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A Centuries Old Dispute Over 'The Great Mosque of Córdoba' is Revived 

Erin Dunne

Rabat - Córdoba in southern Spain, is home to the breathtaking Moorish mosque turned cathedral that is at the center of a renewed debate fueled by Spanish leftists.

That debate includes even the name of the historic site. UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, calls 24,000 square foot 10th - century building “The Great Mosque of Cordoba.” Yet, as Charlotte Allen points out in recent column, “this ‘mosque’ is actually the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Córdoba.”

Prior to the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the site was a small Catholic Basilica dedicated to Saint Vincent of Lérins. After the Muslim conquest in 711, the church divided in half allowing both Christians and Muslims to worship. That arrangement lasted until 784 when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir who constructed the grand mosque at the same site.

When King Ferdinand III of Castile captured Córdoba in 1236 he had the mosque consecrated by the Catholic church. Since then, the building with its impressive columns and beautiful architecture has been home to Catholic mass and confession. Centuries later, the Christian occupants used the building longer than its first Muslim worshipers during the Almohad Caliphate.

Since 2000, some Muslims living in Spain have been lobbying the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the converted mosque. Those requests have been rejected by both Catholic authorities in Spain and by the Vatican.

In 2010, the dispute came to a head when a group of Muslim tourists visiting the mosque knelt to pray in the building. Muslim prayers are banned inside the building prompting the security guards to ask that the group continue their tour. In the scuffle that followed, two of the security guards were injured and two of the tourists arrested.

Since then supporters of allowing Muslim prayers in the mosque have organized. In 2013, a group called the Platform for the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba circulated a petition that gathered over 350,000 signatures calling for a public take over.

The next year, the Socialist-led coalition of the Andalusia region of Spain accused the diocese of hiding the history of the building and in March of that year the city council of Córdoba published a report indicating that the diocese did not have legal ownership of the site.

Addressing concerns raised for the cathedral by these efforts, Demetrio Fernández González the bishop of Córdoba, spoke to a group sponsored by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in America earlier this week. He told his audience that while the local government could not decide to expropriate the cathedral, Andalusian law would allow for such a step if a court decided that the building had not been properly maintained.

While the Great Mosque of Córdoba is unlikely to shift from Catholic hands, the controversy over the site is one of many such disagreements over holy sites claimed by different faiths including the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the city of Jerusalem.

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