"For God, Spain, & El Cid": During the Centuries-Long Struggle of the Spanish Reconquista against the Muslim Occupiers of Iberia, One Name Stands out above All Others as the Exemplary Christian Knight

By Jasper, William F. | The New American, September 3, 2007 | Go to article overview

"For God, Spain, & El Cid": During the Centuries-Long Struggle of the Spanish Reconquista against the Muslim Occupiers of Iberia, One Name Stands out above All Others as the Exemplary Christian Knight


Jasper, William F., The New American


On a sandy beach on the north coast of Africa sit a dozen richly robed men, surrounded by scimitar-wielding men-at-arms, some standing, some mounted. From their opulent raiment and bejeweled fingers, the seated men are obviously individuals of some importance. In fact, they are the emirs of Spain, the Moorish kings who have been ruling the petty Muslim kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula since the collapse of the unified Caliphate of Cordoba.

They are rulers who are accustomed to issuing commands and expecting obedience without delay. They are accustomed to being feared by others. But a shadow of fear steals across their faces as they behold a black-robed figure approach at the gallop, his dark Arabian steed kicking up sand like a whirlwind. The dark rider, Ben Yusuf ibn Teshufin, jumps from the saddle and confronts the emirs, eyes blazing. Like a coiled steel spring releasing its pent-up energy, Ben Yusuf unleashes his venom on the pampered Iberian princelings:

   The Prophet has commanded us to rule the world. Where in all your
   land of Spain is the glory of Allah? When men speak of you they
   speak of poets, musicmakers, doctors, scientists.... Where are your
   warriors? You dare call yourselves sons of the Prophet? You have
   become--women!

      Burn your books! Make warriors of your poets! Let your doctors
   invent new poisons for our arrows--let your scientists invent new
   war machines! And then--Kill! Burn! Infidels live on your
   frontiers--encourage them to kill each other.

      And when they are weak and torn--I will sweep up from Africa--and
   the empire of the One God--the True God, Allah--will spread, first
   across Spain, then across Europe, then--the whole World!

Thus opens the 1961 movie spectacular El Cid, one of the great epic films of all time. Produced independently by Samuel Bronston and directed by Anthony Mann (famed for his Hollywood westerns), El Cid stars Charlton Heston in the title role as Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, ElCid (The Lord), and Sophia Loren as his wife, Chimene. Boasting a cast of thousands, stunning cinematography, and a magnificent musical score by Miklos Rozsa (who also composed the scores for King of Kings and Ben Hur--which won him an Academy Award), El Cid brings to the screen the riveting story of one of Christendom's greatest champions against an enduring foe.

Rodrigo de Vivar, Spain's most revered hero, was a real person, a Spanish Christian knight and prince who ranks with Arthur and Charlemagne in European lore. After the Moors swept over Spain (711-715), it took nearly 800 years (until 1492) for the Christians to finally win back complete control over their country from the invaders. Historian Warren Carroll has called this Reconquista (Reconquest) of Spain "the longest war in the history of the world." Launched by King Pelayo from his tiny mountain kingdom of Asturias in the far north of Spain, the Reconquista moved back and forth in tits and starts over the centuries, as the Spaniards fought the Moors and fought among themselves.

Rodrigo de Vivar appears at about the midpoint in the lengthy saga of the Reconquista. Born in 1043 near Burgos, his eventful life culminates with his capture of the city of Valencia from the Moors in 1094 and his successful defense of the kingdom against an immense Muslim horde in 1099, the same year that the Christian armies of the First Crusade recaptured Jerusalem. El Cid saves Valencia, but at the cost of his own life. Ever the true knight, he finds a way to fight on for God and country even after death. Mortally wounded and knowing that his army may lose heart and the enemy forces will rally if he does not take the field on the morrow, with his dying breaths Rodrigo extracts a vow from Chimene and his most trusted officers. El Cid pays homage to the legend (which is very probably true) that Rodrigo had his corpse dressed in full armor and mounted on his horse to lead his men into battle. …

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