A tourist steps inside the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul and reflects back to Jewish-Christian-Islamic craftsmen in Cordoba

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Mosaics-in-the-Hagia-Sophia.jpgHagia Sophia

The video sermon is about Istanbul and the Hagia Sophia in particular.  There is a strong contemporary interfaith message in it for today in a world of religious suspicion and hostility.

Another great example from the past is in the World Heritage Spanish city of Cordoba. Here is an equally astonishing story.


Belonging to a place can transcend religious barriers. The great mosque at Cordoba, in Spain’s Andalucía, is an example of Christians, Jews, and Moslems united by craftsmanship.

Long before Jesus, the area was settled. Cordoba means ‘the place on the river’. Travellers and traders used it and there were tin mines, and pottery kilns growing the local economy.

Cordoba's Golden Age

The Romans conquered Cordoba in 206 BC, and it flourished. One of the first great scholars to come from Cordoba was the philosopher Seneca. He was to become the emperor Nero’s tutor. Nero began a persecution of Jews and Christians in 48 CE. The Roman empire waxed and waned over the next four centuries. Christianity spread like wildfire, despite the many persecutions which were to follow, until the reign of Constantine.


The Arabs came to Cordoba from North Africa in 711 CE, bringing Islam. Cordoba slowly grew into a new golden age. Trade, crafts, science and learning flourished. By the 10th century CE Cordoba was Europe’s foremost city, rivalling Islam’s Bagdad and the Christian east’s Constantinople.

Some Vicious Interludes

In this period Jews played a prominent role in civil life. They became administrators and ran influential businesses. They were scholars and doctors of repute. Cordoba became the foremost centre of Jewish learning in both Europe and the middle east. But when the fanatical Almohads invaded and the sultanate was toppled, the situation grew bad for the Jews. Later on, when the Christians regained control of Andalucía, they persecuted Moslems and Jews. The Spanish inquisition was particularly vicious in Cordoba.

Yet the Jewish, Moslem and Christian craftsmen who built the mosque and cathedral over five centuries had been united in terms of knowledge. And share it they did. The architecture of Islam was to shape the European cathedral style we know as Gothic. Today, as the world shrinks, the world’s faiths have found increasing knowledge and love of humanity to share, just as in Cordoba’s golden age.

Cordoba2.jpgCordoba3.jpgThe mosque was begun after the Arab conquest of 711. They purchased from the Christian community half of the Church of St Vincent. Islamic prayers on Friday, Christian prayers on Sunday and other forms of sharing – this was truly a place where all faiths could belong.

This strong example of interfaith cooperation from the 8th century should have been a powerful model for later on. But that was not to be.

The Islamic community grew and they eventually bought the remainder of St Vincent’s. They paid a generous price and allowed the Christian community to build other churches in Cordoba. It was from the Arab world came the great leaps in mathematics and science that saw both practical and aesthetically pleasing building solutions emerge.

It took a few hundred years to complete the great mosque. It was and remains a wonderful space to enter. It is like a forest of pillars, and on top of each of one of those pillars are pilasters. The pillars support arches and so do the pilasters, in endlessly repeating patterns of red and white.

An Architectural Blunder by Charles V

In 1236 the Spanish king in Toledo reconquered the Andalucía. The area was thus made Christian again, but it wasn’t until 1526 that plans were made for the great mosque to be turned into a Christian cathedral. The emperor Charles V gave permission to his nephew Bishop Alonso to begin work, but soon regretted his decision. The idea was to construct the cathedral within the mosque, but, some years into the project, when Charles V saw what was happening for himself, he realised that a great architecture was being destroyed.

It took another 250 or so years to finish the project which had begun as late-renaissance architecture and ended as Spanish baroque. But the influence of Islamic science and mathematics had already spread from Cordoba into Europe centuries before, carried by the craftsmen who built the cathedrals and palaces.

Two Great Scholars


Averroes or Ibn Rushd 1126-98 is one of the most important Moslem philosophers, whose influence on the Christian west cannot be underestimated. He conveyed a tremendous knowledge of Aristotelean thought. But he was considered unorthodox by putting reason ahead of the Koran alone.

Moses Maimonides

Moses Maimonides, Moshe ben Maimo, was a great Sepphardic Jewish philosoper and scholar. He had to flee Cordoba when fierce Moslem invaders from Africa toppled the Sultan. His greatest legacy was a commentary on the Torah, the Jewish law.


Useful Links to Personal Pilgrimages in Turkey

Turkey | Through the Eyes of Kilu Fisisíahi

Turkey | Through the Eyes of Manoa Havea

Turkey | Through the Eyes of Neti Petaia 

Turkey | Onesimus, Philemon and St Paul at Ephesus with David Bell

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Now officially retired, I'm the Director of a volunteer church outreach: Trinity-at-Waiake  eLearning Centre. Our website and ePortfolio is kiwiconnexion.nz for lifelong learning and spirituality, creating an online community of best practice and resourcing for professional development, with an emphasis on Methodism. Read more

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