Perhaps one of the most interesting surviving monuments from late medieval Iberia is the tomb of Ferdinand III (r. 1217–1252). This sovereign had a monumental career and is best remembered as the unifier of Castile and León and as the conqueror of most of al-Andalus, greatly expanding the Castilian kingdom by annexing the vast majority of the lands of southern Iberia, including the major Muslim cities of Badajoz (1228), Cordoba (1236), Murcia (1243), Jaén (1246) and Seville (1248) among others. He was also responsible for establishing the treaty of vassalage with the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, a political reality that would be sustained for the next 250 years.
Ferdinand’s marble tomb is located right in the heart of his most cherished prize, the Great Mosque of Seville which was transformed into the Cathedral of Santa Maria immediately following the conquest of the city.
Seville, already a significant urban center in Late Antiquity, was one of the most important centers of Islamic culture and civilization in the Iberian peninsula, forming the nucleus of the most powerful taifa kingdom during the 11th century and had been the de facto Almohad capital of Iberia in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century. Indeed, the city’s importance would continue under its new Christian rulers who sought to transform it into the center of their power, just as they had done with Toledo during the twelfth century.
The tomb itself is emblematic of these efforts to integrate the present with the past but also embodies the paradox that is medieval Iberia. While it is defiantly located in the heart of what was once a symbol of Islamic dominance—the Great Mosque of Seville—thereby announcing the arrival of the era of Christian hegemony in Andalusia, the tomb is also inscribed with four languages—Latin, Castilian, Hebrew and Arabic—underscoring the attempt to harmonize the various cultures and religions of Iberia around the figure of King Ferdinand. Although the history of medieval Iberia tends to be read backwards, with the eventual outcome of Inquisition and expulsion of Jews and Muslims always present in the mind of historians, it should be remembered that Ferdinand’s reign, while signifying the end of Islamic political hegemony in most of southern Iberia, by no means brought about the end of existence of Muslim cultural and religious communities in the region. The tomb, inscribed with Arabic phrases that could be found adorning the funerary steles of many Muslim emirs, sultans and caliphs, is thus emblematic of a world in which a conqueror could be glorified in the language of his vanquished enemies, whose culture was deemed worthy of possessing a status comparable with the sovereign’s own. “Reconquista” and “convivencia”, it would seem, went hand in hand.
(Although slightly emended, all translations are taken from Jerrilynn D. Dodds, Maria Rosa Menocal and Abigail Krasner Balbale eds., The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008], pp. 200–201)
Castilian text “AQVI YAZE EL MVY ONDRADO FERNANDO, SEÑOR DE CASTIELLA, E DE TOLEDO, E DE LEON, E DE GALICIA, DE SEVILLA, DE CORDOVA, DE MVRCIA, DE IAHEN, EL QVE CONQVISSO TODA ESPAÑA, EL MAS LEAL, EL MAS VERDADERO, EL MAS FRANCO, EL MAS ESFORZADO, EL MAS APVESTO, EL MAS GRANADO, EL MAS ZOFRIDO, EL MAS HOMILDOSO, EL QVE MAS TEMIE A DIOS, EL QVE MAS LE FACIE SERVICIO, EL QVE QVEBRANTO E DESTRVUYO A TODOS SVS ENEMIGOS, EL QVE ALZO, E ONDRO TODOS SVS AMIGOS, E CONQUISSO LA CIVDAD DE SEVILLA, QVE ES CABEZA DE TODA ESPAÑA”
Translation: Here lies the most honored king Don Ferdinand, lord of Castile and Toledo, of León, of Galicia, of Seville, of Cordoba, of Murcia, and of Jaén, he who conquered all of Spain, the most loyal and the most truthful and the most forthright, the strongest and most decorated, the most illustrious and the most forbearing and the most humble and the one who is most fearful of God, and the one who has rendered the most service to Him; who defeated and destroyed all his enemies, who praised and honored all his friends, and conquered the city of Seville which is the capital of all of Spain and died in it on the last day of May in our era, the year of 1290.”
Latin text : “HIC JACET ILLUSTRISSIMUS REX FERRANDUS CASTELLAE, ET TOLETI, LEGIONIS, GALLECIAE, SIVILLIAE, CORDUVAE, MURCIAE, ET JAENI. CONSTANTISSIMUS, JUSTISSIMUS, STRENUISSIMUS, DETENTISSIMUS, LIBERALISSIMUS, PACIENTISSIMUS, PIISSIMUS, HUMILLISSIMUS IN TIMORE, ET SERVITIO DEI EFICACISSIMUS. QUI CONTRIVIT, ET EXTERMINAVIT PENITUS HOSTIUM SUORUM PROTERVIAM, QUI SUBLIMAVIT, ET EXALTAVIT OMNES AMICOS SUOS, QUI CIVITATEM HISPALENSEM , QUAE CAPUT EST, ET METROPOLIS TOTIUS HISPANIAE DE MANIBUS ERIPUIT PAGANORUM, ET CULTUI RESTITUIT CHRISTIANO: UBI SOLVENS NATURAE DEBITUM TRANSMIGRAVIT ULTIMA DIE MAII, ANNO AB INCARNATIONE DOMINI MILLESIMO DUCENTISIMO QUINCUAGESIMO II”
Translation: Here lies the most illustrious king Ferdinand of Castile, Toledo, León, Galicia, Seville, Cordoba, Murcia and Jaén, who conquered all of Spain, the most loyal, the most veracious, the most constant, the most just, the most energetic, the most tenacious, the most liberal, the most patient, the most humble and the most effective in fear and in the service of God. He conquered and all but eradicated the arrogance of his enemies, protected, raised up, and exalted the men who were his friends; he captured the city of Seville, the capital of all of Spain, from the hands of the pagans and restored it to the Christians, and that is the city where he paid his debt to nature and passed to the Lord on the last day of May in the year of the Incarnation, 1252.
Translation of the Arabic text: Here is the tomb of the great king Don Ferdinand, lord of Castile, Toledo, León, Galicia, Seville, Cordoba, Murcia and Jaén, may God be pleased with him, who ruled all of Spain, who is the most faithful, the most veracious, the most enduring, the most just, the most valiant, the most propitious, the most noble, the most forbearing, the most visionary, the greatest in modesty, most suitable to God and His greatest servant. He died (may God have mercy upon him) on the Friday night and God raised him. He honored and ennobled his friends and took possession of the city of Seville, which is the capital of all of Spain, and in which he who broke and destroyed all of his enemies died on the 20th of the month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal 650 A.H.
Translation of the Hebrew text: In this place is the tomb of the great king Don Ferdinand, lord of Castile, Toledo, León, Galicia, Seville, Cordoba, Murcia and Jaén—may his soul be in paradise—who seized all of Spain, the upright, the righteous, the enduring the mighty, the pious, the forbearing, the one who feared God and served him all his life, shattered and destroyed all of his enemies, praised and honored all of his friends, and took the city of Seville which is the capital of all of Spain, in which he died on the night of Friday, the 22nd of the month of Sivan, of the year 5012 since the creation of the world.