Martyrs of Córdoba

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Martyrs of Córdoba
Died Between 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, Perfectus, Roderick

The Martyrs of Córdoba were forty-eight Christian martyrs living in the 9th century Muslim-ruled Al-Andalus, in what is now southern Spain; their hagiography describes in detail their executions for deliberately sought capital violations of Muslim law in Al-Andalus. The martyrdoms related by Eulogius (the only contemporary source) took place between 851 and 859; with few exceptions, the Christians invited execution by making public statements tactically chosen to invite martyrdom: some martyrs appeared before the Muslim authorities to denounce Muhammad; others, possibly Christian children of Islamic-Christian marriages, publicly proclaimed their Christianity as apostates (Coope 1995)[page needed]. 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][page needed]

Historical background[edit]

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. During this time, Christians could worship freely, and retained 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. Many Christians fled to Northern Spain; others took refuge in the monasteries of Sierras, 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 Cordova, now the cathedral, and compelled many Christians to take part in the preparation of the site and foundations. The martyrs caused tension not only between Muslims and Christians, but within the Christian community. Abd ar-Rabmán II at first ordered the arrest and detention of the clerical leadership of the local Christian community. As the outbursts seem to subside, they were released four months later in November 851. When several months later there was a new wave of martyrs, the emir turned again to the Christian leaders as the ones most capable of controlling the zealots.[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 to stop the martyrdoms or the Christians would face, harassment, loss of jobs, and economic hardship.[4] Upon the death of Abd-er Rahman I in 852, his son and successor, Muhammad I removed all Christian officials from their palace appointments.

Reccafred, Bishop of Córdoba, taught the virtues of toleration and compromise with the Muslim authorities. Eulogius, whose texts are the only source for these martyrdoms, and who was venerated as a saint from the 9th century, viewed the bishop as siding with Muslim authorities against the martyrs, whom many regarded as fanatics. The closures of such monasteries where some martyrs belonged begins to be recorded towards the middle of the 9th century.

The monk Eulogius encouraged the martyrs as a way to reinforce the faith of the Christian community. He composed tractates and a martyrology to justify the self-immolation of the martyrs, 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. There the relics of Saint Eulogius were translated in 884.[5]


Though they suffered many vexations, the Christians continued to enjoy freedom of worship, and this tolerant attitude of the emirs seduced not a few Christians from their original allegiance.[further explanation needed] Both Christians and Muslims co-operated at this time to make Córdoba a flourishing city, the elegant refinement of which was unequalled in Europe.[2] The Christians of Cordoba were becoming gradually assimilated into the broader Muslim culture.[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[edit]

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 religious offences against Islam.

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 Cordoba 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[edit]

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

Charged with blasphemy[edit]

  • Perfectus - April 18, 850. A priest in Córdoba beheaded for denouncing Islam.
  • Isaac - June 3, 851. Born to a wealthy Córdoban family, he was well educated and fluent in Arabic which helped him rise quickly to the position of exceptor rei publicae in the Moorish government. He resigned in order to become a monk at his family's monastery of Tábanos, a few miles from Córdoba. One day he left his retreat and returned to the emir's palace where he burst out with a vituperative attack against Islam, and was subsequently executed.
  • Sancho - (also known as Sanctius, Sancius) June 5, 851. Born in Albi in Septimania (modern-day France), he was taken to Córdoba in Al-Andalus as a prisoner of war, educated at the royal court, and enrolled in the guards of the Emir. He was executed by impalement for his refusal to embrace Islam.
  • Peter, Walabonsus, Sabinian, Wistremundus, Habentius and Jeremiah - June 7, 851. Peter was a priest; Walabonsus, a deacon; Sabinian and Wistremundus, monks of St Zoilus in Córdoba in Al-Andalus; Habentius, a monk of St Christopher's; Jeremiah, a very old man, had founded the monastery of Tábanos, near Córdoba. For publicly denouncing Muhammad they were executed under Abderrahman in Córdoba. Jeremiah was scourged to death; the others were beheaded.
  • Paul of St Zoilus - July 20, 851. A deacon in Córdoba who belonged to the monastery of St Zoilus and who was very zealous in ministering to Christians imprisoned by the Muslims. He was beheaded; his relics are enshrined in the church of St Zoilus.
  • Theodemir - July 25, 851. A monk executed in Córdoba in Al-Andalus under Abd ar-Rahman II.
  • Flora and Maria - November 24, 851. These two women were both the offspring of marriages between a Christian and a Muslim. In addition, Maria was the sister of Walabonsus, who had been executed earlier. Flora's father, who died when she was very young, was a Muslim, and so her Christianity was legally defined as apostasy. Although Maria and Flora denounced Islam in court together, Maria was executed for blasphemy and Flora for apostasy.
  • Gumesindus and Servusdei - January 13, 852. Gusemindus, a parish-priest, and Servusdei, a monk, were executed in Cordoba under Abd ar-Rahman II.
  • Leovigild and Christopher - August 20, 852. Leovigild was a monk and pastor in Córdoba and Christopher a monk of the monastery of St Martin de La Rojana near Córdoba. They were executed in Córdoba under Abd ar-Rahman II.
  • Emilas and Jeremiah - September 15, 852. Two young men, the former of whom was a deacon, imprisoned and beheaded in Cordoba under the Emir Abderrahman.
  • Rogellus and Servus-Dei - September 16, 852. A monk and his young disciple executed in Córdoba for publicly denouncing Islam inside a mosque. They were the first Christian martyrs executed under Muhammad I.
  • Fandilas - June 13, 853. A priest and Abbot of Peñamelaria near Córdoba. He was beheaded in Córdoba by order of Muhammad I.
  • Anastasius, Felix, and Digna - June 14, 853. Anastasius was a deacon of the church of St. Acisclus in Córdoba, who became a monk at nearby Tábanos. Felix was born in Alcalá of a Berber family, became a monk in Asturias but joined the monastery at Tábanos, hoping for martyrdom. Digna belonged to the convent there.
  • Benildis - June 15, 853. Anastasius' execution inspired this woman of Cordoba to choose martyrdom herself the next day. Her ashes were thrown into the Guadalquivir.
  • Columba - September 17, 853. Born in Córdoba and a nun at Tábanos, she was detained with the rest of the nuns, to prevent them from giving themselves up to the courts, when the Emirate closed the monastery in 852. She escaped, openly denounced Muhammad and was beheaded.
  • Pomposa - September 19, 853. Another nun, from the monastery of San Salvador at Peñamelaria. She escaped the imprisonment of the nuns, went before the court and was executed, despite protests from her fellow nuns.
  • Abundius - July 11, 854. A parish priest in Ananelos, a village near Córdoba. He was arrested for having maligned Mohammad. Unlike most of the other martyrs, Abundius was betrayed by others and did not volunteer to face the Emir's court. He was beheaded and his body was thrown to the dogs. His feast day is celebrated on July 11.[9]
  • Amator, Peter and Louis - April 30, 855. Amator was born in Martos, near Córdoba, where he was an ordained priest. Together with a monk named Peter and a layman called Louis (Ludovicus), the brother of the previous martyr Paul, he was executed by the Emirate for blaspheming Islam.
  • Witesindus - (also known as Witesind) 855. A Christian layman from Cabra, who had converted to Islam but later recanted; he was executed for apostasy.
  • Elias, Paul and Isidore - April 17, 856. Elias, born in Beja in Portugal and a priest in Córdoba, was executed in his old age by the Moors, together with the young monks Paul and Isidore, two of his students. According to the "Great Synaxaristes", their feast day in the Orthodox Church is on April 30.[10]
  • Argymirus - (also known as Argimirus, Argimir) June 28, 856. Argimir, a nobleman from Cabra, was Emir Muhammad I's censor. He was deprived of his office on account of his faith and became a monk. He was accused by others of having insulted the prophet Muhammad and publicly proclaimed the divinity of Jesus. Argimir was offered mercy if he renounced Christianity and professed Islam; he refused, and was executed.

Charged with apostasy[edit]

  • George, Aurelius and Natalia; Sabigotho, Felix and Liliosa – July 27 c. 852. Martyrs in Córdoba under Emir Abd ar-Rahman II. Aurelius and Felix, with their wives, Natalia and Liliosa, were Iberians whose family backgrounds, although religiously mixed, legally required them to profess Islam. After given four days to recant, they were condemned as apostates for revealing their previously secret Christian faith. The deacon George was a monk from Palestine who was arrested along with the two couples. Though offered a pardon as a foreigner, he chose to denounce Islam again and die with the others.
  • Aurea (also known as Aura) – July 19, 856. Born in Córdoba in Al-Andalus and a daughter of Muslim parents. She witnesses the execution of her brothers, Adolphus and John on 27 September 822 (their feast day). (Adolphus is the saint of the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral in the epic historical novels The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follett.)[citation needed] In her widowhood she quietly became a Christian and a nun at Cuteclara, where she remained for more than twenty years. She was discovered by Muslim relatives, brought before a judge, and renounced her Christianity under duress. However, she regretted this, and continued to practice Christianity in secret. When her family discovered this, she was again brought before a court, refused to repent a second time, and was executed.
  • Rudericus (Roderick) and Salomon (Solomon) – March 13, 857. Roderick was a priest in Cabra who was betrayed by his Muslim brother, who falsely accused him of converting to Islam and then returning to Christianity (i.e. apostasy). In prison he met his fellow-martyr, Salomon. They were both executed in Córdoba.
Eulogius and Leocritia
  • Eulogius of Cordoba – March 11, 859. A prominent priest in Córdoba Al-Andalus during this period. Outstanding for his courage and learning, he encouraged some of the voluntary martyrs and wrote The Memorial of the Saints for their benefit. He himself was executed for aiding and abetting apostasy by hiding and protecting a young girl St. Leocritia that had converted from Islam.
  • Leocritia (also known as Lucretia) – March 15, 859. A young girl in Córdoba. Her parents were Muslims, but she was converted to Christianity by a relative. On Eulogius's advice and with his aid, Leocritia escaped her home and went into hiding. Once found, both were arrested. Eulogius, after years of being in and out of prison and encouraging voluntary martyrdom, was executed for proselytization, and Leocritia for apostasy.
  • Sandila (also known as Sandalus, Sandolus, Sandulf) – September 3 c. 855. Executed in Córdoba under the Emirate.[11]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]