General Description

During the reign of Alphonse the Third, “The Great”, the boundaries of the kingdom of Asturias extend up to the Duero river, secured by a series of fortifications like Oporto, Toro, Zamora, Simancas, Dueñas or Burgos. This wide strip of land was repopulated mainly by people that came from the overcrowded north, looking for new spaces and by Mozarabics that were fleeing from the ever increasing problems for Christians in Al Andalus. Two human groups with many points in common that would create a new society and a renewed way of artistic expression where once again the horseshoe arch will be recovered.

“Mozarabic Art” is usually used to denominate the set of Christian artistic manifestations that took place in Al andalus and in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula between the beginnings of the 10th and the middle of the 11th centuries, that include horseshoe arches.



As of the second half of the ninth century, the proper conditions were generated, both in the terrirories dominated by the Arabs as well as in the Christian kingdoms, to promote the emigration of vast groups of Christians, that lived in Al-Andalus, and were called Mozarabics, towards the Christian kingdoms Santa María de Lebeña. Siglo Xwhere they integrated easily, since both had kept the Visigothic cultural substratum and shared religion, culture, many of the customs and even a very concrete lithurgy clearly differentiated from those of the rest of the European environment.


These new settlers established themselves together with the inhabitants of the old Christian territories in the new lands that were being conquered, especially between the Cantabrian hills and the Duero river. In this BORDER=”0″area they lived in a continual state of alert since they were exposed to the attacks from the Arabs, and with the support form the Astur-Leonese monarchy, they began to create new town and monasteries; in some cases, upon the ruins of preceeding ones or upon ancient rock hermits from the Visigothic times.


The creative impulse of the Mozarabics, who still kept their religion and culture from the Visigothic times after having lived a century and a half under the Arab domination, together with the spirit of reconquest and the aspiration for social promotion that the Christians, who have had to seek shelter in the Cantabrian coast due to the Arab conquest, brought along with, generated a new artistic and cultural movement that boosted the Visigothic heritage in all areas, began to expand from this settling zone to the complete set of Spanish territories dominated by Christians.


This new situation generated a radical change both, in the spirit as well as in the ways regarding the Asturian period, since the development of the new constructions and of the rest of the artistic activities was not any longer directed by the monarch himself (although supported it), which let recover the liberty of shapes within the same eclectic spirit that had existed in Visigothic times. Thus we find again a great variety of structures where the only really distinctive element is, once more, the horseshoe arch, though with a wider freedom of shapes now. Similar to the Visigothic period, the Visigothic culture and the different influences that started to surge upon a basically Roman substract, like the North African or Byzantine cultures, in this phase oftenly named “Mozarabic Art” -no matter how controversial that is- some new elements are incorporated like the covering techniques, the alfiz or the modillions, enriching the heritage of the seventh century though without substantial modifications.




At the beginnings of the tenth century the most part of Spain was dominated by the Arabs and its capital, Córdoba, was becoming one of the most cultured, and richest cities in the world. But at the same time there was a great activity among Christians -as of the Arab conquest there is not any difference between Visigothics and Roman-Hispanics- among which we may observe four groups of very different characteristics both, because of its geographic situation as well as for their historical precedents and their political an social conditions, sharing however a common culture that came from Visigothic Spain, and also a common objective: the reconquest of the territories that had been taken over by the Arabs. Before studying the set of artistic manifestations that started to arise in the Iberian peninsula between the first third of the tenth century and the middle of the eleventh century that conform the so called Mozarabic Art, we think it necessary to describe the situation in Spain around the year 900.


I- Córdoba Emirate


When the Arab invasion took place, the Roman Hispanics, who were used to live under foreign domination for almost a milennium, and a part of the Visigothics who stayed in those terrtories, adapted themselves to the new situation without any major problems, since the Arabs treated them with great tolerance and they even in some cases became enjoying an important share of power, as are the cases of the Gothic count Teodomiro in Murcia and the family Banu Qasi in Zaragoza (whose name comes from Casius,the noble Gothic who submitted before the caliph al-Walid). He embraced Islam under his protection and kept command of the lands he governed in the name of king Rodrigo. Mezquita de Córdoba. Zona construida a finales del S. VIIIThis situation of tolerance prevailed for almost 150 years. A number of Christians, the so called muladíes, attracted by a superior culture and a much more pleasant style of life, became to arabize themselves and converted to Islamism, which also brought them fiscal privileges. Another important part of Christians, the so called Mozarabics, kept clung to their own customs, culture and religion within this permissive environment; although they were not allowed to build new churches, they were entitled to keep the existing ones int the seventh century.


It is interesting to point out in this period not only an important influence of the Islamic culture on the Christians that lived in their territory, but also the influence of the Spanish culture on the new conquerors, although this aspect has not been analysed in depth. In fact, the Muslim art in Spain contains important elements inherited from the Roman and Visigothic architecture. One of the most meaningful examples is the Mosque of Córdoba that started to be built in 785 upon the Visigothic cathedral of San Vicente, of which we know that many of its elements were reutilized and that we can find in its structures architectural solutions already existing in Spain, like the horseshoe arch or the utilization of series of arches placed on top, very similar to the Roman aqueduct of Merida, for instance.


But two facts provoked a radical change in the situation of Christians in Al-Andalus:


    1. By the year 850 an increasingly conversion, willingly or not, of a part of Christians to Islamism and their assimilation to that society, due to new pressures but also to the attractiveness that the Arabic culture had from an intelectual as well as from a material standpoint, started to poison the relationship between Arabs, Muladíes and Mozarabics which ended by generating a violent reaction in Bobastro. Restos de la basílica excavada.the most orthodox Mozarabic faction. Led by Álvaro, a layman, probably of Jewish origin, and Eulogio, a clerk who became bishop of Toledo; both highly cultured; they left an important set of literary works of religious subject; generated a violent reaction among Christians who manifested their will to keep their identity in front of the increasing arabization that was taking place. An important group of Mozarabic led by San Eulogio, did not hesitate to become martyred if that meant the strengthening of the religious faith of their fellow Christians. Despite the extraordinary Council summoned in Córdoba by Abd-er-Rahman the second in 852, in an attempt to prevent the madness of public martyrdom of Christians, these did not change their attitude, that, besides generating around 50 martyrs in less thay ten years, enormously complicated the coexistence between Arabs and Christians. At the same time it awoke in Asturias the interest of what was going on there, in open expansion under the reign of Alfonso III el Magno, and in the Carolingian Empire, with big interests in the Marca Hispánica (Spanish March) that would later become Barcelona.


  • In the second half of the ninth century, within a context of uprisings and tensions in the emirate, emerges Omar ben Hafsum, a muladí, son of Hafs -i.e., Alfonso- who heads an uprising against the emirate of Córdoba in the highlands of Antequera and Ronda and founds an independent kingdom with its capital Bobastro. After converting to Christianism, he manages to keep an independent kingdom for more than 50 years until after his death it was reconquered by Abd al-Rahman the third (912-961) in 928 (Among the ruins of Bobastro there is the only Mozarabic church known in Al-Andalus, on top a nearly inaccessible peak).



These facts provoked an important change in the situation of Mozarabic in Al-Andalus and favoured the emigration of an important number of people towards the Christian territories, in the areas recently occupied by León and Castille, in particular, north of the Duero river, taking along with them the best heritage of the Visigothic culture that they had kept so fervently for a century and a half, and the cultural heritage that had been brought to Spain by the Arabs.


II- The Astur-Leonés Kingdom


Meanwhile, the kingdom of Asturias is rapidly expanding in the north. In the year 910, Ordoño the second moves his court to León, better situated than Oviedo, to rule the territories conquered by his father, Alfonso II el Magno (866-910),San Miguel de Escalada. Una de las primeras iglesias mozárabes. who in his forty-three years of reign he gave the definite impulse toward the Reconquest, expanding the conquest boarder till the Duero river, resettling with people coming from his reigns as well as with Mozarabics, founding villas and monasteries, protecting them with fortified cities like Oporto, Toro, Zamora Simancas or Dueñas, and creating the basis of the future Castille by building the fortress of Burgos. In the political area, he had united through matrimony with the royal family of Navarra and he gave a great impulse to recover all of Spain uniting the different Christian kingdoms under one “Magnus Imperator”, as his sons called him. Along this same line, he was a great supporter of culture and promoted the construction of civil works, especially in Oviedo and León, as well as churches and monasteries.


He generated a movement usually called “Mozarabic Art”, that from our point of view, once we explain describing its main characteristics, it should be considered as “Neo-Visigothic”. He accomplished this within an environment of development of the kingdom by resettling new territories, creating new towns and founding new monasteries, in some cases upon the ruins of some that existed before the Arab invasion; the arrival of important groups of Mozarabics, many of them monks, that brought along a Visigothic heritage, keenly kept through very difficult circumstances, and enriched with new knowledge learnt from the Arabs, coexisting with the new settlers that came from the northern territories in a monarchy that self declared itself as a continuation of the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo, and also with a cultural sediment that, although very different in its architecture, was also based on the Visigothic culture.


III- Kingdom of Navarra and the Aragonese Pyrenees


The case of the kingdom created around Pamplona and the one of the Alto Aragón is avery different one. Both in mountainous surroundings, had never been integrated due to the geographical conditions and the independent mettle of their perople although they had been occupied by the Romans and the Visigothics. Quite different to the Asturian kingdom, the Basques and the people from Navarra, did not intend, at the beginning, to reconquer the lost territories, but rather keep their independence. Located on the road between de Carolingian Empire and the Caliphate of Córdoba, until the half of the ninth century went through periods of Arab domination and others of relative independence, but it was basically dominated, as the French Navarra, by the Carolingian Empire. The independent domain of the Arista becomes consolidated as a consequence of a second victory over the Franks in 824 in Roncesvalles (do not mistake with the year 778 that gave origin to the legend of Roldán) when Íñigo Íñiguez, considered the first king of Navarra, consolidates the independent domain of the Arista.A very troubled period followed with fights generally associated with the Arab kingdom of Zaragoza against the Cordovans, the Franks and even aginst the Asturian kingdom.


This does not seem to be a period of artistic production in Navarra, nor we have any news about constructions at that time, but we know that in the middle of the ninth century there was in Alto Navarra an important set of monasteries, although Christianism had penetrated in these lands with a considerable delay if compared with the rest of Spain. Among those monasteries we must mention those of Eire, Cilla, Siresa, Igal and Hurgaspal. Some of them had been visited by St. Eulogio, who took back to Córdoba a set of manuscripts of the Pagan and Christian antiquities, which tells us that there were already at those times large monastic sets, possibly from the Visigothic period, with libraries well stocked with books, even with “scriptorium” in some cases. However, nothing survives from that period. All the High Medieval archeological remains are from after 905, when the Abarca, through Sancho Garcés, took over. The new dynasty had a much more expansive policy that resulted in alliances with Asturias and started to widen domains through the plaines of Rioja and Castille at the expense of breaking the good relations they had with the Banu Qasi from Zaragoza. It produced the necessary conditions to start new settlings and monasteries in the conquered territories that, like the case of the kingdom of León, they were resettled with groups of people from Navarra and with Mozarabics, although here the Mozarabic influnece is more important as the local artistic tradition is much less pronounced. In fact, as we will see, some constrctions in Navarra have clear influences of the Asturian art.


iV- The Marca Hispánica (The Apanish March) 


The situation in the Marca Hispánica was also different. It stayed for very few years under the Arabs. Pepino el Breve had already expelled them from the Visigothic Septimania in 759 and Luis el Piadoso definitely took over Barcelona from the Arabs in 801 with an army of Spanish Christians that had fled to France from Al-Andalus. During all this period when the Mozarabic Art develops, Cataluña (a name that had not yet strated to being used), carried San Vicente de Obiols. Finales del siglo IXon being the set of counties that extended at both sides of the Pyrenees, depending from the Carolingian Empire with capital in Narbona: although as of 1000 the counts started to enjoy a relative independence. As a consequence, constructions pass from Visigothic to Mozarabic almost without a continuity solution and it is very difficult to precise in a large number of small rural churches that have survived, whether they are from the Visigothic period, old Visigothic constructions rebuilt later, or new constructions of what has been called Mozarabic Art.


Another fact to bear in mind in this area is the influence of the Carolingian art in the most important buildings of those times. The Carolingian art had two basic styles in religious constructions. The main examples of one is the Capilla Palatina de Aquisgrán, that imitates the Byzantine style of San Vital de Rávena. The main example of the other style is the church that Teodulfo built in Germiny-des-Prés. He had emigrated from Spain and became one of the most influential characters in Carlomagno’s reign (768-814), under the name of Píndaro, and bishop of Orleans. The style that had a greater influence in Catalonia was the latter one, where we find a clear relationship with the Visigothic architecture, both for its structure as well as for the type of construction and the utilization of the horseshoe arch.


The reult of all of these circumstances is that at the beginning of the tenth century, the Marca Hispánica went also through an expansion process, protected from the Arabs by the Carolingian Empire and with an important rise of the artistic development which main sources are found in the Visigothic seventh century.


Within this complex environment Mozarabic Art is considered as the set of artistic manifestations, including architecture, sculpture, painting, miniature and even literature and music, that the Christians generated in the territories dominated by Islam, as well as those produced in any area of Christian Spain between the end of the ninth and the middle of the eleventh centuries, excepting the last constructions where the horseshoe arch is not used as a structural element and that are included in the Proto-Romanic group. As of that moment the reform of Cluny is imposed as it had been ordered by the papacy, and accepted and imposed by the rulers of the different Christian territories despite the big rejection from the local church; and the Romanic Art, with its new lithurgical and artistic models.




When analysing this period its is important to point out that exponents of nearly all artistic branches have survived till these days, as well as enough historical information, so as to be able to know to a great extent the culture and political and social ambience of that period (this is not the case of former periods).


    • Natividad. Antifonario de León. Siglo XHistorical sources. Although with the necessary limitations of such a dark period, that have led to develop all kind of interpretations and theories, we count with an important corpus of knowledge about this period. This information comes from very different sources and environments like chronicles written by the Mozarabics from Córdoba, many chronicles from Asturias about the lst Visigothic years and the beginning of the Reconquest; chronicles from Navarra and Catalonia; multiple Muslim stories about these times; references to Spain in French chronicles and even other documentary sources like acts of foundation of monasteries or royal donations among others that provide wide information although not always coincident. We must also include in this section the first Castillian epic poems, like the one of Fernán González, written later but providing information about this period.


  • Literature. It is a period of important development of religious literature as a continuation of the Isidoriano splendor of the previous phase where we can underline all the production of Álvaro and San Eulogio de Córdoba, the several Christian writers which the latter one refers to in his writings about his stay in Navarra; all of the production of the “scriptorium” from León and Castille and even the poems of the Spaniard Teodulfo in Carlomagno’s court. To that we have to add all the literature that is included in the Hispanic-Visigothic lithurgy which is especially rich in this period.



  • Music. It was also a period of musical creativity, at least in the lithurgical area. Thanks to cardinal Cisneros, antiphonaries containing lithurgical chants of the whole year and chants of the Visigothic period, as well as those developed in the Arabic zone, and the later musical flourishment in monasteries of León and Castille have been preserved to these days.



  • Miniature. A basic facet in Mozarabic art is the magnificent set of manuscripts that have been preserved from that period. The art of the miniature reached an extraordinary level in León and Castille along the tenth and eleven Arca de Noé. Beato de Fernando I, S. XIcenturies. Starting from the Isodorian tradition and the importance reached in all of Europe of the “Comments on the Apocalypse”, written by the Beato de Liébana at the end of the eight century, antiphonaries were created in the “scriptorium” of the monasteries like San Miguel de la Escalada, Albares, Albelda, San Millán de la Cogolla or Tábara. Among others, copies of the comments of Beato de Liébana, bibles and other illuminated manuscripts of an extraordinary quality and originality, highly superior to what was available in Europe till those times.Its influence was fundamental in miniature and Romanic painting through some manuscripts donated to monasteries of the Marca Hispánica and copied within them. Even the relationship with some artistic trends of the twentieth century is evident. As an example we can recall the parallel between some images of Picasso’s Guernica and the Bible of Isidoro de León from 960.



  • Painting. It is the less known area and the one that requires more complicated analysis. At the beginning, according to the documentantion of those times, we know of the existence of an important pictorical tradition based in the caliphal art, and we have enough proof that in that period many churches were decorated with with frescoes like the ones found in the church of Wamba. But in some cases, like San Baudelia de Berlanga, the dating is not clear; in others it has not been studied enough, and besides, new rests have appeared now of paintings that had not been known before that are being now under scrutiny and restauration. Among the latter, the latest discoveries of frescos in churches like Santiago de Peñalba or San Miguel de Berlanga, still in phase of pre analysis.



  • Sculpture. In this phase, sculpture is always plain, generally chiseled, following the technique of previous periods and the subjects are usually vegetal and geometric, with very few examples of figurative subjects. They are usually placed in capitals and in some cases of great beauty, like San Miguel de Escalada or San Cebrián de Mazote. A special mention deserves the decorations with geometric drawings of the modillions in stone or wood that support the eaves in almost all constructions.



  • Architecture. AWhen it comes to analyse the most important characteristics of the so called “Mozarabic Art”, we find there are only three basic peculiarities. The one considered as the most important one is the uitilization in all cases of the horeseshoe arch; another one is that in almost all the churches the door is located at one side; and the third one -as we will explain later, and we think it to be even more important- is the absence of any other common characteristic.



  • In fact, in all the Christian constructions of that period – generally churches-, from the structure point of view we find San Baudelio de Berlaga. Estructuraourselves with any type of shapes , in the plans as well as in the elevations. There are basilic types of one, two and three naves, that in some cases are continuous and of the same height, but in others, they are generally divided in three flights, very much differentiated in the interior and in the exterior: cruciform or pseudo-cruciform churches or even, as is the case of San Baudelio de Berlanga, an actual cube with an apse and a double storey in the interior. There are churches with one, two and three apses and sometimes with opposite apses. As far as coverings are concerned, there are totally vaulted churches, with very sophisticated, imported techniques of the Arabic art, and others with plain wooden roofs; the same thing happens withe the material used; it is of all kinds, from the simplest masonry till constructions of perfectly carved ashlars. The form of decoration is also varied although in some cases common lines can be found, like the large decorated modillions in stone or wood, some series of capitals or the cases where frescoes have been found, with some similarities and details that we think they are enough so as to be able to define a style.

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