Silencing the Bells: A Statement of Power in Medieval Spain
By Bevin Butler
The Eagle Feather, Vol.7 (2010)
The purpose of this research is to examine the meaning of Christian church bells in Medieval Spain. The research focuses on the bells of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela that were stolen by Muslim armies in 997 A.D. and taken to Cordova as spoils of war where they were used as vessels for oil lamps. More than 200 years later they were recaptured by Christian armies and returned to Santiago de Compostela. To the Muslims, the bells were symbols of their oppression by Christians because the bells were rung to cover the call of the faithful to prayers by the Muezzins. The silencing of the bells by the Muslims had deep symbolic significance of the Christian community because the bells were used to regulate village life by alerting the people to the proper times to wake, to pray, and to sleep as well as informing them of deaths in their community.
Much scholarship has been devoted to researching and documenting the significance and metaphysical qualities of the ringing of the bells withinChristian culture. Specific efforts have been made to capture bells from defeated cathedrals as symbols of victory throughout history. For example, the bells of the Catholic cathedral at Santiago de Compostela were captured and carried to Cordoba, an Islamic capital, as spoils of war, only to be reclaimed by a Christian king during the reconquest of Spain. Little research has been conducted to analyze the specificities and motives behind such an exchange. The problem presented by the bells of Santiago de Compostela is the question of their significance to the Christians and their captors, the Muslims. This paper will discuss the metaphysical impact and meaning of cathedral bells to the Christians and Muslims in Medieval Spain.