Simon Doubleday


Toledo had been the spiritual and ecclesiastical capital of the Visigoths, the Germanic people who had ruled Iberia before the Muslim conquest of 711, and home of Saint Ildefonso (Alfonso), with whom the Wise King identified himself on a symbolic level; later, it had become a center of Muslim learning and scientific inquiry. Its capture by Christian armies in the late eleventh century had been a key moment in what much later came to be called the Reconquista (Reconquest) of Spain.

Long after the Christian conquest, the creative interaction of the three religions—Muslims, Jews, and Christians—was especially intense in Toledo. In the tower of the church of San Román, a horseshoe-arched arcade evoked the elegance of Islamic palaces, while the synagogue now known as Santa María la Blanca is suffused with Almohad aesthetic motifs.

Alfonso chose to be crowned in Toledo, in 1252. Later, he worked closely with scholars from the city’s prominent Jewish community in producing texts such as the The Perfect Book of the Judgment of the Stars [Libro conplido en los iudizios de las estrellas] and the Libro de las Cruzes [Book of Crosses], following in the footsteps of the great archbishop Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, who had also drawn on the skills of multilingual Jewish translators.