Conversion in the Crown of Aragon

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:50 AM
Room 111 (Hynes Convention Center)
Jarbel Rodriguez , San Francisco State University
In the year 1311, James II, ruler of the eastern Iberian kingdom of Aragón wrote a letter to the pope in Rome in which he claimed that in the Muslim kingdom of Granada, of its 200,000 inhabitants, perhaps 500 were of Arab ancestry.  The rest, he argued, were Christian converts or their descendants.  Similarly, in 1409, James’ great-grandson, Martin I, prohibited Christians from living inside the Muslim quarter in Valencia out of fear that they would be inclined toward the “superstition of the Saracens.”  These are but two examples from the chorus of voices in Christendom that was growing increasingly concerned over the conversion of Christians to Islam.  To what can we attribute this anxiety over conversion; what does it tell us about the state of Christian / Muslim relations in the waning centuries of the Middle Ages?  Moreover, these distress calls were more than mere rhetoric.  On the frontiers of the Crown of Aragon, both land and sea, there was widespread fear that converts, better known as renegades, were helping to subvert the Christian frontier defenses.  This paper will examine the issue of Christians converting to Islam and the problems it presented for the royal government of Aragón.  My approach is twofold.  First, I will take a closer look at royal and institutional rhetoric and argue that the kings of Aragón used this rhetoric to drive their political agenda and to galvanize popular support in their kingdom.  Second, I will suggest that these conversion anxieties and the associated language need to be placed in the broader context of crusading rhetoric.