A syncretist Morisco

Towards the end of part 2 of Quixote, Sancho Panza is hailed by a German pilgrim who turns out to be Ricote, a Morisco from Sancho’s village. Ricote was driven out of Spain by religious persecution and has spent his exile in France, Italy, and Germany, near Augsburg, where

I found we might live with more freedom; for the inhabitants do not look much into niceties, everyone lives as he pleaseth; for in the greatest part of [Germany] there is liberty of conscience.

Sweet is the love of one’s country, says Ricote, referring to Spain, although his most immediate concern in returning to his village is to find his daughter and dig up his ducats.

The attempts of another, real Morisco to reconcile religion and patriotism are the subject of a fascinating lecture (PDF) (via the rather special Darenet) given by GA Wiegers on his appointment as theology prof in Nijmegen last year. It’s the story of Alonso de Luna, an Andalusian of many tongues, a doctor, and a convert to Islam, who spent time in southern France, in Rome (where he met up with the Pope’s physicians), and in Istanbul (where he helped mediate the 1612 treaty between Holland and the Sublime Porte, probably working with Moriscos who had fled to the Low Countries).

For some reason Alonso, like Ricote, decided to go back to Spain. This was a mistake, for in 1618 he was hauled before the Inquisition, charged with spreading heresies in letters he had written to the king and to the pope and in conversations with several patients. The essence of Alonso’s heresy lay in a vision in which angels took him up to heaven of a night. There he became aware that the conversion of the entire world to one true belief and the day of resurrection were nigh. The Arab nation and language would play a key role in this, Arabic being the language in which the angels praised God. Alonso would himself help God and the rest of us through the endgame by explaining the true meaning of a mysterious book found on Granada’s holy mountain, which contained the full Catholic and Evangelical truth which, we are to understand, would turn out to be completely compatible with Koranic revelation.

Apart from being a wonderful story in itself, Prof Wiegers’ text deserves translation into Spanish (or at least English) because of the great contemporary significance of a man searching to find creative ways to put an end to the religious extremism on the part both of Christian and Muslim which was and is so damaging to Spain. That Alonso seems to have perished in prison shouldn’t put us off.

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  1. Well, I bet those Augsburgers didn’t let him do any gardening on Sunday – and I’m not even talking about using a lawn mower.

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