Martyrs of Córdoba

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Martyrs of Córdoba
DiedBetween 850 and 859, Córdoba, Al-Andalus, modern day Spain
Martyred by Abd ar-Rahman II, Muhammad I of Córdoba
Means of martyrdom Decapitation
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church
Notable martyrs Aurelius and Natalia, Eulogius, Liliosa, Perfectus, Roderick

The Martyrs of Córdoba were forty-eight Christian martyrs who were executed under the rule of Muslim conquerors in what is now southern Spain. At the time the area was known as Al-Andalus. The hagiography describes in detail the executions of the martyrs for capital violations of Islamic law, including apostasy and blasphemy. The martyrdoms related by Eulogius (the only contemporary source) took place between 851 and 859.


With few exceptions, the Christians knowingly risked execution by making public statements proclaiming their Christianity in the presence of Muslims. Some of the martyrs were executed for blasphemy after they appeared before the Muslim authorities and denounced Muhammad, while others who were Christian children of MuslimChristian marriages publicly proclaimed their Christianity and thus were executed as apostates. (Coope 1995)[ page needed ]. Still others who had previously converted to Islam denounced their new faith and returned to Christianity, and thus were also executed as apostates.

The lack of another source after Eulogius's own martyrdom has given way to the misimpression that there were fewer episodes later in the 9th century. [1]

Historical background

In 711 AD, a Muslim army from North Africa had conquered Visigoth Christian Iberia. [2] Under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, they landed at Gibraltar and brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. The Iberian Peninsula was called al-Andalus by its Muslim rulers. When the Umayyad Caliphs were deposed in Damascus in 750, the dynasty relocated to Córdoba, ruling an emirate there; consequently the city gained in luxury and importance, as a center of Iberian Muslim culture.

Once the Muslims conquered Iberia, they governed it in accordance with Islamic law. Blasphemy and apostasy from Islam were both capital offenses. In Islam, blasphemy includes denouncing Muhammad and denying the Muslim faith. Apostasy is the crime of converting away from Islam. Under Islamic law, anyone whose father is Muslim is automatically a Muslim at birth and will be automatically be guilty of apostasy if they proclaim any faith other than Islam. Anyone found guilty of either blasphemy or apostasy was swiftly executed.

During this time, Christians could retain their churches and property on condition of paying a tribute ( jizya ) for every parish, cathedral, and monastery; frequently such tribute was increased at the will of the conqueror. Christians also had to abstain from any public displays of their faith in the presence of Muslims, as such an act was considered blasphemy under Islamic law and punishable by death.

Many Christians fled to Northern Spain; others took refuge in the monasteries of Sierras. Still others converted in order to gain favor or avoid the jizya , and thus the number of Christians shrank eventually to small proportions. [2]

In 786 the Muslim caliph, Abd-er Rahman I, began the construction of the great mosque of Córdoba, now a cathedral, and compelled many Christians to take part in the preparation of the site and foundations. The executions of the martyrs caused tension not only between Muslims and Christians, but within the Christian community. Abd er-Rahman II at first ordered the arrest and detention of the clerical leadership of the local Christian community. As the civil disobedience seemed to subside, the clergy were released in November 851. When several months later there was a new wave of protests, the emir turned again to the Christian leaders as the ones most capable of controlling the Christian community. [3] Instead of imprisoning them, he ordered them to convene a council in Córdoba to review the matter and develop some strategy for dealing with the dissidents internally. He gave the bishops a choice: Christians could stop the public dissent or face harassment, loss of jobs, and economic hardship. [4] Upon the death of Abd-er Rahman II in 852, his son and successor, Muhammad I removed all Christian officials from their palace appointments.

Reccafred, Bishop of Córdoba, urged compromise with the Muslim authorities. Eulogius, who has been venerated as a saint from the 9th century, viewed the bishop as siding with Muslim authorities against the Christians. The closures of monasteries where some of the martyrs had lived occurred towards the middle of the 9th century.

The monk Eulogius encouraged the public declarations of the faith as a way to reinforce the faith of the Christian community and protest the Islamic laws that Christians saw as unjust. He composed tractates and martyrologies, of which a single manuscript, containing his Documentum martyriale, the three books of his Memoriale sanctorum and his Liber apologeticus martyrum, was preserved in Oviedo, in the Christian kingdom of Asturias in the far northwestern coast of Hispania. The relics of Eulogius were moved there in 884. [5]


Wolf points out that it is important to distinguish between the motivations of the individual martyrs, and those of Eulogius and Alvarus in writing the Memoriale. [6] Jessica A. Coope says that while it would be wrong to ascribe a single motive to all forty-eight, she suggests that it reflects a protest against the process of assimilation. They demonstrated a determination to assert Christian identity. [7] Wolf maintains that it is necessary to view the actions of the martyrs in the context of the penitential aspect of 9th century Iberian Christianity. "Martyrdom was in fact a perfect solution... Not only did it epitomize self-abnegation and separation from the world, but it guaranteed that there would be no opportunity to sin again." [8]

The executions

Roderick, a priest of Cabra, Spain, executed at Cordoba, Bartolome Esteban Perez Murillo. Bartolome Esteban Perez Murillo 009.jpg
Roderick, a priest of Cabra, Spain, executed at Córdoba, Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo.

The forty-eight Christians (mostly monks) were martyred in Córdoba, between the years 850 AD and 859 AD, being decapitated for publicly proclaiming their Christian beliefs. Dhimmis (non-Muslims living under Muslim rule) were not allowed to speak of their faith to Muslims under penalty of death.

The detailed Acta of these martyrs were ascribed to the aptly named "Eulogius" ("blessing"), who was one of the last two to die. Although most of the martyrs of Córdoba were Hispanic, either Baeto-Roman or Visigothic, one name is from Septimania, another Arab or Berber, and another of indeterminate nationality. There were also connections with the Orthodox East: one of the martyrs was Syrian, another an Arab or Greek monk from Palestine, and two others had distinctive Greek names. [5] The Greek element recalls the Byzantine interlude of power in southernmost Hispania Baetica, until they were finally expelled in 554: representatives of the Byzantine Empire had been invited to help settle a Visigothic dynastic struggle, but had stayed on, as a hoped-for spearhead to a "Reconquest" of the far west envisaged by emperor Justinian I.

List of martyrs

The following list is from Kenneth Wolf's Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain. [1]

Charged with blasphemy

Charged with apostasy

Eulogius and Leocritia LeocriciaEulogioC.jpg
Eulogius and Leocritia

See also


  1. 1 2 Wolf, Kenneth Baxter. Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain, Chap.2,, "The Martyrs of Córdoba", The Library of Iberian Resources Online
  2. 1 2 Osuna, Manuel Garcia. "Cordova." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 18 Feb. 2014
  3. Wolf, Chap 1, "Christians in Muslim Córdoba".
  4. Coope, p.33.
  5. 1 2 "". Archived from the original on 2012-05-26.
  6. Wolf, Chap.3 "The Martyrs of Córdoba and Their Historians".
  7. Coope, Jessica A., The Martyrs of C¢rdoba: Community and Family Conflict in an Age of Mass Conversion", p. 14, University of Nebraska Press, 1995 ISBN   9780803214712
  8. Wolf, Chap.9 "The Martyrs and their Motives".
  9. Holweck, F. G., A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.
  10. (in Greek) Οἱ Ἅγιοι Ἰσίδωρος, Ἠλίας καὶ Παῦλος οἱ Μάρτυρες. 30 Απριλίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  11. Orthodox Europe: the saints of Spain at

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