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The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

Read time: 5 minutes.
Hispania 125AD

We remember the bigger geopolitical events in history, as we need to, but they are just the skeleton of the human experience. Putting flesh on those bones, how did the big events, especially invasion, affect the different groups in society? When a community is forcibly overrun the elite necessarily changes – but how does it affect everyone else? If you get a new boss at work that can be a bad thing or maybe a good one! Most of all how did it affect the Christian communities and what can we learn from it today.

Norman nemesis

When the Normans invaded England the Saxon feudal elites were largely replaced with William's people - maybe someone like you. Were they better than the last lot? The last thing they wanted was to destroy the means of their wealth creation, the people, 95% of whom worked in agriculture. Maybe they brought new energy and more efficient ways of doing things so everyone gained? On the other hand, their own safety was worth more than wealth so no doubt able-bodied Anglo-Saxons were locked up, exiled or outlawed (Robin the Hood). 

You probably have ancient buildings or fortifications not so far from you and also Norman ones. Who built the mighty mottes and baileys? The Normans probably brought little wealth with them, so they would not exactly be paying people to build their castles and defences (against the population) - forced labour is more likely.

They shared a common religion but were the splendid Norman cathedrals built to the glory of God or the glory of the regime? Were common people even welcome there? To me, even today, they are not exactly spaces that encourage a sense of Christian fellowship. Were they intended to create fear of an awesome and distant God whose authority you must obey without question (like your rulers!)? Were they a physical sign of the dominance of the new order?

For most life would go on, together with community gatherings in local churches, probably connected to local gentry and overseen by local monasteries or (new) Bishops.

In Hispania

Asuturia church Julian

Hispania (Spain) was a civilised Roman region. Paul planned to go there, visiting Rome en route (Rom 15:24, 28). After the Roman empire split, the western part also divided into separate regions, with local leaders. The Visigoths, north-eastern Europeans and sometime allies of the Romans, after the sacking of Christian Rome in 410, were settled in southern Gaul (modern Nouvelle Aquitaine) forming a semi-independent kingdom and spreading into Hispania. After 100 years Aquitaine was invaded by the northern Francs but retained control of the mountains, valleys and cities further south. They displaced the previous ruling class (the Vandals). Stable and prosperous towns continued to grow and Visigoths spoke the local language giving up Arianism for orthodox Christianity. The churches they built were often in the Eastern Byzantine style.

Moorish invasion

'The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise' is a book by Dario Fernandez-Morera which describes life in Spain under occupation. In 711 they were invaded from North Africa by a mixture of Arab and Berber Moors who were amazed at the wealth and architectural advancement. The Muslims, helped by a betraying Visigoth noble, exploited divisions among the Visigoth leaders, and city-by-city took over the land. They used the resentments of the Jewish community against the Christians to bring the Jews on-side to help them rule in the place of the Visigoth elites. This didn't last and Jews and Christians were given their familiar dhimmi second-class status. ''An insulting name used in popular speech for a Christian was pig (khanzir)' (p206). Jews and Christians were forced to wear identifying marks on their clothes. 'the only option for the conquered Hispano-Romans and Visigoths, if they did not become dhimmis and pay a special tax (jizya) or flee for their lives, was to convert to Islam, Many Christians did convert, of course' (p207). These were called musalima 'mixed' or 'cross-bred'. The motive might well have been just to survive, or possibly to gain advantages of different sorts, but even they would not have been treated as equals. Strict Sharia was practised including the chopping off of limbs as punishment. Those who did remain (Mozarabs) became a shrinking minority.

horseshoe arch
Horseshoe arch window

Not so much a paradise

Dario Fernandez-Morera's book challenges the 'charm offensive' narrative that he was seeing from Western academics.  According to them Medieval Spain (Al-Andalus) was an example of happy cooperation between Muslims, Christians and Jews. An example of this is 'Facts and Details' Spain under Muslim rule which is clearly not original research. Or the praise of horseshoe-shaped arches said to be Muslim, but first created by the Visigoths which Muslins subsequently copied. 

At the start of each chapter Fernandez-Morera includes quotes from the various academics supporting this line then demolishes their assertions explaining what actually happened and quoting the original sources of the time, Christian and Muslim. He concludes by asserting that far from the civilisation being enhanced by the Moors, it was more likely held back.

Recent events in the Middle East and related staged protests show the game is up in terms of the benign influence of radical Islam. Reading Barnabus Aid's reports we should have few illusions that what was practised in the past is being continued elsewhere in the world today.


The reconquest began in 718 and took several centuries to 1492 but it must have been more a military/cultural expansion by the northern states in different political guises: Asturias, Portugal, Navarre, León-Castile and Aragon, rather than a liberation (D-Day like), as perhaps few of the indigenous population would have been actively Christian and few of the northerners would have had any surviving dynastic or territorial connection with the south. The reconquest was seen as a Crusade, the (re) Christianising of the region. Subsequent overseas exploration seems to have been treated the same way. 

Under occupation

In the UK we've not been physically occupied since the Normans, but ideological battles have been fought and continue. Irrespective of what it is, Progressive Socialist/Marxist, Fascist, Hindu, Muslim, Secular-Humanist, Christendom, the dominant ideology always wants to suppress any other – not least as universal acquiescence gives it a default legitimacy. Might is right, dissent is betrayal. However some ideologies appear more ambitious, aggressive and exclusive than others as we see with Progressivism and some forms of Islam

Paul notes the malign co-authorship: ... in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience Ep 2:2

We live in a world under occupation – for most of us we were indoctrinated from childhood in a relatively benign but spiritually destructive Secular-humanism. God has rescued us from this but we still need to keep on unlearning, repenting and renewing. Its religious mirror Moral Therapeutic Deism looms close.

AD 0

Ideologies have the concept of year zero – all good things started with the 'glorious revolution', any history or ideas before that are bad by definition. This is a concept stolen from the real AD 0, which does not cancel the revelation before, but rather completes it.

You won't find any churches older than the reconquest in Spain today as they were taken down or converted by the Muslims, except in the unconquered north where they still exist.  The power of owning the built-presence is seen throughout the ages and is evident now in the Nagorno-Karabakh region where the whole Armenian Christian population has been forced out of the land they have occupied for centuries. Armenians were the first declared Christian nation in 301 AD. Their churches are being destroyed by Azerbaijan despite an ICJ ruling. The ancient inscriptions on the stones are denigrated, their whole history is being erased.

Messianic regime-change

Jesus did not seek political revolution directly, His mission was infinitely bigger! 'My kingdom is not of this world' Jn 18:33. There was never any question that any power political leaders had was given by His Father, but it was the spiritual regime that had to be defeated 

The Older Testament has a detailed model of how society should run and the Newer a manifesto of renewed lives, how it's possible it can run. We flourish in proportion to our following of God. 'Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven'.

Whenever any ideology claims 'Paradise' on Earth we know it's an idol, a stolen image of Heaven, as the only paradise is the one ordained for the end of the age and in the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For each Christian, in whatever cultural occupation they find themselves, at the Ascension Jesus said: "and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." a local and global promise.