Book review: A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain.

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it ~ George Santayana

“[Suspects]…had no right to know the identities of accusers, the accused were not represented by counsel: under certain circumstances, torture could be used to extract confessions…” Lowney, regarding the Spanish Inquisition, A Vanished World

A Vanished World is a book that demonstrates why the study of history is so important and why we must take stock of its lessons.

A Vanished World examines Medieval Spain during a time when Christians, Jews, and Muslims coexisted. At times, this coexistence came so close to getting it right, creating a time and place where society flowered to a golden era of true enlightenment. Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all followers of one God, learnt from one another and worked together, often in a true harmony. This was a time when many in Medieval Spain dared question whether it was possible to journey to God by many roads and acknowledged that faith does not mean setting aside reason. It was a time when a Muslim mystic wrote: 
My heart has become capable of every form: 
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, 
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba, 
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran. 
I follow the religion of Love.

With the quest for knowledge and understanding providing the key, the three faiths of this Medieval World interwove a society that still shines a light for us in our darkening world rent by widening divisions. 

Lowney’s chapter on the Spanish Inquisition is especially pertinent to what’s happening in Australia, my own country, and I feel, necessary reading and warning for anyone currently in politics. Consider the example of Pope Sixtus IV and the Spanish Inquisition. For Pope Sixtus IV, the Spanish Inquisition became a monster that “moved not by seal for the faith and salvation of souls, but by lust for wealth…many true and faithful Christians…have without legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons, torture and condemned…”

A Vanished World reminds us that all the “Abrahamic faiths” honour the creed “love our neighbours as ourselves” and to do any other than that is to go against the teachings of the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran. Our world lives in a climate of fear, but history, as Lowney illustrates in his book, has known many such moments, when other societies also tottered on the brink of destruction.

Such times left unhealed wounds difficult to forget or forgive, yet history also shows, over and over, our mutual capability of moving beyond such times to build bridges of peace. For our present world, the past hints at a possible blue print to span these bridges again. 

Obviously passionate about this subject and a consummate writer and storyteller, Lowney offers here a book of great insight and power. A Vanished World shows that even if the Pandora’s box is open before us hope always remains.