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The Catholic Church and Alhambra



Today, Sunday, I watched mass at San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas, and as usual I learned something about the Catholic tradition which is so important in the history of Spain and Latin America. The gospel reading was about the Transfiguration, the story of which appears in all four gospels. The scene is Mount Tabor, just east of Nazareth. I must have passed it, but our Israeli guide avoided mentioning, or in any case mentioning favorably anything associated with Christianity. This was silly, because Mount Tabor is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. Indeed, the first mention is in an Egyptian manuscript from the 13th century BC.

It was the scene of the Transfiguration of Christ, who took with him Peter, James and John. In Spanish, James is Santiago, the patron saint of Spain. Why Jesus chose him I do not know, but it gives the Transfiguration a special meaning for the Spanish and Latin American Church. On the mountain Moses and Elijah appear. The prophet Elijah had argued with 450 priests of Baal on Mount Carmel near Haifa. They were supported by Queen Jezebel, the wife of Ahab. She decreed the prophet's death, but Elijah escaped and her eunuchs threw her to her death from a palace widow. I don't know why they were made at her. Her body was eaten by dogs, as Elijah has prophesied. Elijah did not die, but was swept up to heaven in a whirlwind. This is supposed to foretell the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Carmel is a sacred spot, and Mission Carmel in California is named after it. On Mount Tabor Christ was enveloped in a bright cloud, and God proclaimed his divinity. Then Moses and Elijah disappeared. This was the transfiguration of Christ. Bishop Patricio of San Antonio, a nice old man, explained that the transfiguration was the symbol of the transformation of man thanks to faith and good works inspired by Lent.

However, the service at San Fernando had one surprising feature, and WAISers must help me. The Masons have their strange ritual, but the Shriners are special. They wear a fez, the symbol of Islam, the great enemy of Christianity. To counteract the Masons, Catholics created the Knight of Columbus, and to balance the Shriners they have created the Alhambra, named after the Moorish palace in Granada, Spain. One explanation might be that the Church is celebrating the conquest of Granada in 1492, but this does not make sense because the members wear a white fez with a long golden tassel. They were holding their convention in San Antonio, and they were guests of honor at the Sunday mass. They were invited to stand up, and up popped a sea of white fezes. It seemed incongruous to see men in a white fez reading the lessons. My guess is that the rank and file of them have no idea of the oddity of all this. Be is stressed that they are a benevolent order, like the Shriners. The Alhambra devotes itself to helping people who are undeveloped physically or mentally, a worthy cause, but I do not know why it was selected. I will need help from Masons and Catholics to sort this out. Help, please!

Ronald Hilton - 2/24/02


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