A Cathedral transept inside a ancient Mosque
We will start the study of the Cathedral Transept by mentioning a controversy that has been surrounding the works from ancient times. Who has never heard the issue that a Cathedral could have been built in Córdoba without reconstructing part of the Mosque? Who has not heard, or read, the famous words pronounced by Emperor Carlos I de España (Charles I of Spain) discrediting the new works? Would the Islamic building have lived to our time if this had remained unaltered throughout the years? It would be really complicated and unfair to make an analysis of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba omitting these issues. However, we wish to separate ourselves from all kinds of beliefs and ideologies when doing so.
There are more and more historians and scholars of this building who claim that it would not have got to our time if the works in the transept and chapel had not been carried out. What would have happened if, instead of being used as a sacred and worshipping place, it had been used for a different purpose? Undoubtedly, after asking this question, it comes to my mind the image of the Parthenon in Athens, which was sadly used as an ammunition dump. The reader could say that this is indeed a very extreme example, but what would have been of the mosque if the Cathedral had been built in a different part of the city? The truth is that there are numerous questions; in fact, we would never finish this introduction if we asked them all. Would the building have survived? Scientists say it would not. We can actually claim that it has been preserved almost “miraculously” if we pay attention, for example, to the state it was in before the "restoration" led by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, and we also believe, from our humble point of view, that it would not have survived.
It is also controversial the sentence by Emperor Carlos I de España and V de Alemania (Charles I of Spain and V of Germany) when he heard about the works: "I did not know what this was; as I would not have allowed to get to the ancient, because you do what can be found in other parts and you have destroyed what was unique in the world". The truth is that there was not an agreement from the beginning among the members of the Cathedral Chapter, but they never admitted it in public, but quite the opposite, they supported Bishop Alonso Manrique, who was the real promoter of the works. On the other hand, the project suffered great popular pressure, as can be seen in the text by Antonio Toro, general scribe of the City Council: "… he announced along the streets and squares of the city a life sentence for builders, stonemasons, carpenters and labourers who accepted the contract to work in the demolition of part of the old Mosque. Even before finishing it, the canon José Aldrete, on behalf of the bishop and the Cathedral Chapter, they will say that it started ‘non prudenti consilio’". We can feel then a quite tense atmosphere in the city due to the beginning of the works in the transept, although the Emperor received several reports on the situation where they encouraged the works to be continued.
According to Alberto Villar, Professor of History of the Art at the University of Córdoba, the conclusion is clear: "… it is a fallacy, probably romantic, probably invented… Such an Emperor could not feel sorry, who was able to promote a palace under his name located in the heart of the Alhambra. We know today that King Carlos came to Córdoba in 1526 on his way to Seville". If we add that, at the age of 26 (he was born in 1500) he could barely speak Spanish, the conclusion is even clearer. And we ultimately refer to a question asked by Recio Mateo: How could such a Catholic monarc, in permanent fight against the Turkish Islam, and who knew the transformation of the Hagia Sophia in a Mosque, regret the transformation of the Mosque of the "infidel" into Catholicism…?