The Battle of Covadonga

How a handful of Christians stopped the Arab Empire.

When I was traveling to Covadonga during a vacation in Northern Spain, I had no idea that this visit would change my life. There are many churches and grottos with Madonnas in Spain. But Covadonga has a special meaning. I didn’t know anything about the history of Covadonga when I drove into the valley. I saw the beautiful cathedral from afar and parked near it. It seemed to date from the Romanesque period, although its towers were built in the Gothic style. How was this contradiction to be explained? “It is a church that is only one hundred and twenty years old. It is this neo-style that was fashionable around the turn of the century. Today you can be happy that it looks like eight hundred years old. ”“ Yes, better than a modern church, ”I agreed. “I’m a tourist guide, by the way. If you want a tour? This is an important place for Spain. ”I looked up at the high green mountains that rose around the church. “There are two lakes up there, the lakes of Covadonga. We have wolves and bears here in the Picos de Europa. ”“ Yes, show me around, I agreed. ”He shook my hand. “I am Javier. It’s an honor. ”“ I’m Paul, thanks. ”He walked around the church with me. “This is considered the birthplace of modern Spain because this narrow valley was the last resistance nest of the Visigothic Christians in the Arab storm in the eighth century that swept Christian rule over Iberia away, almost swept it away. The conquerors were convinced Muslims, whose aim was not only to gain land but also to spread their new religion because they believed they had found the right answer to the human dilemma. We are in a world that is full of suffering and that only makes sense when we ascribe it to it. This religion of the new Prophet Mohammed should be spread throughout the known world. The Moors, as the conquerors were called, overran entire Iberian peninsula in a few decades and crossed the Pyrenees to attack France next. In the end, they probably wanted to subject all of Europe to Islam.

The victory of Islam was only possible because in the decades before Muhammad’s religious awakening, the Byzantine and Persian empires had fought a war of attrition that had decisively weakened both empires. The Arab armies entered this gap and conquered their empire at breathtaking speed. The attack to the north was stopped by Karl Martell in southern France and retreated across the Pyrenees. On retreat, the defeated general decided to wipe out a victory the last Christian resistance nest in Iberia, which was in the mountains of Asturias, here in the “Picos de Europa”. He should have got involved with the wrong enemy, because here in this remote valley there were the warriors who were to ring in the eighth-century reconquest of Spain from the walls. Many of today’s Europeans are discouraged and would love to shed the burden of history by surrendering themselves to oblivion or even Islam. ”Javier’s voice sounded sad and defiant at the same time. “They also threw away Christianity because they are rightly dissatisfied with the Church. Maybe because they don’t tolerate any authority over themselves. But we are not finished yet, despite these forces that want to see Europe fall.” “Yes, we Europeans have become tired, “I remarked. “We are no longer sure what it is worth preserving.” Javier agreed. He was pleased to have found someone who understood him. In the meantime, we went towards the Madonna’s cave.

“The crusades are condemned to us in Europe as one of the greatest crimes of Christianity. In truth, the Pope did not call for the liberation of the Holy Sepulcher from the unbelievers in his justified crusades, but only for the protection of the pilgrims. So history is twisted and always to the disadvantage of Europe. This protection of the pilgrims also seemed necessary, because shortly before there had been a massacre of 40,000 Christian pilgrims by a Muslim leader. As for the supposed guilt of Christianity, it was the Muslims who attacked Europe again and again. As one of his first acts, many new caliphs in Al Andalus, Moorish Spain, ordered an attack on the kings of the Christian north, which, despite the superiority of the Muslim armies, repeatedly warded off the advancing armies and gradually reclaimed additional terrain. Similar attacks were carried out by Arab armies in large numbers across the Italian peninsula and by Turkish armies across the Balkans.

If you look at graphs of the frequency of attacks on Europe, you have to ask yourself what are the forces in Europe today that protect historical and current political Islam and portray Christianity as the main culprit in history. Indeed, it was an unforgivable massacre that the Christian armies in Jerusalem wreaked on Muslims and Jews. Later attacks on caravans also contradicted the ideal of the crusaders. The churches need not be defended here. What we want to rediscover is the path of the knights of the first centuries of the Reconquista, who used their lives to wrest this land from the Moors again. What do we need their example for? Because we have lost touch with the divine world in a world that is against belief. It is a world that tries to teach the same thing over and over again: Human happiness can be found outside. Even God has been treated by Christian theology for centuries as an object perched somewhere in heaven. But if God is to be God, he must be unlimited. If it is unlimited, we humans cannot exist outside of it. If we live in it, we don’t need a religious hierarchy to connect with it. The elites, who quickly seized the movement of the disciples of Jesus to found a church, were up to no good. They wanted to maintain their power, which was endangered by the collapse of the Roman Empire. They had an ingenious idea: if the empire was militarily at an end, but there was a vital spiritual movement inside that could survive for centuries to come, all you had to do was exchange these two. They moved to the church with their Roman elites, making them the state religion, thereby destroying the original Palestinian movement, which was based on grassroots democracy and participation. Even if the outer Roman empire was destroyed shortly afterwards by the Teutons in the west and a thousand years later in the east by the Muslims, the elites had created their new empire in the minds of the people and survived long enough to survive modern times and postmodernism check. We should only be interested in the elites who seem to control the outside world, because our struggle is an inner one.

Original Christianity had to fight against strong forces from the beginning. Jesus himself, as a single man, opposed the entirety of darkness. This tried to destroy him and did everything that people can do to each other. Nevertheless, Jesus triumphed over death on the third day. We live between two victories: the victory of the elites over the original Jesus movement and the victory of Christ in the world of the soul. Since this victory of Christ is the decisive one, we can still count on it. Christ can show us the way and protect us from attack. These attacks can collapse on us as thoughts, fantasies and external events. All people have to struggle with it. The struggle to recapture Spain lasted over eight hundred years. The Muslims attacked the north countless times because every new caliph saw this as their sacred duty. Most of the time, the Muslims put together vastly superior armies because they had many more soldiers and much more money. They lived a lush life in the south, while the Christian north lived spartanly. Nevertheless, the Christian knights repeatedly flee their adversaries and gradually conquered the land of Al Andalus. In the end, the Catholic royal couple Katharina and Fernando conquered the Al Hambre castle festivals in Granada and thus ended the Moorish rule in Spain. This was the turning point in the history of the Occident and the Orient. The Christian West rose, discovered America and gradually conquered almost the whole world. The Islamic Middle East fell into a deep sleep and missed the connection to the modern age. The superiority of the West was not based on cultural superiority, not even religious superiority, but better weapon technology. That was in Europe through many wars. It was always about freedom. The Goths had ruled here from the Moors. Their church was influenced by the Irish Celts and partly purely Celtic. In part, however, they have already submitted to the Roman Church. For a long time they fought militarily against Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, which tried to restore the old imperial borders in the west by conquering the Roman territories. In the end, the Goths threw the Byzantines out. But then another enemy should approach them. When Arabs and Berbers translated across the strait to the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century, there was a country ahead of them that was unprepared for the coming storm. Islam had already conquered a world empire in the past decades. They had an easy game with Iberia. “

Islam was still developing during the conquest of Iberia since even the direction of prayer was still unclear. In the first centuries, the mosques were oriented towards Petra, because this was the actual birthplace of Muhammad, where all the stories of the Koran are located, in a landscape with olive groves, fields and cattle breeding, all things that were unthinkable in the Mecca desert .” “Are you sure? Everyone says Muhammed Mecca. ”Javier nodded seriously. “It was the greatest fake in history. But here was the new Muslim who believed what was said to them. And faith alone creates the world. ”We were standing by the river now.

After the victory of the Muslim troops in the decisive battle on the Río Guadalete (July 711), in which the Visigoth King Roderich fell, the Visigoth Empire was annihilated. The Muslim invasion force (Berber and Arabs) from North Africa conquered the Iberian Peninsula in a few years. According to the Asturian tradition, Pelagius was a noble Visigoth who belonged to Roderich’s bodyguard as a sword-bearer. He went to Asturias, where his family appeared to be rooted and respected. There he joined the service of the Muslim governor Munuza, so he came to terms with the new rulers. Munuza wanted to marry Pelayo’s sister, probably to secure his power in the region through a connection with this prominent gender. However, Pelayo refused to consent. When Munuza disregarded this, the conflict broke up and Pelayo fled to a remote mountain area to start an uprising there. In 718 he was elected king or “prince” (Princeps) by his followers. Apparently, the Muslims, who were busy expanding north of the Pyrenees, did nothing about it at first, and only four years later, in 722, did they send an army to quell the uprising.

The battle is now dated to between 718 and 722. The main sources for the events come from the court of King Alfonso III. from Asturias (866–910). ”Javier looked at me. “Would you read this chronicle if someone gave it to you? “I don’t know if I have the time. But I love everything that reminds me of the Lord of the Rings. This old world full of myths and heroes and without the boredom of today. ”I said. Javier laughed and looked down at the river. “Back then it was much quieter than today, and perhaps more boring from today’s perspective. It is uncertain whether – as in the Chronicle of Alfonso III. Negotiations were held before the battle, with the Muslims offering favorable terms to the Asturians through a bishop named Oppa, whom they had brought with them. Accordingly, Pelayo could not only have kept his property under Muslim rule but could also have maintained a certain contractually guaranteed political independence. According to the Chronicle, Pelayo declined this offer, and the battle began, allegedly killing 124,000 Muslim soldiers, including the commanding general named Alqama; a further 63,000 are said to have died in the subsequent escape. This made the situation of Governor Munuza, who had not participated in the battle, untenable; he had to give up his residence in Gijon and was killed on the run. According to this, not a single Muslim is said to have survived north of the passes of the Cantabrian Mountains.

The Muslim sources, which were also written later, on the other hand, represent the fighting as an insignificant battle. According to them, a band of 300 Christian rebels was encircled and almost completely wiped out. After all, Pelagius was left with only 30 starved fighters. These had been allowed to escape, as disproportionate effort would have been required to destroy them in the difficult terrain.

Both representations are far from historical reality. In Christian historiography, Covadonga was recognized in its importance from the perspective of later centuries and was seen as the beginning of the Reconquista, as the successful reconquest of Spain over eight hundred years. This was one of the longest struggles in history., Trivialized in the Muslim. The Asturian portrayal is shaped by the perspective of the Asturian royal family, who viewed its rule as the re-establishment of the Visigoth Empire. After the fight, Pelayo was able to consolidate his Asturian empire from the capital, Cangas de Onís, without the Muslims being able to prevent him from doing so. ”We had continued to climb up the site and were now able to see the valley better. “The Moors had already entered the valley. Pelagius had prepared his knights and soldiers well for the fight. They were ready to go to death for freedom. We can assume that their superiority was at least five times, probably ten times. I was given a book from the Franco period, an old, worn-out book in which Pelagius’ speech to his soldiers was reproduced. ”He smiled at me. “Such speeches are no longer appropriate today. Today we shouldn’t be proud of anything anymore and not keep it anymore. ”“ What did he say? ”We had reached the cave with the Virgin of Covadonga. Javier glanced up at the small white figure enthroned in the cave above the water basin. “The virgin stood by Pelagius. She was venerated here for centuries before victory. Before that, this was a sanctuary of the goddess. No one who is not a Catholic or Celtic Christian can really understand this.

Javier took out a small, yellowed book, leafed through it, and then began to read in a low voice, not without first making sure that nobody was approaching us. “Soldiers, knights, followers! Today is the day of the decision. Many of you have fled from the south to the mountains of the northeast so as not to fall under the yoke of the Muslims, others have come from the Franconian Empire or from Catalonia to help us. Today is the day to put the Arabs and Moors in their place. They’ve had an easy game so far because luck in the war wasn’t on our side and they killed our king. We don’t want to take revenge for that. We only fight for our freedom and that of our children. It is up to us to build an independent kingdom here in the north, with which we will resurrect the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo. Today we are on our own two feet. Celtic, Gothic and Catholic Christians are gathered here to say: “Up to here and no further!”

“This is Europe and we are not leaving! Today is the day we put ourselves in the hands of God and under the protection of the Madonna of Covadonga. Our life is in their hands. If we die, then only in the struggle on Christian earth. We will not surrender. So today we will win or enter the kingdom of heaven where great reward awaits us. Today is the last day to be given. We will advance to the enemy’s line of sight after the order to attack. Then the firing order is given and the enemy is fired from all sides. Our riders will then move on with you foot soldiers to attack. Take the momentum and power of the Virgin of this well with you and do not let up until you have driven the enemy away. ”Javier looked up from his book and gave me a meaningful look. “They attacked the superior force with full force. Arrows and stones rained from the side slopes and from the caves on both side of the valley. The Arabs panicked. The Christians fled them and chased them back south through the valleys, killing many. Then there was a massive Arab attack, which was also repelled. After that there was peace and Iberia was recaptured bit by bit. There has been great cultural exchange over the centuries. The diversity of religions was beneficial for Spain. When the Moors were driven out, the lights went out in Spain. Although America was discovered and conquered, there was no opening of the mind. That went up to Franco, who wanted to bring back the old days. Even today, many still believe in the old national Catholicism. But the Goths were as close to nature as the Celts from whom they had learned Christianity. For them, nature was the crucial connection to God and not the priest in the church. They defended their freedom against Baghdad and against Rome. There is not much left of that today, unfortunately. ”Javier led me to the church, which was of great beauty. We walked thoughtfully through the sacred church and thought of the heroes of the Battle of Covadonga until we said goodbye and I drove back to my hotel. I would never forget Javier and the valley. Peter Bernhard, writer, Barcelona