Sign of the Cross: Contexts for the Ivory Cross of San Millán de La Cogolla

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Abstract

Recipient of the 2014-15 Charles Julian Bishko Memorial Prize (Association for Spanish & Portuguese Historical Studies). This article focuses on the surviving arms of the ivory cross of San Millán de la Cogolla and proposes a new interpretation for its striking Córdoban visual aesthetic. The article rejects an interpretive framework privileging religious divisions between Muslims and Christians. Instead this essay emphasizes the kinship and political ties that connected the Andalusi caliph ‘Abd al- Raḥmān III (r. 912–61) and Toda, Queen of Pamplona. Queen Tota, as she is named in Latin charters, or Tuta bint Asnar, as she is named in the Umayyad court chronicle, has long been recognized as a key figure in the political milieu of tenth-century Iberia. Using the material evidence of the cross as a departure point, the article considers the Arabic and Latin texts that point to Tota's centrality not only to the politics, but also to cultural transfer between al-Andalus and Hispania. The presence of the ivory cross at San Millán, and its Córdoban aesthetic, I argue, are symptomatic of Tota's strategic use of her kinship connection to ‘Abd al-Raḥmān III, which she used – and made manifest through material culture – to establish, proclaim, and consolidate power and authority for herself, her children and her grandchildren, who subsequently ascended the thrones of Pamplona and León as northern counterparts to their kin, the caliphs of Córdoba.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-41
JournalJournal of Medieval Iberian Studies
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2014

Keywords

  • medieval history
  • Heritage
  • art, architecture, city, visual culture
  • Islamic art
  • Islamic history
  • Gender

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