyésemos por lecciones a los maitines de aquella fiesta, porque unas lecciones que ví en un breviario toledano me parecieron breves y no tales como yo quisiera, y así verá vuestra alteza alguna de las ocupaciones que estragan mi tiempo.

8 thoughts on “Crusader Feasts and the Conversion of Granada

  1. Many thanks for his interesting post! I wonder if Portugal ever had “Crusader feasts”. It is also interesting to see how in the 15th century there was a lively sense that salvation history was still unfolding.

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    1. Yes, indeed! The Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, celebrating the victory of Las Navas de Tolosa, appears in Portuguese books from the time Portugal was ruled by the Spanish Habsburgs, but it continued to be celebrated in some dioceses even after the House of Braganza seized the throne: a document from 1739 shows it was celebrated on 16 July in the dioceses of Guarda, Lamego, Porto, Algarve, Miranda, and Funchal.

      The Battle of Río Salado was liturgically celebrated in Portugal as the feast of the Victory of Christians (in festo Victoriæ Christianorum). It first appears in a psalter from Coimbra from around 1360 containing the hymns for this feast, different from those sung in Spain. These particular hymns seem at some point to have been replaced, but the feast continues to appear in Portuguese liturgical books until the 20th century: it appears among the propers of Coimbra in 1722, of Portugal in 1739, of Coimbra in 1917, and of Leira in 1920. I’m not sure when it disappeared from the kalendar. Here is the Mass for the feast, from the propers of Coimbra in 1588: https://digitalis-dsp.uc.pt/bg6/UCBG-R-6-29/UCBG-R-6-29_item1/P122.html

      Additionally, in 1472, an office was composed by a certain Alvaro to commemorate the Portuguese liberations of Asilah and Tangier, under the title: Vesperæ, Matutinum et Laudes cum Antiphonis et figuris musicis de inclyta ac miraculosa victoria in Africa parte ad Arzillam. It does not seem to have been widely adopted, however, and is unfortunately now lost: “O autographo existia na Bibliotheca do Infante D. Pedro. Estava escripto em nove folhas de pergaminho e encadernado em bezerro sobre taboas com brochas, o que indica claramente a antiguidade da obra. Esta composição perdeu-se, pois existia só o exemplar autographo que mencionamos, porque não conhocemos, nem ouvimos fallar em outre qualquier. Supposição esta bastante desanimadora, mas talvez a unica verdadeira, que nos priva de uma das primeiras producções da arte em Portugal” (Joaquim de Vasconcellos, Os musicos portuguezes: biographia-bibliographia, vol. 1, 1870).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you for the link! I’m from Coimbra and am always interested in finding out more of the city’s ancient liturgical rites.

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      1. Oh, fascinating! Archdale King confirms that this feast commemorates the victory of Río Salado: “30. Thanksgiving for Victory over the Sarracens, commemorating the battle of the river Salado in 1340. The feast appears in two MS. breviaries of the 15th century, but it was not in the printed liturgical books till the present edition, with the exception of the second edition of the manual of the Sacraments, published in 1538 by order of the Infante Henriquez, in which it was called De Victoria Christi. The actual breviary (1922) and missal (1924) give: Officium pro gratiarum actione ob victoriam Christianorum de Sarracenis relatam. Duplex Majus.”

        I presume your copy of the breviary is from before 1922?

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