I went to Mass in Cordoba. In a Mosque. As a former Catholic, the last time I went to mass (other than a funeral or wedding) I was in high school.  I remember attending mass that day, thinking that once I was out of school, I would never have to go to mass again. So, I was certainly surprised to find myself voluntarily attending mass, while I was on vacation, in Spain, of all places.

The Mezquita, with its Moorish pillars and arches, has a very unique history.  UNESCO refers to it as “The Great Mosque of Cordoba.” Yet, it is actually the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Córdoba.

Prior to the Muslim conquest of Cordoba, on the site was a small Catholic church dedicated to St Vincent. After the Muslim conquest in 711, the church was divided in half.  This allowed both Christians and Muslims to worship there. That arrangement lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir Abd al-Rahman.  He ordered construction of the Great Mosque, which was then expanded by later Muslim rulers.

When King Ferdinand III of Castile captured Córdoba in 1236, he had the mosque consecrated. Since then, it has functioned as a Catholic Church. There is a chapel, sort of awkwardly plopped in the middle of the Mosque.   It’s beautiful itself, yet feels oddly out of place in its surrounds.

Since about 2000, Muslims living in Spain have been lobbying the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray at the site. Those requests have been rejected by both Catholic authorities in Spain, and by the Vatican.  It’s sort of a shame.  I mean in 711, the site was used for worship by Christians and Muslims.  The Catholic Church won’t allow this today.  Have we not evolved?

It is fascinating to learn the history of the building.  If you go, two tips; First, if you go at 830am, you can get in for free!  The doors are open to the public while the Mosque is being cleaned and prepared for the day.  Tour groups are not allowed, but individuals can get in for free.  And if you are nice to the guard, and tell him you want to attend Mass, he will let you stick around when they start kicking everyone out at 920am.  Now the only way to see inside the cathedral is to attend mass, since it is closed to the public.  So… that’s why I went to mass on vacation.  No photos are allowed, and they are strict about this.

The mass had about 40-50 people in attendance, and I counted 18 priests serving mass.  The inside is stunning, with dark wood carved benches all around.  The organ sounds beautiful echoing throughout the empty Mosque.  It was a strange reminder for me about what is appealing and almost mesmerizing as a kid-the whole catholic mass ritual.  I was a bit surprised at how I remembered the signs, the kneel-sit-stand combinations, even the hand shaking at the sign of peace.  The mass was in Spanish, of course, but going through the motions was the same, regardless of language

Here are a few pics I was able to find online (not very easily.  Wish I’d snuck a few of my own)

 Photo credit : Wikipedia

After the Mosque tour, and peering into patios , it is time to find some lunch.   If you head over to the Jewish Quarter, the prettiest part of town, and very near the Mosque/Church, there is a great little tapas bar, Restaurante El Churrasaco.  Seems like the kind of place that’s been there forever, lots of locals.


Later for dinner, after siesta 🙂 I headed to Regadara.  It was hip and trendy, super friendly staff.

Cordoba was beautiful. While I am a first timer, I feel pretty certain early May is a great time to visit.

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