Maria stood on the Plaza in front of San Nicolas and looked across to the Alhambra. The view was dramatic with the River Darro running far below between the two hills on which San Nicolas and the Alhambra stood. She had walked up from the Plaza Nueva, through the Albaicin, to reach the Mirador, the view point which told so much of her own history and that of Granada.
Maria turned and gazed with affection at the portal of the San Nicolas Church that she had entered so often during her childhood. It was not her family’s local church, they lived in a small village just outside of Granada, but her grandmother lived in an apartment close to the old Arab quarter and when Maria stayed with her she would take her up the hill on one of the little Albaicin buses to visit the church and light a candle in front of the statue of the Virgin.
Initially Maria would resist visits to her grandmother. She did not like her parents leaving home for this or that business trip in promotion of their olive oil business. But as she grew a little older she longed for those visits. Abuela loved to spoil her vivacious little granddaughter with her favourite dish of migas and take her shopping for new clothes, like a flamenco dress, or soft, furry slippers in the shape of cuddly animals.
‘Come on, Maria. We are leaving Abuelo here to read his newspaper and drink his coffee while you and me go and do something exciting in town.’
‘I’ll be in the bar on the corner with my coffee, Maria Imaculada, you know that.’
‘Well, don’t stay there for too long, Jorge. I want a punctual lunch so that little Maria can sleep a little before we go up to San Nicolas.’
‘Candles for the Virgin again, eh! I’m sure the only reason you go up there so often is to stare across at the Alhambra with your head filled with all those romantic ideas of yours.’
Her memories of Abuela were precious and Maria was tempted to enter the church and light one last candle, but she desisted. She knew that if her grandmother could be here now that she would understand. The Virgin represented the prelude to this momentous day in Maria’s life and her grandmother had paved the way for her, it was in Abuela’s footsteps that she now followed, even though her grandmother could not have completed the journey in her lifetime; the law of the land had ruled against it.
Maria shared the same name with her mother and grandmother, it was a Spanish tradition, except the granddaughter had an additional name, that of Fatima. Abuela had pleaded for her to be named Maria Fatima, in honour of our Lady of Fatima, she had claimed.
‘It is not unusual for a Spanish woman to be called Fatima!’
‘But it is a Muslim name!’ exclaimed Maria’s father.
‘So what! It is also the name of the blessed town where our Virgin appeared to the shepherd children.’
Despite her father’s initial protests, he eventually relented under the insistence of his wife, ‘I think my mother has our ancestors in mind. She means no harm, and it’s in their honour. Besides, I used to have a friend in school called Fatima, it’s not that unusual. She became a nun,’ she argued.
Abuela died when Maria was in her early twenties and on her deathbed she had pulled Maria close to her and said, ‘Always light a candle for the Virgin on a Friday dear. It’s a family tradition. It’s in the name you know.’
Looking now at the Alhambra, Maria smiled. ‘What did Abuela mean Mama? What about the name? Which name?’ It had taken Maria over a year to start questioning her mother.
‘Almudena,’ she stated one afternoon when they were chatting over coffee during the siesta, ‘Your surname that you inherited from me. It has been kept in the family for centuries and its origin practically forgotten until Abuela relentlessly questioned her grandmother.’
‘What about it then?’
‘It’s of Arab origin. It comes from ‘al-Madina’ meaning ‘the city’. Our ancestors were Muslims, Maria, until the Inquisition forced us to be baptised. But don’t worry yourself about it.’
Maria looked once again at the portal to San Nicolas, silently thanking Abuela, then she turned to her right and within a few paces she stood before another door. This was the entrance to the new mosque that had recently been completed. She entered and gazed at the mihrab, the niche which indicated the qibla, the direction of the Kaa’ba. Within that niche were verses from the Qur’an inscribed on its walls, verses that spoke of the Virgin and her son, and referred to her as ‘a mercy to the worlds.’
‘Our Lady, Prophet of peace, I am returning,’ Fatima spoke quietly.
Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006
If you are interested in reading about the opening of the new mosque in Granada then follow this link, it includes some lovely photos of the view to the Alhambra from the mosque and the Mirador: http://www.qalamonline.com/archives/000511.html
The following link tells the true and very moving story of a Spanish woman of Jewish descent: http://www.olam.org/treasure.php?issue=5&id=180