World Bulletin / News Desk
Five former mayors of Cordoba have accused the Catholic Church of wrongly claiming ownership of the Mezquita, the city’s Unesco-listed cathedral, as part of a continuing effort to stamp out the site’s Muslim past.
In a letter signed by the city’s former leaders have asked why cathedral officials should have been allowed to register the site which they believe should be in public hands.
When Christian forces conquered the city in the 13th century, they immediately converted the mosque to a church and later built a cathedral in the centre of the mosque.
Today, visitors can wander through dozens of the mosque’s horseshoe arches before reaching the cathedral, where Mass is still held. Only Christians are allowed to use the cathedral-mosque as a place of worship.
In an article in The Independent, the mayors say they are “deeply concerned” that the Church has taken over the complex, which dates from the eighth century when the mosque was first established. “We demand legal restitution and the public deed of the mosque-cathedral of Cordoba, as well as the return to the public domain of all heritage property that was illegally registered by the Church,” their letter says. The decision if approved will be a move that will be irreversible by 2016.
In December, Andalusia’s regional government complained to the Vatican that cathedral officials’ use of the term “the Cordoba cathedral”, on its website and in literature, amounted to an attempt to whitewash the site’s pre-Christian history.
The Church says the site has continuously been a place of Christian worship since 1236. Jose Juan Gimenez Gueto, a spokesman for the cathedral, said the dispute was “an artificial controversy”. Campaigners argue that the Church’s effort to change the name by which the Mezquita is known, and to dismiss its past, also damages the city’s appeal to tourists. Many in the city believe this is part of an effort by the Córdoba Catholic authorities to suppress the monument’s Islamic identity.
“The Mezquita is a global symbol of the meeting of cultures and today more than ever the world needs symbols like this,” said Antonio Manuel Rodríguez, a professor of civil law at the University of Córdoba.
“The mosque-cathedral is the cultural heart of the city and its principal tourist business,” said Miguel Santiago, a spokesman for the campaign group Mosque-Cathedral, Heritage of All. “Changing its name goes against the tourism interests of Cordoba.”
City hall in Cordoba has ordered an inventory to be carried out to determine whether the state had previously registered the Mezquita as a public asset before Church officials acted. More than 80,000 people have signed a petition objecting to the Church’s attempt to conceal the site’s Islamic origins.