Liturgical conflicts – What’s the most appropriate way to worship God? – have been part of Christian history almost from the beginning. In Song of Toledo, part of the tension driving the plot involves that time and place’s dominant liturgical conflict. In the late 11th century, a number of popes were intent upon unifying liturgical practice across Christian Europe, and in Spain that effort was opposed by Christians who had been living under Moorish rule for centuries and had developed their own Arab language rite. Loyal to what would later be dubbed the Mozarabic Rite, these Christians didn’t appreciate Rome’s efforts, to put it lightly. According to medieval histories such as the “Chronicon Burgense“, one of the incidents sparked by this conflict was the “El Juicio de Dios”, when two knights, “one a Castilian and the other a Toledan”, were chosen to fight “pro lege Romana et Toletana”.
While I have adapted the tale (changing the year it occurred as well as its location) to fit the structure of my story, what follows is the introduction to my version of the battle between Ferdinando, a young, sometime reckless Toledan, and Don Juan Ruíz, the commander of the archbishop’s guard and, by extension, a loyal subject of King Alfonso VI, whom Rome had enlisted in its efforts to unify Christians across Hispania under the Roman Rite.
From Song of Toledo:
“I must say, however,” Ferdinando finally continued, “that as a son of Toledo I don’t believe it is anyone’s place to tell me how I might worship the Lord our God.”
Don Juan Ruíz hesitated, seeming confused by Ferdinando’s comment.
“I am referring to yesterday’s conversation between Brothers Raúl and Bernardo concerning our Toledan rite,” Ferdinando continued.
“Oh, that,” Don Juan Ruíz said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “That has nothing to do with me, but it appears you have no choice in the matter. The Holy Father himself has deemed that Hispania will conform to the Roman Rite.”
“And how is that right?” Ferdinando persisted. “How do you have the right to come into my home and impose your will?”
“But, I just said,” Don Juan Ruíz laughed, “it is not my choice.”
“Are you not the archbishop’s protector?” Ferdinando shot back.
He was becoming agitated, and his voice grew louder, and he seemed suddenly eager to make the older man angry. Even his own comrades began to look concerned, and again Pelayo quickly glanced behind to see if Brother Bernardo were in sight, but no one in camp seemed to be paying them much mind. As for Don Juan Ruíz, the smile on his face once again faded, and he began to look around as if trying to decide how much longer he should continue the conversation.
“I am the archbishop’s protector,” he finally replied quietly. “And I am a subject of King Alfonso, as are you.”
Ferdinando didn’t reply, instead walking over to Pelayo and grabbing the sword from his hand, then turning and throwing it at Don Juan Ruíz’s feet.
“I do not believe this is the work of the king,” he spat out. “And I will defend the honor of my home,”
A look of amazement swept across Don Juan Ruíz’s face as he looked from Ferdinando to the stick and back again.
“This is foolishness,” he said in a quiet growl. “I have indulged your recklessness long enough. I am not in the habit of fielding challenges from impudent children.”
“Ah, impudent,” Ferdinando replied with a loud laugh. “I have been called many things — mostly by my father, I might add — but that is one I have never heard. Please, my Lord, do not consider me impudent. I am but a man defending the honor of my home.”
“You are not quite a man . . . “
“If you are so hobbled by the restrictions of age, sir,” Ferdinando interrupted, but Don Juan Ruíz persisted.
“I know what my eyes see,” he snapped, then he leaned over and picked up the sword at his feet.
“Did your eyes see me in battle by our king’s side, then?” Ferdinando smirked.
“No, and I strongly suspect nobody else’s did, either.”
Suddenly, as if prompted by the same signal, they both dropped into a semi-crouch, leaning over and grasping their swords before them in both hands. . . .