For centuries, Granada was the point of convergence where North African Islamic and European Catholic cultures met. Unfortunately, too long was that convergence a front line of conflict.

Everywhere you walk, there is some vestige or reminder of that contention, but often such ghosts of the past come in one of two forms.

One kind is typified by the Parish of San Gregorio Betico. A beautiful Mannerist church that dates from the 16th century, it was built on the purported site of the martyrdom of two Franciscan priests in 1397 by Muslims, then a prison and torture chamber used by both sides during the Reconquista wars. At one point a brothel, the church, even in modern times, was made to suffer fire damage during the give and take of the Spanish Civil War.

Today, it is affixed to a convent; one can find at least one nun (seen here in the photo in white) praying at the altar at every hour of every day, inspirational in their devotion but sorrowful in the reminder of the pain and grief this small corner has seen.

In somewhat contrast is the church of San Gil and Santa Ana, less than 400 meters away from San Gregorio. Also built in the 16th century after Granada came under the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, it is striking for the appearance of the church tower. Especially as compared to the relatively simple design of the church nave itself, the tower has delicate windows on each floor and detailed decorative tile work. The lightness of the tower seems to perfectly balance the solidness of the nave.

The church, in fact, is an amalgam of cultures. The tower was originally a minaret of a mosque that stood on the site before the church. The church builders, recognizing the beauty of the tower, chose not to destroy it but to incorporate it into their structure. So common is this blending, either by fusing parts or by designing a building with the look of symbiotic fusion, that the architectural style has a name, mudéjar, and is found throughout Andalusia.

No doubt the site of San Gil saw its own pain and tragedy (not to mention the destruction of a mosque), but I can’t help but think of the two sites as comparative lessons of history: a place can be a spot of perpetual conflict and mourning, or a place of confluence and beauty from blending the best of all of us.

One is a reminder of how hatred of other’s differences sows destruction, one an affirmation that appreciating differences can be used for the creation of lasting monuments to uplift and inspire generations.

It’s as if the people of 500 years ago were trying to tell us something, that we have a choice, but we’re too busy battling on the front lines of today to hear it and think about what monuments we want to leave as our legacy.



Leave a Comment