This is the thirteen-hundredth (1,300) anniversary of the year of King Pelagius of Spain’s most famous battle; one which changed the course of European history. Because of his belief in the teachings of the Bible, he and a small band of Spanish Christians were able to demonstrate that a seemingly invincible enemy could be defeated. Without his courage and heroism, Spain may never have become a strong Christian nation since his time.
Beginning in 718 AD, an army of Africans and Arabs, under the banner of Islam, began their invasion of Spain. This army of Muslims had been conquering countries throughout Africa and the Near East since they began their “jihad” in the late 600s AD. They came across the Mediterranean Sea from Africa into southern Spain and were an unstoppable force that destroyed cities and towns wherever they went. A historian in 754 AD wrote that the Muslims “ruined beautiful cities, burning them with fire, condemning lords and powerful men to the cross; and butchered youths and infants with the sword.”
The objective of the invaders was to sow terror among the Christians so that they would either surrender without fighting or flee. The invaders slaughtered, cooked, and pretended to eat Christian captives, while releasing others who, horrified, fled and informed the people in Northern Spain that the Muslims were eating human flesh. In the face of such a fierce army the Christians had only two choices: acquiesce to Muslim rule or flee to the mountains, where they risked hunger and various forms of death.
Among the Christians that fled to the mountains was Pelagius (better known as Pelayo). He was born in 685 AD and died in 737 AD. He had survived that battle for the city of Guadalete. In Northern Spain the hold on the population by the Muslims was less than in Southern Spain, so there was less threat of attacks in that part of the country. Pelagius became the leader of a small Christian community at the foothills of the Asturian Mountains and was forced to pay tribute to the Muslim warlord in the area. Because the Muslim warlord chose to “marry” Pelagius’ sister, against his wishes (and those of his sister), Pelagius stopped paying tribute to the warlord. This resulted in the warlord sending troops to extract the tribute and to punish Pelagius.
Pelagius fled deep into the mountains with a band of Christians and set up a kingdom called Asturias in 718 AD. The Muslims were not willing to let this group of Christians survive, so they assembled an army of 180,000 men and surrounded the mountain stronghold of Pelagius. The Muslims chose a bishop who had acquiesced to Muslim rule to convince Pelagius that his cause was hopeless.
Pelagius replied to the bishop’s pleadings with the following words:
“I will not associate with the Arabs in friendship nor will I submit to their authority.” Then he made a prophecy (which was fulfilled over the next 8 centuries). “Have you not read in the divine scriptures that the church of God is compared to a mustard seed and that it will be raised up again through divine mercy?”
Pelagius and his fellow Christians held out in the mountain stronghold for four years suffering cold and hunger, but never giving up. Eventually the Muslims attacked the stronghold which was a small valley in the mountains. The Christians were able to surprise the Muslims by hiding in a cave at the rear of the Muslim army and were able to defeat them in this deceive battle. A second battle was launched a month later and again the Muslims were defeated. At this point they chose to leave the Christians alone. It was, as mentioned above, the first time the Muslims had been defeated and it stopped the spread of Islam from expanding into northern Spain and further into Europe and gave the Christians hope of taking back their country.
Because of the success of Pelagius, over the next 800 years (until 1492) the Christians were able to gradually push the Muslims further and further south until eventually they retreated back across the Mediterranean Sea and back to Africa.Tags: Islam, Muslims, Pelagius, Pelayo