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The Cross, The Crescent and the Sword

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I am a Historian, Martial Artist and Criminal Justice/ Military expert having focused my lifetime studying Warrior Ethos and culture.


The invasion of the Moors in the year 711, started an epic period in medieval Spain unlike any seen throughout Europe in which Christian-Muslim relations were changed and further lead to the "Reconquest" of Spain from their barbarous invaders. The importance of the Reconquest was the establishment of modern Spain and of which could not have been made possible without the heavy influence of Catholicism. Catholicism served as a unifying factor, it gave Spain strength and was their secret weapon in the fight against the Moors. It would also be carried over to the New World.
In 711 the Muslim leader Tarik was able to take advantage of the instability of the Spanish-Visigoth civil wars and rebellions in Spain during this time. At the battle of Guadalete Tarik easily defeated the Spanish forces and in fact was able to conquer the vast lands of Spain over a period of five years, just short of the northern mountainous regions. After meeting heavy resistance from those of the Galicia region the Muslim forces decided to divert their attention towards France in 718. They were stopped by Charles Martel, known as Charlemagne, in 732 at Poitiers. This event marked the final expansion point through that region of the peninsula and more effectively the start of the consolidation of their dominion over Spain. The government of al-Andalus was set up and began to divvy out kingdoms. It is during this time period were their influences of agriculture, arts, literature, sciences made heavy impact in Spain, and of which can still be seen today, like the palace of Alhambra for example.

Map Of Reconquista


One of the most important aspects of the Reconquest and possibly the most influential forces in Spanish history is that of the restoration of Christianity throughout Spain, which subsequently resulted in the idea of a "Holy war" of Christianity against Islam and the crusading spirit. According to John Crow, the Reconquest was unique to Spain in that not only was it a war against foreign invaders who had occupied the land of Spain, it was also a war against an unacceptable religion, Islam; and the two great dividing forces of medieval times were war and religion, and in Spain these were fused in one: religious war (78). The Spanish were able to use their hatred against their invaders who just happened to be of Muslim faith in order to serve as fuel for the fire of war and to regain control of their homeland.

That Certain Zeal

Catholicism in Spain was quite different from that of the rest of Europe. The Spaniards possessed more fervor. Crow notes that the Moors gave Spain the key concept of Catholicism: religion as a was to nationalism; with no other kind of unity to hold them together the petty Spanish states of medieval times made the banner of the Cross their military, and their national standard (15). The Moors were victorious in their initial conquest of Spain because of their religious unity. Spain was also effective in their Reconquest because of their unity under the banner of Catholicism. As a result the Reconquest is compared to a "Crusade" to expel the Moors out of Spain and Europe. According to Crow, Spanish character was fashioned anew under the long arm of this crusade; the Church promised heaven for those who fell in battle, and the spoils of war always enriched the victorious soldier where men came to die and live for this ideal of the "Christian soldier" (79). This ideal has never disappeared from Spain or Catholicism for that matter, in where even today all Catholics are to consider themselves as "soldiers of Christ". Although during the Reconquest period the sentiment was much stronger, and seem at every minute of the day.

St. James the Greater


It is at this point that religion ultimately becomes the secret weapon of Spain. However the Spanish being fervent in Catholicism found additional support in the veneration of Santiago de Compostela. Crow adds that the growth of the belief in this legend became so militant that it moved men to accomplish incredible deeds (83). The legend of Santiago is indeed a mysterious one, but was powerful enough for the Spaniards to rally together and to up their moral. As legend has it St. James the Apostle was believed to have come to Spain to convert the Iberian peoples. He was beheaded in Jerusalem by King Herod. His remains were brought back to Spain in the Galicia region. The location of his remains became a pilgrimage point and in effect lead to victory at Clavijo in 844. King Ramiro after having suffered heavy losses assembled his troops and told them of a vision he had seen where Santiago was mounted on a white charger and carried a white banner with a red cross and that he would lead the Spanish to victory. The battlefield the next day was filled with the battle cries of "Santiago, y Cierra Espana (St. James and close Spain)! Ramsey adds that, this not only proved to be a great source of inspiration to the early Spaniards, but it also helped to bring them into much closer contact with the states of Northern Europe, and also the later participation of northern feudality in the Spanish crusades (55). It was at this time that Santiago became the patron saint of Spain and the Catholic soldiers in the Reconquest and would later be called Santiago Matamores (moor-slayer).


711 Moorish invasion of Spain

732 Charlemagne stops advancement into France and Europe

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Spain would have to first unify itself before it could put up an effective resistance

1492 Ferdinand and Isabella retake Grenada, ending the Reconquista

The influence of Santiago would lead to the formation of elite groups of knights tasked with the fighting against the Moors. Rafael Altamira writes that the deep held religious faith of the Spanish people throughout the period of the Reconquest was shown principally in three ways: building of churches and monasteries, evolution of pious legends, and the fame of Spanish saints (203). With this it is safe to say that another could be added in the form of the several military orders were organized in Spain to help carry on with the fighting. Of these the most important would be that of the Caballeros de Santiago. According to Crow, in 1086, the blending of religion and war among the Moors was again brought to the attention of Spanish Catholics who could not help realizing the effectiveness of the idea (88). Among the other orders were Calatrava, Alcantara, Templars and Hospitalers. Although the primary duty of the order of Santiago were to protect the road and pilgrims they were also tasked and became the core group in the wars against the Moors. Ramsey writes that, consequently instead of growing weaker as the international crusading movement decayed, they drew nourishment from the continuance of the crusading spirit in Spain (91). This spirit of the crusade could not rest until the invaders were expelled out of Spain.

Hostile Moods

Nevertheless the Christian leaders and Holy Mother Church maintained the necessary hostile attitudes towards their Muslin invaders. These feelings of hostility would lead to the first battle of the Reconquest at Covadonga and the subsequent battles until the fall of Grenada in 1492 which would expel the Moors completely from Spain. But Spain could not have been victorious if they were not unified. At the onset the independent Christian kingdoms fought for their own independence. It would not be until 1212 when a political alliance between the kingdoms of Navarra y Aragon would be formed and became victorious at the battle of Navas de Tolosa. However the Spanish would not be completely united as a nation until the coronation of Ferdinand and Isabel, and would suffer from internal disunity. According to John Ramsey, Hispanidad (Spanish hood, rough translation) is a product of the Reconquest, and did not exist before that, this character is formed by both Muslim and Christian elements in which the Christian contributed to the heroic factor caused by the proximity and presence to the Muslims and the necessity to overcome them (50). In essence if it were not for the Reconquest Spain as known today would not exist.



Spain was able to become completely united under the Catholic banner during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel who brought together the biggest kingdoms of Spain: Castilla y Aragon. They were popularly known as Los Reyes Catholicos (Catholic Kings) a title conferred upon them by Pope Alexander VI in 1496. As Crow writes that, one year stands out the most during their reign: 1492 (151). It is on this year the war against the Muslims was won and the fall of Grenada marked the last of the Moors in Spain.
Another important event during the reign of the Catholic Kings was the discovery of the Americas. But what does that have to do with Christianity in Spain? Ramsey points out that King Ferdinand instructs Diego Columbus that: the reasons for the discovery has always been and still is in these matters of the Indies to convert the Indians to our Holy Catholic Faith so that their souls may not be lost, and therefore it is necessary for them to be taught the truths of our religion without any force whatsoever (250). However as history has shown, the Spanish were forceful only in their zeal to destroy paganism in their missionary work. In Mexico it is known that the Spanish destroyed the statues of Aztec gods. Why was this force present in the New World? The Spanish had just won their war against the Moors, now they had a new land to conquer in the name of Spain and Holy Mother Church. According to Crow, the spirit of expansion was at its psychological peak, this fortuitous discovery gave it new impetus and turned it immediately in another direction; and thus began the second long crusade in the history of Spain; the conquest, conversion, exploration and colonization of the New World (152). With this Spain did in fact do all these things and of the most important they brought Catholicism to the New World and did in fact convert many Indians.
In conclusion there is undoubtedly a great influence of Catholicism during the Reconquest as well as in the Discovery of the Americas and its subsequent colonization. Catholicism aided in the formation of the different military orders of knighthood in particular the order of Santiago de Compostela. It helped to unite Spain under one Banner in the form of a crusade against the Moors and to conquer and convert the New World. All of which could not have been possible without the unifying factor of traditional Catholicism.

shield of Ferdinand and Isabella


Altamira, Rafael. A History of Spain. D. Van Nostrand Co, NY, 1949.
Crow, John. Spain: The Root and the Flower. Harper & Row, NY, 1963.
Ramsey, John. Spain: the Rise of the First World Power. U. Alabama, 1973.

© 2014 paguilar

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