Conformism or Intransigence?

In the 8th century, the seed of future Catholic Spain languished under infidel yoke, but a handful of the faithful rose up against subjugation and changed the course of history.

Conformism… A deplorable mentality at the root of so many disasters throughout history! It turned Lot’s wife into a statue of salt (cf. Gn 19:26), it led Aaron to make a golden calf at the foot of Horeb (cf. Ex 32:1-6), it brought divine reproof upon the piest Heli (cf. 1 Sm 2:30-34), and it caused Solomon to fall headlong into idolatry (cf. 1 Kgs 11:1-8). However, such errors highlight an important truth: there can be no union between justice and iniquity, no fellowship between light and darkness, no compatibility between Christ and Belial (cf. 2 Cor 6:14b-15).

For, whoever consents to enter into accord with ungodliness soon sinks into the mire of the same vices. But those who, in the face of declared evil, raise their act of indignation to Heaven and are ready to fight for the triumph of virtue, become authentic heroes prepared to win, for God, the victory, honour, glory and power that He is worthy to receive (cf. Rv 5:12-13).

Owing to the infinite merits of the Most Precious Blood of Christ, many cries of non-conformity have also echoed down the centuries, to the delight and enthusiasm of the righteous. One of them came from what remained of future Spain in the 8th century: the Battle of Covadonga, whose 13th centenary we commemorate this year.

The Iberian Peninsula taken by the Moors

In 711, the Iberian Peninsula was at a critical juncture. The rivalries and disputes existing between its various kingdoms led some rulers to resort to the help of the Muslims who, in the impetus of their initial expansions, already dominated North Africa. Thus summoned, they crossed the Straits of Gibraltar without great difficulty, and soon began to seize cities as they went.

Conquest was rapid and easy. The Spanish nobles, blind and obstinate in their quarrels, “made agreements with [the invaders], opened the gates of the cities to them and placed large and rich territories in their hands. They naively imagined that Tariq [the Muslim general] would not stay long in Spain and that, once his craving for spoils had been satisfied, he would return to his land.”1 The result, however, was devastating: with the exception of a few Christian communities in the mountains of Asturias and near the Pyrenees, the whole peninsula was eventually annexed to the Islamic empire and subjugated through pillaging, arson and murder.

The reasons behind the Arabs’ settling in those lands was not merely political. What they really wanted was to impose their own creed and societal system – at the point of the sword. To do so, they did not delay in oppressing and even persecuting the Spanish Christians, who were reduced to oppressive conditions: although they could keep their religion, they were forbidden to build new churches, to preach the Faith, to engage in public worship, to bear arms… not to mention the obligatory payment of heavy tributes.

At this crossroads, many Spaniards denied their Faith and defected to Islam for the sake of convenience. Others remained Christians, but did not dare declare war on the impiety that had been established. Often, the prelates themselves prompted the Catholics to adapt to the new circumstances, thus goading their sheep to capitulation.

Nevertheless, in northern Spain, a handful of faithful, inflamed with holy intransigence, rose up to change the course of history!

First acts of resistance

They united two groups in this region, who were ready to confront Mohammedan dominion: the Goths, who had previously reigned in that territory and wished to recover their violated rights, and the local mountain folk, who were unwilling to accept the presence of the invading infidels and refused to pay the tax they levied.

Of course, these few men were incapable of facing the numerous, disciplined and well-trained Muslim troops. However, the spirit and daring of a man named Pelayo achieved the seemingly impossible.

Sparing no effort, he assembled the leaders of the region and showed them who their enemies were. He condemned the ignominious submission displayed until then and managed to instil courage in the Asturians, moving them to take up the fight. For his zeal, he was elected commander of the resistance.

As soon as they heard of his election, the Moors sent a mighty army against the Asturias under the command of Alkama. Don Pelayo, in turn, gathered his men and took refuge in Covadonga.

Trusting in Heavenly aid

Located inside Mount Auseva, Covadonga was a kind of spacious, natural cave. According to ancient tradition, the place was dedicated to Our Lady since the time prior to Arab invasion, and its name is possibly a variation of the Latin expression cova dominica, or cave of the Lady. “There Pelayo withdrew with as many soldiers as could fit into that crude enclosure, positioning the rest of his men on the heights and in the forests that close and confine the valley watered by the River Deva, and there he calmly waited for the enemy.”2

The choice of this battlefield was strategic for the Christian warriors. In the cave, they would be protected by the rocks and would have a sweeping view of their adversaries’ movements. Moreover, the terrain before them was steep and almost impassable, and too narrow for all the enemy troops. It was the ideal place for ambush, Pelayo could clearly see, but Alkama and his men knew nothing.

The Christians were far from putting their trust in this advantage, though. They were counting above all on the assistance of the Virgin Mary, whose protection would be decisive for the victory!

Our Lady’s cave, Covadonga (Spain)

Miraculous victory

Due to the conditions of the terrain, Alkama only succeeded in bringing a limited number of troops to the cave, proportionate to the number of Don Pelayo’s contingent. The rest of the troops were exposed to attack by the Christians lurking in the hills that flanked them…

No sooner had the battle begun than supernatural aid made itself felt: the arrows aimed at the cave struck the rocks and ricocheted back upon the bowmen! While this was taking place, the Christians hurled great stones and heavy tree trunks at the infidels from the hilltops.

The belief that God was fighting for them bolstered the courage and faith of the Asturians. They remained steadfast at their posts until the army of Alkama lost heart. The Arab general fled with his soldiers, many of whom fell victim to the Christians who sallied from the hillside passes existing in that narrow valley. The Muslim chronicles themselves detail the magnitude of the defeat their men suffered… For, in the end, victory belonged to God and to Our Lady!

The Reconquest had begun!

On that day, the Moors sustained their first setback in the Iberian Peninsula. After that, many other Spaniards resolved to join forces with Don Pelayo and, in that small region of Asturias, a staunch core of resistance to Islam was formed.

Eight hundred years later, the entire peninsula would finally be liberated from the yoke of the Crescent, thanks to that first impulse of intransigence that caught fire among the Asturians. This was undoubtedly the decisive act of fidelity that obtained, for God and for Christendom, the reconquest of Spain.

“Save me, Holy Queen!”

The wisdom of the Church, which reaches out to sinners, seeking to draw them out of the mire of sin and attract them to the path of truth, continuously invites us to love virtue and all its manifestations with a perfect charity and, consequently, to execrate evil with total radicality.

However, since we are conceived in original sin, it is understandable that we often feel the weight of sluggishness, indifference or laziness dragging us into conformism… Whenever this happens, let us have recourse to Mary’s maternal aid: the true source of Don Pelayo’s valour. She will not abandon us in our spiritual struggles! On the contrary, She will always be within audible range of a simple cry: “Save me, Holy Queen!”



1 MARTÍN HERNÁNDEZ, Francisco; MARTÍN DE LA HOZ, José Carlos. Historia de la Iglesia en España. Madrid: Palabra, 2009, p.44.

2 GRACIA NORIEGA, José Ignacio. Don Pelayo, el rey de las montañas. Madrid: La Esfera de los Libros, 2006, p.155.



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