The leaders of the Muslim community of Spain have written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI demanding that their co-religionists be allowed to conduct formal prayer services at a Catholic church in Cordoba. Bishop Juan José Asencio of Cordoba rejected the demand saying that such a move “would not contribute to peaceful coexistence between the different creeds” and that it would “merely generate confusion among the faithful and give way to indifferentism as to religion.”
The church in question, sometimes called the Cathedral-mosque of Cordoba, was indeed once a mosque for several centuries after the Muslim invasion of the 8th Century AD. After the Catholic Spaniards returned to the area in the 1200s, they found a mosque superimposed on what had once been a Visigoth Spanish church. Córdoba was a center of Islamic culture and power that rivaled even Damascus and was to color Spanish culture and language indelibly. Apologists for Islam and the Islamo-Moorish occupation of much of Spain during the Middle Ages frequently hark back to a mythical time of tolerance between the Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic faiths and when great cultural achievements were notable.
The cathedral is one of the most splendid works of architecture in Europe: thousands of visitors come each year to see the iconic Moorish arches and columns in its interior. Once the Catholic Spanish returned, a small church was built within the walls of the former mosque and has been used for Catholic worship for more than 700 years.
Bishop Asencio has proclaimed his respect for Muslims living within the midst of modern Spain. While he also “favors” the dialogue between the two faiths that is promoted by the Pope, he averred that joint usage of the church “would not contribute to the said dialogue.”