Moorish silver and Church scholarship

Shortly after the Mexican-American War, the new bishop is surprised to learn that there’s a European church bell in his frontier diocese.

“But how could it have come here? It is Spanish, I suppose?”

“Yes, the inscription is in Spanish, to St. Joseph, and the date is 1356. It must have been brought up from Mexico City in an ox-cart. A heroic undertaking, certainly. Nobody knows where it was cast. But they do tell a story about it: that it was pledged to St. Joseph in the wars with the Moors, and that the people of some besieged city brought all their plate and silver and gold ornaments and threw them in with the baser metals. There is certainly a good deal of silver in the bell, nothing else would account for its tone.”

Father Latour reflected. “And the silver of the Spaniards was really Moorish, was it not? If not actually of Moorish make, copied from their design. The Spaniards knew nothing about working silver except as they learned it from the Moors.”

“What are you doing, Jean? Trying to make my bell out an infidel?” Father Joseph asked impatiently.

The Bishop smiled. “I am trying to account for the fact that when I heard it this morning it struck me at once as something oriental. A learned Scotch Jesuit in Montreal told me that our first bells, and the introduction of the bell in the service all over Europe, originally came from the East. He said the Templars brought the Angelus back from the Crusades, and it is really an adaptation of a Moslem custom.”

Father Vaillant sniffed. “I noticed that scholars always manage to dig out something belittling,” he complained.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

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