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  • The Theology of Colonization in Urban Granada, 1492–1502
  • Mark D. Johnston

On November 25, 1491, the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim realm in the Iberian Peninsula, surrendered to Castile, ending over seven hundred years of independent Islamic rule in Spain. During the decade that followed, the kingdom's capital city of Granada underwent a rapid—and ultimately traumatic—transformation of its urban environment, as Christian authorities sought to reorganize every aspect of the city's life. Generations of modern scholars have scrutinized the well-documented transformation of the city's social, economic, political, legal, and cultural institutions in these years, seeking insights into the conditions, limits, and eventual failure of a situation often cited as the last major example of Muslim-Christian convivencia (co-existence) in medieval Spain.1 The 1992 quincentenary of Granada's surrender inspired a new surge of scholarship on Granada in the 1490s,2 much of it devoted to pursuing sociological and anthropological perspectives,3 and important new work continues to appear.4

Although—or perhaps because—so much information and analysis is available, several simple questions remain unanswered, including what general policies—if any—guided the city's new Christian leaders in managing their treatment of the city's Muslim population. Especially unclear are the policies of Hernando de Talavera, the first Christian archbishop of Granada. Regarded for centuries as a champion of tolerance for religious minorities and their conversion through peaceful means, Talavera nonetheless assented to the forced conversion of Granada's Muslims in 1500 and then issued in 1502 a sweeping decree that required their immediate and complete assimilation into Christian culture and society. This essay examines how Talavera's Confesional, a hastily prepared guide to confession that he published at Granada in 1496, already defined, using precepts of moral theology, principles for ensuring the transformation of Granada from a Muslim to a Christian city.5 Talavera's dictates in his manual, read in the context of contemporary [End Page 51] municipal legislation, strongly suggest that he neither anticipated nor favored the convivencia of separate religious communities.

When Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon triumphantly entered the city of Granada on January 6, 1492, they faced a challenge that no Spanish Christian kingdom had known for almost 250 years: absorbing a huge Muslim population, far too numerous to resettle or exile without disastrous demographic and economic consequences. The capitulation of Granada culminated a decade of warfare during which Castilian forces successfully besieged one strategic town after another—from Ronda (1485) to Almería and Guadix (1489)—in the Muslim kingdom of Granada. Once conquered, each town typically underwent a kind of "ethnic cleansing," applied with varying degrees of severity depending on circumstances. The Castilian victors offered these towns' Muslim residents some or all of these terms: (1) safe-conduct to North Africa or the kingdom of Granada, (2) resettlement in other regions of Castile, (3) evacuation of their town centers to accommodate Christian colonists and garrisons, and most importantly (4) the right to retain their religion, laws, and customs.6

When the city of Granada finally surrendered in late 1491, most of these precedent terms were simply impractical: the city and its contiguous territory were home to some 300,000 Muslim residents; the city alone probably held some 50,000.7 Resettling all these Muslims elsewhere in Spain was logistically impossible. So, to those who preferred exile, the Castilian Crown offered safe conduct and free transportation for three years. The kingdom's small aristocratic elite accepted this offer, but the vast majority of Granadan Muslims could not afford to leave. To them, the terms of surrender nonetheless guaranteed full exercise of their religion, customs, laws, and local institutions, along with continued possession of their homes and property, including mosques. In addition, Granada's Muslims could bear arms, but not keep gunpowder. Any residents born Christian, but converted to Islam through marriage or other circumstances (the so-called elches), could remain Muslim.

Isabel and Ferdinand appointed three experienced leaders to govern their new territory under these terms of capitulation: Hernando de Talavera, the queen's long-time confessor and chief political advisor, was named archbishop; Íñigo López de Mendoza...


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