A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain

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9780195311914: A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain

In a world torn by religious antagonism, lessons can be learned from medieval Spanish villages where Muslims, Christians, and Jews rubbed shoulders on a daily basis--sharing irrigation canals, bathhouses, municipal ovens, and marketplaces. Medieval Spaniards introduced Europeans to paper manufacture, Hindu-Arabic numerals, philosophical classics, algebra, citrus fruits, cotton, and new medical techniques. Her mystics penned classics of Kabbalah and Sufism. More astonishing than Spain's wide-ranging accomplishments, however, was the simple fact that until the destruction of the last Muslim Kingdom by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492, Spain's Muslims, Christians, and Jews often managed to bestow tolerance and freedom of worship on the minorities in their midst.
A Vanished World chronicles this panoramic sweep of human history and achievement, encompassing both the agony of Jihad, Crusades, and Inquisition, and the glory of a multi-religious, multi-cultural civilization that forever changed the West. Lowney shows how these three controversial religious groups once lived and worked together in Spain, creating commerce, culture, art, and architecture. He reveals how these three faith groups eventually veered into a thicket of resentment and violence, and shows how our current policies and approaches might lead us down the same path.
Rising above politics, propaganda, and name-calling, A Vanished World provides a hopeful meditation on how relations among these three faith groups have gone wrong and some ideas on how to make their interactions right.

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About the Author:


Chris Lowney served as a Jesuit seminarian for seven years, and later served JP Morgan & Co. as a Managing Director on three continents. A Vanished World follows his acclaimed, award winning first book, Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World. Lowney has raised money for charity by trekking the 500-mile medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela that figures prominently in A Vanished World.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1: Spain Before Islam

Imagine a world in which one person could know everything worth knowing. And imagine a world in which everything worth knowing filled a mere few hundred pages. Archbishop Isidore of Seville was such a person, and seventh-century Europe such a world.

Lest Isidore be accused of vanity unbecoming an archbishop, he himself never claimed to be the Man Who Knew Everything. Rather, it was his friend Bishop Braulio of Saragossa who gushed that Isidore's seventh-century encyclopedia comprised "well-nigh everything that ought to be known." Unfortunately, few of Isidore's contemporaries perused that encyclopedia. There were few Europeans to begin with, only a minute fraction of them literate, and books were rare treasures.

Today's Spain enjoys a population of some 40 million. Isidore's Spain was a far lonelier place, with perhaps only a tenth as many people; imagine Utah's sparse population scattered across an expanse twice as large. The written word was an impenetrable mystery to the overwhelming majority of these 4 or 5 million Spaniards. Organized education was nonexistent, save for a few monastic or cathedral schools that labored to equip clerics with the rudimentary skills required for church rituals.

Though Spain's (and Europe's) literate population was tiny, the medieval "publishing industry" struggled to service its few readers. A modern printing press effortlessly churns out many thousands of volumes each day; a medieval scribe would be lucky to turn out two in a year. That was after he and his monastic brethren invested sweaty hours of soaking animal hide, scraping away fat, and stretching, curing, and drying the skin to produce serviceable vellum parchment. No wonder the few texts emerging from this labor-intensive process became precious items. Whereas bibliophiles today might scoop up a handful of used books for the cost of a hamburger, a ninth-century manuscript would have cost the equivalent of "fifteen pigs or four mature sheep."

Spain's illiterate majority was deprived of Isidore's intellectual cornucopia, but they also were spared the depressing realization that they lived in a Dark Age. Perspective was hard to come by in an era when most Europeans knew little of the world beyond the next village and little of the past save what their parents recalled. No Spaniard knew that he lived in a country of some 4 or 5 million people, much less that Spain had sheltered many more before devastating plagues ravaged much of Europe's population. The plummeting population had plunged Spain's (and Europe's) economy into a depression that was exacerbated when barbarian hordes breached the Roman Empire's borders, disrupted trade, and strained the empire's resources to the breaking point.

What was unknown to Spaniards made little practical difference to their daily lives. Peasants scratched out meager livelihoods; surviving the next winter was their major preoccupation. Their horizons were bound by their village and its environs, just as it had been for parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Surviving to a first birthday was no mean feat, and celebrating a fortieth a better than average achievement. The outside world seldom visited them, and they seldom visited the outside world. For all they knew, the world was proceeding as the world always had.

Through the curse of literacy, Bishop Braulio knew better. The few books in his library made reference to classical scholars who had blazed a more enlightened path forward for humanity's earlier generations. But while Braulio knew names like Aristotle, Galen, and Ptolemy, he also knew that most of their works had long since vanished from circulation, presumably lost forever. Nor had Braulio's century spawned intellectual lights to replace those of ancient Greece and Rome. Most civilizations harbor at least the illusion of progress, that humanity is somehow struggling forward under their generation's collective watch. Braulio was permitted no such illusion, and Isidore became for him a beacon from humanity's happier past: "God raised [Isidore] up in recent times after the many reverses of Spain (I suppose to revive the works of the ancients that we might not always grow duller from boorish rusticity)...we apply to him the famous words of [Cicero] 'While we were strangers in our own city, and were, so to speak, sojourners who had lost our way, your books brought us home, as it were, so that we could at last recognize who and where we were.'"

Ironically, this Isidore who outlined "everything that ought to be known" revealed relatively little about himself. He was born in 560. His parents died young. He had two brothers who both became priests and rose to the rank of bishop. It's difficult to imagine any one family duplicating this episcopal achievement today, but such feats were less astounding in the cozier confines of medieval Spain, where relatively few well-connected, well-endowed, and literate families surfaced regularly in influential church or state positions.

It is generally assumed that Isidore was raised in monastery precincts overseen by his much older brother, Bishop Leander. One might imagine a lonely childhood spent mostly in the company of monks and the precious texts they copied and preserved. The scholarly environment clearly absorbed Isidore, who eventually authored over a dozen major treatises on everything from arithmetic to Holy Scripture to monastic rules. In between sentences he somehow found time to cope with the countless administrative headaches that inevitably plague a bishop.

The encyclopedic work known as the Etymologies was one pinnacle of his scholarly career. Braulio's compliment that it includes "everything that ought to be known" seems at first glance no exaggeration. Isidore's chapter headings map out a comprehensive catalogue of human knowledge: "size of the sun, size of the moon, acute diseases, legal instruments, the seasons, Old and New Testaments, God, monsters, human monstrosities, serpents, worms, small flying creatures, shields, helmets, the circus, gambling, peculiar costumes of certain peoples, head ornaments for women, girdles, footwear, cooking utensils," and so on. Isidore telescoped this encyclopedic gallop through human learning into a relatively slender volume. Centuries before, Greek and Roman attempts at encyclopedias had yielded far bulkier tomes. Pliny the Elder's first-century encyclopedia sprawled to some 2,500 chapters. But Isidore lived in an age when, sad to say, the pool of human knowledge was slowly evaporating. Simply put, humanity knew less than it had six centuries earlier, in Pliny's day.

Scientific method was many centuries in the future, and Isidore did little more than absorb the sources at his fingertips and regurgitate what struck him as plausible. Early in the work, Isidore shares the relatively humdrum observation, "An even number is that which can be divided into two equal parts, as II, IV, VIII." Within a few pages, however, he has departed math's timeless certainties for a fantastic tour of human monstrosities:

The Cynocephali are so called because they have dogs' heads and their very barking betrays them as beasts rather than men. These are born in India...The Blemmyes, born in Libya, are believed to be headless trunks, having mouth and eyes in the breast; others are born without necks, with eyes in their shoulders...They say the Panotii in Scythia have ears of so large a size that they cover the whole body with them...The race of the Sciopodes...have one leg apiece, and are of a marvelous swiftness...in summertime they lie on the ground on their backs and are shaded by the greatness of their feet...The Antipodes in Libya have feet turned backward and eight toes on each foot.

Seville's conscientious shepherd, apparently fretting that this freakish catalogue will render his readers susceptible to believing all sorts of nonsense, closes the chapter by warning against gullibility: "Other fabulous monstrosities of the human race are said to exist, but they do not; they are imaginary."

Isidore and his contemporaries may not have known as much as the Romans and Greeks before them, but what they thought they knew was marvelous. Long before the scientific revolution's rational dissection of natural phenomena turned textbooks into soporific tomes, here was a world of wonders great and small. Isidore's encyclopedia sang of a blazing sun racing across the skies each day, and "after it comes to the west and has bathed itself in ocean, it passes by unknown ways beneath the earth, and again returns to the east." No less entrancing is the lowly bee, "skillful in the business of producing honey...they flee from smoke, and are enraged by noise...A good many have proved by experiment that these spring from the carcasses of cattle."

Still, before dismissing what passed for seventh-century knowledge, one pauses to wonder how well current wisdom will stand up over an equivalent interim. Today's cutting-edge science and technology may by 3400 C.E. seem no less buffoonish than some of Isidore's assertions appear. How will that glorious artifact of twentieth-century technology, the gas-powered automobile, strike Earth's citizens fourteen centuries hence as they tool around in whatever contraptions they've engineered to navigate a planet long since sucked dry of fossil fuels? Indeed, who even one century from now will consult an encyclopedia assembled in 2004? Who today can even find an encyclopedia composed in 1904?

Unlike 1904 encyclopedias, Isidore's Etymologies was consulted a century after its composition, and two centuries later, and eight more centuries later still. No less than ten editions of the Etymologies were published after the 1400s, a striking compliment to this beacon of light shining forth from the Dark Ages. Across a full two-century sweep of the intellectually barren early Middle Ages, Isidore stood alone as western Europe's only major compiler of secular knowledge. When contemporaries eulogized him as saeculorum doctissimus ("the most learne...

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Descripción Oxford University Press Inc, United States, 2006. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In a world torn by religious antagonism, lessons can be learned from medieval Spanish villages where Muslims, Christians, and Jews rubbed shoulders on a daily basis--sharing irrigation canals, bathhouses, municipal ovens, and marketplaces. Medieval Spaniards introduced Europeans to paper manufacture, Hindu-Arabic numerals, philosophical classics, algebra, citrus fruits, cotton, and new medical techniques. Her mystics penned classics of Kabbalah and Sufism. More astonishing than Spain s wide-ranging accomplishments, however, was the simple fact that until the destruction of the last Muslim Kingdom by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492, Spain s Muslims, Christians, and Jews often managed to bestow tolerance and freedom of worship on the minorities in their midst. A Vanished World chronicles this panoramic sweep of human history and achievement, encompassing both the agony of Jihad, Crusades, and Inquisition, and the glory of a multi-religious, multi-cultural civilization that forever changed the West. Lowney shows how these three controversial religious groups once lived and worked together in Spain, creating commerce, culture, art, and architecture. He reveals how these three faith groups eventually veered into a thicket of resentment and violence, and shows how our current policies and approaches might lead us down the same path. Rising above politics, propaganda, and name-calling, A Vanished World provides a hopeful meditation on how relations among these three faith groups have gone wrong and some ideas on how to make their interactions right. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780195311914

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Descripción Oxford University Press Inc, United States, 2006. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In a world torn by religious antagonism, lessons can be learned from medieval Spanish villages where Muslims, Christians, and Jews rubbed shoulders on a daily basis--sharing irrigation canals, bathhouses, municipal ovens, and marketplaces. Medieval Spaniards introduced Europeans to paper manufacture, Hindu-Arabic numerals, philosophical classics, algebra, citrus fruits, cotton, and new medical techniques. Her mystics penned classics of Kabbalah and Sufism. More astonishing than Spain s wide-ranging accomplishments, however, was the simple fact that until the destruction of the last Muslim Kingdom by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492, Spain s Muslims, Christians, and Jews often managed to bestow tolerance and freedom of worship on the minorities in their midst. A Vanished World chronicles this panoramic sweep of human history and achievement, encompassing both the agony of Jihad, Crusades, and Inquisition, and the glory of a multi-religious, multi-cultural civilization that forever changed the West. Lowney shows how these three controversial religious groups once lived and worked together in Spain, creating commerce, culture, art, and architecture. He reveals how these three faith groups eventually veered into a thicket of resentment and violence, and shows how our current policies and approaches might lead us down the same path. Rising above politics, propaganda, and name-calling, A Vanished World provides a hopeful meditation on how relations among these three faith groups have gone wrong and some ideas on how to make their interactions right. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780195311914

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Descripción Oxford University Press Inc. Paperback. Estado de conservación: new. BRAND NEW, A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain, Chris Lowney, In a world torn by religious antagonism, lessons can be learned from medieval Spanish villages where Muslims, Christians, and Jews rubbed shoulders on a daily basis--sharing irrigation canals, bathhouses, municipal ovens, and marketplaces. Medieval Spaniards introduced Europeans to paper manufacture, Hindu-Arabic numerals, philosophical classics, algebra, citrus fruits, cotton, and new medical techniques. Her mystics penned classics of Kabbalah and Sufism. More astonishing than Spain's wide-ranging accomplishments, however, was the simple fact that until the destruction of the last Muslim Kingdom by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492, Spain's Muslims, Christians, and Jews often managed to bestow tolerance and freedom of worship on the minorities in their midst. A Vanished World chronicles this panoramic sweep of human history and achievement, encompassing both the agony of Jihad, Crusades, and Inquisition, and the glory of a multi-religious, multi-cultural civilization that forever changed the West. Lowney shows how these three controversial religious groups once lived and worked together in Spain, creating commerce, culture, art, and architecture. He reveals how these three faith groups eventually veered into a thicket of resentment and violence, and shows how our current policies and approaches might lead us down the same path. Rising above politics, propaganda, and name-calling, A Vanished World provides a hopeful meditation on how relations among these three faith groups have gone wrong and some ideas on how to make their interactions right. Nº de ref. de la librería B9780195311914

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