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Musings: Overlapping Religions

I had a physical therapy (PT) appointment today.  My left knee has been bothering me and, after an MRI, it was decided to go the PT route.  All part of the general “aging” process despite the fact that I feel like a thirty-year old inside.  (At least I don’t say “like a teenager” any more!!)

Anyway, I was lying on the PT table having my knee iced down before receiving some kind of “electronic” treatment (the proper name just simply will not come out of the “senior ether” for the moment), when I became aware of the TV making background noise.  I watch very little TV and so I didn’t really pay it much attention, choosing rather to close my eyes and focus on relaxing.

However, I heard the sounds of Spanish guitar music being played and, because I am passionate about Flamenco, I opened my eyes to see what it was about.  I forget the guy’s name, but he does a travel program on PBS and will occasionally tug at my heart strings when I catch him doing a segment on Italy.  But today he was in Spain and in that moment was talking about Flamenco dancing and the music was in the background.

After a few shots of various dancers performing he went on to talk about the various architectural influences in Spain and I mentally sat up.  He was referring to the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors and how they had radically changed Spanish architecture and the internal and external decorations of buildings.

As I lay there I thought about the scrap of paper that sat in my “inspiration bin” at home.  On that scrap of paper is a note to remind myself to write a blog about the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, Florida.  Under that heading are the words “Catholicism-Islam”, and just a few days ago on the internet I had read an abbreviated history of the Moors in Spain.  It was time to write the piece.

Twice in the last few weeks Richard and I have ridden our Harley to St. Augustine in Florida.  We enjoy the ride and we combine it with going to Mass in the Cathedral-Basilica.  I have been inside that building many times, sometimes for Mass and sometimes showing it to friends or family who are visiting.

Just last Sunday we chose to make our run there and, as we arrived a little early, we had time to just sit prayerfully before Mass started.  I took some time to look around and appreciate the typical Spanish construction and the beautiful artwork and decor. As I said before, I have visited the Cathedral and looked around before, but I guess I had a new pair of eyes with me this time.

For one I noticed, I mean really noticed, a small side chapel about halfway up the length of the Cathedral.  It is done in exquisite shades of green with some lovely ceramic tile work.  There was a statue on the small altar which I did not readily recognize as a known saint.

I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “Was that chapel there before?”  He replied in the affirmative and went on to tell me it was dedicated to St. Augustine.  I was quite taken aback that I had never noticed it before or realized that it was the patron saint of the town in there!  (I was also pretty flabbergasted that my husband knew something about the Cathedral that I didn’t!!)

I continued to peruse the rest of the Cathedral and it suddenly came to me, even though, as I said before, I had visited here on numerous occasions, that this Cathedral was full of Islamic nuances.  Starting with the vivid red vaulted ceiling and then taking in the intricately painted or inlaid gold decor on all the beams supporting the ceiling, it was indeed very “Moorish”.

For a moment I pictured dark, olive-skinned men with thin, black, face-framing beards.  I could see them sitting on piles of rich red and gold silk cushions piled haphazardly under a multi-roofed tent and surrounded by soft hanging red drapes held back by gold tasseled cords.  And undulating all around them I could see beautiful women dressed in diaphanous veils and marvelous jingling gold jewelry.

Guiltily I came back into the present moment and looked around wondering what the people around me would think if they could see my daydreaming.  I wondered if any of the regular parishioners ever thought how strange it was that they came to celebrate the Roman Catholic Mass in such “Islamic” surroundings.  And I said a prayer to God that maybe truly this world could come together in peace.