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21.05.08 Wolf, The Eulogius Corpus

The Medieval Review

21.05.08 Wolf, The Eulogius Corpus


Between April 850 and March 859, forty-eight Christians in the southern Iberian city of Córdoba and two in the northern city of Huesca were executed for crimes against Islam. Although a significant number died as a result of apostasy--converting to Christianity from Islam--and one died for proselytizing, the majority were killed for the crime of blasphemy. A small number of the blasphemers likely committed the crime inadvertently, but most purposefully and publicly denigrated the prophet Muhammad to protest Muslim rule of Al-Ándalus and in defense of Christian rights and moral superiority. Eulogius, a priest of Córdoba, wrote the passion stories of forty-eight of these "martyrs" in three volumes, the Memoriale Sanctorum, the Documentum Martyriale, and the Liber Apologeticus Martyrum; and Paul Alvarus, a Christian theologian and friend of Eulogius, included the martyrdom of Eulogius himself and the fiftieth martyr, Eulogius's young disciple Leocritia, in his own Vita Eulogii. We know of a random few other Christians who died at around the same time for similar crimes, mention of whom is found in other documents, and, as Kenneth Baxter Wolf says in his new translation of the Eulogius Corpus, "surely there were others who have fallen between the evidentiary cracks" (37). Nonetheless, the Eulogius Corpus, as the works of Eulogius and Paul Alvarus are now called, stands as the most complete source of information related to the so-called Cordoban Martyrs Movement. As such, it has drawn the passing attention of scholars of history, religious studies, cultural studies, and even art history for decades.

Despite mention of the Cordoban Martyrs Movement in a wide variety of scholarly studies, to date only a handful of scholars have offered detailed analyses of the documents and the context in which they were produced. In English for example, Kenneth Baxter Wolf produced his well-argued and documented Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain in 1988 (Cambridge University Press), and Jessica Coope published her erudite and very well-received The Martyrs of Cordoba: Community and Family Conflict in an Age of Mass Conversion in 1995 (University of Nebraska Press). Not specifically written about the Cordoban martyrs, Ann Christys's Christians in Al-Andalus (711-1000) (Curzon, 2002) treats the topic in succinct detail as well, dedicating chapter 4 and part of chapter 5 to it. Other shorter topic-specific studies have been produced in English, French, German, and Spanish by E. P. Colbert, Clayton Drees, Maribel Fierro, Patrick Henriet, Eva Lapiedra Gutiérrez, Ariana Patey, Igor Pochoshajew, Jesús Miguel Sáez, and John Tolan. As a result of the relatively thin scholarly production on the subject, most studies of Christianity in Al-Ándalus devote only a few brief paragraphs to it, if that. For this reason, Kenneth Baxter Wolf's new translation of the Eulogius Corpus--the only translation in English so far--is a welcomed addition to the studies of this still badly understood religious and social phenomenon.

As Wolf points out in the introductory study to The Eulogius Corpus, no medieval originals or copies of Eulogius's writings exist. When, in 1557, the Bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo, Pedro Ponce de León, learned of the existence of the Eulogius documents and asked to have copies made, Ambrosio de Morales took charge of the project, edited the copies according to his own standards (which included summarizing and even omitting information), and published them in 1574. Subsequently, the originals disappeared. Fortunately for scholarship, Paul Alvarus's life of Eulogius exists as a 10th-century copy in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. The entirety of the Ambrosio de Morales and the Biblioteca Nacional texts were rendered into a modern edition by Juan Gil in 1973 in the Corpus Scriptorum Muzarabicorum, which the Spanish philologist edited anew in 2020 for Brepols in the two-volume Scriptores Muzarabici Saeculi VIII-XI (CCCM LXVa and LXVb). Wolf's translations are based on Gil's 1973 edition.

Professor Wolf opens his volume with the customary acknowledgements, followed by a nine-page glossary of terminology related to the cultural and religious contexts of ninth-century Córdoba. In his 119-page introductory study, he gives a brief overview of the situation in which the dhimmi--Christians and Jews living as a protected group under Muslim rule--lived and worked on a daily basis, what has been said about Eulogius in recent publications on the topic, what we can deduce about him based on the documents presented further in the volume, the arguments that many of Eulogius's contemporaries presented in opposition to the martyrs, and the ways in which Eulogius attempted to counter that opposition. Wolf also offers a brief history of the Eulogius and Paul Alvarus texts. The translated texts begin with Paul Alvarus's Vita Eulogii and are followed by the three books by Eulogius mentioned above, finishing with Eulogius's letters to Alvarus, Baldegotho (a sister of one of the martyrs), and Bishop Wiliesindus of Pamplona. The volume ends with maps of early medieval Iberia and of the early Islamic caliphate; a chart outlining the martyrs' names, sex, birthplace, date of execution, social status, crime, non-Christian family members (if they had any), church affiliation, relationship to Eulogius, and the location of their relics; a list of churches mentioned in the Eulogius corpus and their locations within the texts; a select bibliography; and an index.

As in Wolf's earlier Conquerors and Chroniclers of Early Medieval Spain (Liverpool University Press, 1990), the translations that he presents in The Eulogius Corpus are clear and precise. He nicely presents the stylistic differences between Eulogius and Paul Alvarus, the former simpler and more direct, the latter syntactically more "baroque" and of a more scholarly tone. Wolf also supplies the reader with an arsenal of footnotes that reference biblical passages, clarify textual ambiguities, and cite further studies related to the texts. Even without the introductory studies, the translations alone are invaluable to the student of medieval Iberian history, religious studies, or even translation studies. They will surely allow professors of this period to expand their repertoire of teachable texts, and scholars in need of translations will find Wolf's work most useful.

Wolf's introduction is an important study, as well, offering the reader insights into some of the complexities inherent to the Christian/Muslim relationship of ninth-century Córdoba that are often misunderstood or ignored today. Although Eulogius encouraged Christian resistance to Islam and praised martyrdom as a sign of spiritual strength, Wolf explains that we cannot consider him the instigator of a martyr movement that Paul Alvarus later wished his own readers to believe. Eulogius encouraged martyrdom in those who felt themselves called in that direction, but he also aided Christians who wished to flee Muslim rule or to go into hiding. Rather than an instigator, Eulogius should be seen as a hagiographer: his writings exhibit a desire to record "the liturgically relevant details associated with the executions, emphasizing their consistency with the bona fide martyrdoms of the ancient church, and challenging an alternative point of view that sought to discredit the blasphemers" (62). By defending an idea of the Church in exile, a Church in Babylon, Eulogius sought to place the Christian blasphemers on a par with the martyrs of the Roman persecutions and add their names to the Roman calendar of the saints, a position that many of his contemporary Christians did not accept. Many, if not most, Christians living in Córdoba likely did not consider themselves persecuted since their Muslim rulers allowed them the freedom to worship as they pleased and maintained the physical ecclesiastic edifices that had existed since before the arrival of Islam to Iberia. Likewise, the lack of miracles and the unwillingness of many Christians to view Muslims as pagans, given their worship of the one God and their reverence for the Virgin Mary, dissuaded many from taking sides with Eulogius and the martyrs whom they must have considered radicals or troublemakers. From an academic point of view, Wolf's analysis of this situation is enlightening--it brings to light the dialectic of difference that was perceived and interpreted in a variety of ways by all involved and creates a more nuanced and historically accurate picture of the situation. Importantly, as well, Wolf's analysis forces the modern reader to reflect on our own understanding of and relationships with radical ideologies that appear in newscasts daily. Whether he intended to do so or not, Kenneth Baxter Wolf has provided us with an excellent work of scholarship that not only teaches us about the peoples and situations of yesteryear but speaks to us today about ourselves.