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MEZQUITA DEL CRISTO DE LA LUZ

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Previous notes

  • Although it is the most important monument of the Islamic Art preserved in Toledo, we include this mosque in our study of Spanish Pre Romanesque Art due to the existing relation between its structure and the one of an important ensemble of Christian monuments of that time.
  • This mosque was built during the 10th century and turned into a Christian church after the taking of Toledo by Alphonse the 6th in 1085
  • Our gratitude to Arturo Ruiz Taboada for his contribution with the document: “The Archeological Ensemble of Cristo de la Luz” and for his patience and dedication, as well to the rest of the restoration team of Cristo de la Luz, during an unexpected visit in Summer 2008.

Historic environment

The building at present consists of two very differentiated parts: one is formed by a transept and an apse in Romanesque-Moorish style built during the 13th century, after the reconquest of Toledo by Alphonse the 6th; the other one is the House of Worship of an Arab mosque from the caliphal period, to which the former one was attached and that, according to an inscription discovered in Cristo de la Luz. Reconstrucción de la planta original según Amador de los Ríos1899, in the upper part of the main facade and translated by Amador de los Ríos, was built by order of Ahmad ibn Hadidi, from which we have no further information, and finished by the architect Musa Ibn Alí, by the end of the year 999, although, according to other versions of that translation, for instance, the one offered by Pijoan in volume XII of Summa Artis, “This mosque was rebuilt by renovating its upper part”.  Amador de los Ríos himself made a restoration project of the whole ensemble including the House of Worship, that would have been the most ancient part of the building still preserved, that he thought it to be the reconstrucion of a Visigothic church where the Moorish apse and the transept replaced by an east end formed by three semicircular apses, most improbable for a Visigothic church, completing it with an arcade courtyard and lateral naves.

It is a small neighbourhood mosque whose name in Arabic has not survived, for what has been called Valmardun (Bab-al-Mardum), the name of the Gate of Toledo located on the same street close to it. As usual in many cases of this kind, there is a legend according to which, thanks to a miracle, on taking the city, the Christian troops in 1085, a crucifix with a light on was found in one of the walls, supposedly prior to the Arab invasion, what would seem to indicate that in that  period it was still being recalled -as just 85 years had elapsed- that aCristo de la Luz. Planta actual según estudio en la Revista de Obras Públicas Christian church existed in Visigothic times in that place. Thus, it was immediately turned into a church under the name of Cristo de la Luz.
Since then the church has suffered multiple modifications, the first one in the 12th century, when the Moorish apse and transept were added; for what the north eastern side of the original construction had to disappear. Along the eight centuries that the Catholic worship was maintained, besides adding a portico in front of the main facade and a square tower of 5m on each side that had not been completed, a cemetery was created on the northern side and also its interior was used for some burials. Subsequently other buildings were added on several sides.

It is by mid 19th century and during almost a century that the building had gone through major transformations. Rediscovered in the middle of the Romanesque period, it attracted the interest of the intelectuals of the time, who promoted a wide set of actions pointing to recover the original looks of its Islamic phase but that, at the same time that the attached buildings were being removed, parts of the building were being completed, restored or replaced following the historicist spirit fo the time, so now it is impossible to know what was its original aspect. We find a very meaningful case in what is supposed to be the wall of the qibla, redone to a great extent and in its construction also a big central arch was included, destroying its previous state, excepting maybe the lower part of the wall and the upper windows, what prevents to know whether it had a mihrab and, in case it did, where it was and what shape did it have. 

Description

Today (summer 2008) a complete programme of archeological research and restoration of the mosque and its environment is taking place and is letting us to know in depth the characterstics of the building and of that area of Toledo and to correct only part of the previous interventions. Some of the conclusions reached so far make it possible to clarify several contradictory news about the history and structure of Cristo de la Luz. Among the most interesting ones about the building of the 10th century we would like to remark the following ones:




  • The discovery of a Roman road on the northern esplanade of Cristo de la Luz, of six metres wide and under which a sewer appeared. The road upon which a part of the mosque was built is one of the most important we know in Spain. It was formed by large granite slabs and it ran from northCristo de la Luz. Planta actual del edificio del siglo X según Discover Islamic Art: www.museumwnf.org to south. The urban structure of the area was modified during the Arab domination, burying the Roman road under a set of new buildings, among those, our mosque with its corresponding streets.


  • No remnants of any previous edification have been found under the Worship House, for what the possibility that it had been built upon a previous Visigothic church has been discarded.
  • The remains that appeared under the apse of the 12th century correspond to the foundations of said apse, built in very thick stone. Neither under that apse any remains of Roman construction have been found, as it was initially thought of.




The mosque of Bab-el-Mardum was a free standing building elevated with respect to to street level, what confered great sumptuosness. An interesting detail is that it did not have a canonical orientation, since there is not any side looking towards east, what is usual in Spain for the mosques and Christian churches we know of. Due to this lack of reference with regard to a normalized orientation, it has been generally considered like a main facade the one with southwest location opposite the street of Cristo de la Luz, as it was there where the founding inscription was discovered.



Its plan has the shape of a Greek cross inscribed in a right angle of 7.90 m x 8.60 m, that gives place to nine almost square Planta de la Mezquita de Córdobacompartments of a bit less than 2 m by side and separated by horseshoe arches. All the shifts measure 8 m high, except the central dome, supported upon four cylindrical columns with reutilized Visigothic capitals, that reaches 10.60m. As we have mentioned, a large semicircular apse was added at the northeastern side on the 12th century, considered to be the most ancient construction of the Romanesque-Moorish style, which altered noticeably the original plan. According to the remains of the foundations discovered in 1909,  Gómez Moreno thought that the mihrab would be found in the centre of the wall of the qibla, and it would have had a square plan somewhat larger than the compartments and would have been modified  in order to place the altar and turn it into a  church on the 11th century, but, following the present researches, these remnants belong to the 16th century and no trace of the mihrab has been found.


Although, as we shall see, both, its building technique as well as its decoration in the areas that keep its original structure are clearly Islamic, we do not know of any building of this kind in Al Andalus that may be a precedent of Cristo de la Luz, with a plan sketched so differently to the Mosque of Córdoba. In Islamic Art we can only find out of Spain some buidings similar in constructions built earlier, like the mosques of Balkh (Afgnistan), Tabataba (Egypt), as well as two mosques in Tunis, Bu Fatata and the Three Doors one in Kairouan; the latter one being the one most alike and was built in the year 866 by a character from Al Andalus. However, this type of structure is quite usual in Christian art, that had spread out from Byzantium to all of Europe, long before the birth of Islam and generating a tradition of cruciform Pre-Romanesque churches of which we may consider the Basilic of Carranque, so close to Toledo, as their first precedent, and that would carry on with buildings earlier than Cristo de la Luz, as interesting as San Fructuoso de Montelios, Santa María de Lebeña or San Miguel de Tarrasa among others, and even in a Carolingian building, like Germiny-des-Prés, built by the bishop Teodulfo, of Visigothic origin.



Built in brick with lime mortar, except in some areas like the lower part preserved from the wall of the qibla, where a reutilized Desarrollo de las plantas cruciformes: San Fructuoso de Montelios, San Miguel de Tarrasa y Germiny-des-Présashlar exists; its present image is the one of a large cube that protrudes in the centre of the hipped tile covering, a central square lantern also covered by a hipped roof, supported in both cases by large eaves upon modillions. Later, a straight stretch and a semicircular apse in Moorish style were added, that perfectly match the original style forming an homogenous set of a very attractive external aesthetics.


The main facade is formed by three bodies. The first one of them has three doors that finish in arches of different shape. Fachada principal actual. A la derecha el muro de la qibla, con un único arco de herradura, que daba acceso al mihrabThe one at the left has a polifoiled arch, the central one, a semicircular arch as a result of a later modification and the last one, a horseshoe arch. The second body is decorated by a double round of intertwined arches, and the third one presents an openwork lattice upon which the Kufic inscription can be found, that provides information about its origin and building date and has the peculiarity that it is the only Arabic inscription known created exclusively with brick shards.



The facade on the left side, that gave access to a courtyard that still keeps a well, which we suppose must have been used for ablutions, is also formed by three horseshoe arches inscribed in much higher semicircular arches framed by a triple drip cap. There is a beautiful set of horseshoe arches above them, decorated by the utilization of two colour voussoirs, in the style of those of the Mosque of Córdoba, within the polifoiled arches. The whole set closes with a double frieze decorated with a jagged line of bricks, upon which the modillions are placed, that support the large roof eaves. With regard to the other facades, as we have already mentioned, the one of the qibla has been heavily modified. One of them keeps a reconstructed horseshoe arch, and the fourth one, opposite the main facade, disappeared on the 12th century when the Moorish enlargement was built.


But whilst everything we see in its outside unquestionably belongs to the Islamic art, from our point of view, we should consider in its interior two levels of very different Cristo de la Luz. Costado izquierdo en el que se puede observar characteristics. On one side, which we could call the first level, that includes the sketch of the plan and the general structure of the building, does not have precedents in Al Andalus, notwithstanding it recalls the Mozarabic churches closer to the Visigothic art, like Santa María de Wamba and Santa María de Lebeña, both built at least half a century earlier, due to its image of strength offered by the system formed by the twelve arches that support its structure, as well as for its cross shape inscribed in a square and divided in nine compartments provided with independent cover systems that, as with the indicated cases, they are separated by horseshoe arches that lean on pillars with imposts in the lateral walls and in four columns with capitals and imposts in the centre, that also support the lantern.



On the second level, we find ourselves fully with the purest Caliphal art. There is another set of small round of arches upon horseshoe arches, in this case, polifoiled horseshoe arches that make the support system of the nine small independent domes that cover every space. All these domes are different, formed by framework of arches upon which leans a false masonry vault. These are also horeseshoe arches in all cases except a trifoiled arch in the compartment that was closest to the minhrab. The vaulting system based on arch rib domes that do not cross over in the centre, what will be a very meaningful element in some Mozarabic buildings, is clearly inspired in the one we find in the enlargement of al-Hakam II of the mosque of Córdoba of a few years earlier. 

Conclusions

Cristo de la Luz. Detalle de los pilares, con columnas y capiteles a distinta alturaAs a summary, the mosque of Cristo de la Luz is from our point of view, a clear example of the interrelation between the different artistic styles that had been developing in Spain between the 5th and 11th centuries. As we have explained above, although the influence of the Islamic culture in Spanish art has always been considered as a very important one since the 8th century, we believe that the influence on the Andalusian art on the cultural and artistic background that the Arabs found in Andalusian Spain has not been studied and valued enough. In this case we find within a wrapping -facades, decoration and cover shapes- undoubtly Islamic, a plan sketch and an architecture structure coming from Europe and widely spread in the Iberian peninsula in the centuries prior to the arrival of the Arabs, and all of that using as an integrating element of Visigothic, Mozarabic and Islamic art, a kind of horseshoe arch that corresponds to the development of the Visigothic arch on behalf of the Arabs and Mozarabics in Al Andalus and that it was also utilized both, in Christian Spain as well as in great part of the Arab architecture in the north of Africa.

Other interesting information

Access: Cristo de la Luz street, s/n, 45003, Toledo. Located at the entrance of the city on the slope of Cristo de la Luz, crossing the Puerta de Bib-Al-Mardon. GPS Coordinates: 39°51’38″N 4°1’27.3″O,
Telephone: Tourist office: 925254191 – 925254030.
Visiting hours: From Mondays through Sundays, including holidays, from 10:00 to 14:00 and from 15:30 to 18:00. Closed on December 25th and January 1st.
Prices: General: 2.30? Reduced: 1.40? Wednesdays afternoon free for European citizens.

 

Bibliography

SUMMA ARTIS: Tomo XII
Arts & Civilisations de l’Islam: KÖNEMAN
L’Art Preroman Hispanique – L’Art Mozarabe: ZODIAQUE.

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