What’s in a Name?

image courtesy wikipedia.org

How should we name an important temple after it undergoes a complete religious change of use, but only a partial architectural transformation? And what if that temple is, moreover, known around the world because of its original use? Cordova’s cathedral was built, after the Christian ‘Reconquista’ of Al Andalus, in the very middle of that city’s sprawling mosque, leaving a significant part of the Moorish monument intact. Yet very few people today refer to it as “la Catedral de Córdoba”. Colloquially, it is called “la Mezquita”.

Indeed, when I first saw a current change.org petition titled “Save the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordova“, I briefly thought for a split second that the building was being threatened with demolition. It turns out, in fact, that the petition is against the official re-naming of the building solely as “Cathedral” some years ago, before which it was officially referred to as The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordova. What needs to be saved, then, is the historical memory of the building.

Nobody doubts that the building is a cathedral. But for many centuries before that it was a mosque, a fact that cannot be ignored. Today, the vast majority of tourists lining up to visit it do so in order to see its impressive forest of columns supporting horseshoe arches and its mihrab. The Christian interventions, though very impressive, are less interesting. Though ironically, the Christian appropriation of the mosque as the site for a cathedral in its day may have actually been the very thing that saved the mosque from total demolition, as some historians have argued.

So what, then, should this building be named? To refer to it exclusively as the Cathedral, as the Diocese of Cordova is doing, may be technically correct, but that only speaks to a dwindling minority of practicing Christians in this country, while ignoring the very element that makes the building unique in the world. To refer to the structure exclusively as a mosque would also be misleading, since Muslim orations have not occurred there for centuries (though there have been two notable exceptions, in 1974 and 1977, when the first and second international conferences of the Amistad Islamo-Cristiana were held in Cordova).

Perhaps, taking a cue from a certain rock star, the place could be officially named: “The Building Formerly Known As The Great Mosque That Is Today A Cathedral”. For short, the authorities could also revert, once again, to simply naming it Cordova’s “Mosque-Cathedral”. Much more unique-sounding than just another cathedral, which it is not.

Reflected ceiling plan of actual Mosque-Cathedral of Cordova, courtesy otraarquitecturaesposible.blogspot.com
MezquitaCordoba

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About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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