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Sep 2004 Journal

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PC World

The statue of St James, 'the Moor slayer' - icon of the Christians' century-long struggle to wrest back control of Spain from the Muslims - is about to be removed from the great pilgrim church at Santiago de Compostella. For nearly two millennia St James, allegedly a cousin of Jesus, was revered for having spread Christianity to the westernmost reaches of Europe. Legend has it that several centuries after his death his apparition on a cloud above the battlefield inspired a crucial Christian victory over the Moors. Now his statue, with its triumphalist depiction of the warrior-saint treading a headless Saracen underfoot, is considered an affront to the sensibilities of the many Moroccan residents of Spain.

There can be no doubt that such an arresting visual image of battlefield carnage is both sadistic and in poor taste, and ought to have no place in a house of prayer. On the other hand, one wonders how far revisions dictated by political correctness can be extended into the medieval past.

It is no exaggeration to say that the roots of European literature stretch back to the two-pronged struggle - one the reconquista of Spain, the other the Crusades - between Christianity and Islam. The reconquista gave rise to the great medieval epics of the Chanson de Roland and El Cid, while the crusades inspired Tarquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata.

The clash of the two faiths engendered not only high art but also popular entertainment. The derring-do of the 12 legendary knights at Charlemagne's court - the so-called paladins - is the staple diet of Sicilian puppet theatres, and Italian coastal communities stage annual naval pageants commemorating their ancestors' repulsion of sea-borne Saracen landings.

My question is this: will the PC offensive, of which ejecting the warrior-saint from the main church of his very own town - Santiago means St James - is an eye-catching opening shot, follow a logical progression? Will the Chanson de Roland and Gerusalemme Liberata disappear from university syllabuses, and El Cid from theatre repertoires? Will Sicilian marionette theatres be closed down? In this country will the statue of the Crusader King Richard Lionheart vanish from the forecourt of Parliament, and public houses no longer be called 'The Saracen's Head'?

While the Christians were battling Mohammedans they were also making the Jews pay - sometimes in blood - for their stubborn refusal to convert. If the retroactive application of political correctness benefits Muslims, it is only fair - or PC - that it should do the same for Jews.

I would therefore petition the shadowy legislators who devise the canon of political correctness to focus their attention on the following injustices done to the Jews: a street in the historic quarter of Boulogne commemorates Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade that devastated Jewish communities along the Rhine. Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend, published by Caxton, shows Joachim a married man (and traditionally considered the father of the Virgin Mary) being denied entry to the synagogue because his infertility proves he is accursed of God. In Piero de Francesco's fresco cycle in Arezzo a Jew hides the True Cross - i.e. the one on which Jesus was crucified - and has to be tortured to reveal its location. Geoffrey Chancer's Pardoner's Tale levels the accusation of the ritual murder of Hugh of Lincoln against the Jews.

And, to finish in the very country which has sacrificed its warrior-saint on the altar of PC: in Toledo - the Canterbury of Spain - there are churches, such as the Iglesia Blanca, whose pre-1492 existence as synagogues is proven by still visible star-of-David motifs under the eaves.
Richard Grunberger

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