Friday, May 18, 2012

the cathedral and the mosque


As the journey goes on, I am astonished by how hostile I am becoming to Christian values.

While waiting for the queue at the Alhambra, we went in to see an exhibition by Sean Scully in the Palace of Carlos V. 

Beautiful blocks of colour and light. He spoke of the “generosity” of abstract painting.

I didn’t really understand until we got to the mosque in Córdoba.

It comes in two halves, utterly at cross purposes with each other: the mosque, mostly built in the 9th and 10th centuries, when Córdoba was the intellectual and cultural capital of the Western world, and the cathedral, built in the 1600 and 1700’s to demonstrate the triumph of the Christian world.

The mosque is an utterly open and generous abstract spiritual space that somehow calms the spirits, directs it to contemplation, but allows that contemplation to take its form without attempting to dictate how it should be.

The cathedral is the opposite: a highly figurative space, with all the usual death embracing hierarchies, that seeks to channel and direct and control the spiritual experience of the spectator.

The building of it, absolutely in the centre of the mosque, is a repulsive act of cultural arrogance and aggression.

Late that same evening, a series of weird chances directs us to the watching of Ken Loach’s profoundly powerful Iraq film, Route Irish.

It’s uncanny to see how that particular ongoing disaster so precisely reflects and repeats the disastrous arrogance of the cathedral inside the mosque.

We walk home, too shocked and upset to speak.

And maybe, I think a bit incoherently late that night, maybe that hideous and destructive split is not just about  a “conflict of civilisations”.

Maybe it’s also an image of a conflict within ourselves.

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