Mozarabic arches in the Church of Santiago de Peñalba (El Bierzo, Spain)

Mozarabic art (from musta'rab meaning "Arabized") is an early medieval artistic style that is part of the pre-Romanesque style and is linked to the kingdom of León. It was developed by the Hispanic Christians who lived in Muslim territory and in the expansion territories of the León crown, in the period from the Muslim invasion (711) to the end of the 11th century. During this period, disciplines such as painting, goldsmithing and architecture with marked Caliphate influences were cultivated in a context of medieval coexistence - Christian, Hebrew and Muslim - in which the territories were constantly changing in size and status. Other names for this artistic style are Leonese art or repopulation art.


Mozarabic art is a diverse and hybrid artistic expression that flourished primarily in the Kingdom of León during the 10th century. It is characterized by a fusion of influences, especially Andalusian, and displays a classical continuity, either in the Visigothic tradition of the north or with the refined Caliphate of Córdoba, rooted in Byzantine origins.[1]

In the Leonese plateau, between the rivers Duero, Esla, Cea, and Pisuerga, various constructions emerged, ranging from modest single-nave churches with rectangular apses, typical of the early repopulation, to complex monastic complexes like San Cebrián de Mazote, Santa María de Wamba, Santiago de Peñalba, and San Miguel de Escalada, among others.

Cross of Peñalba, a piece of 10th century Mozarabic goldsmith's work

The Leonese elites were the main proponents of this art, from the monarchy to civil and ecclesiastical figures within the royal environment, such as Bishop Genadio of Astorga or the Galician noble Rudesind of Celanova. Despite being Christians from the north, they were influenced by Andalusian tastes, as seen in the case of King Alfonso III, who even sent his son to the court of the Banu Qasi in Zaragoza.[2]

Mozarabic art blends two traditions, a Christian northern one and a Muslim southern one, which, despite their differences, shared a Mediterranean classical root. In the people's perception at that time, there were no conceptual distinctions between them; they considered both as part of a common tradition. This art stands out for its great formal variety, being a promiscuous and original style in the context of European pre-Romanesque art. The constructions showcased a unique blend of styles, prolific in experimenting with vaulted structures, domes, capitals, reliefs, and the "Roman" mural painting technique with Andalusian influence.[3]

In territories under Muslim rule, Mozarabic communities maintained some of the Visigothic temples for their religious rituals, rarely constructing new ones due to limited authorizations for new church buildings. The shifting of the Christian-Muslim frontier to the river Duero basin led to the construction of new temples, concentrating all available artistic capacity to meet repopulation needs. As life conditions in Muslim Andalusia became less bearable and the Christian kingdoms in the northern peninsula expanded, some Mozarabs chose to migrate to the offered territories. Their Hispano-Gothic culture overlapped with Muslim elements, contributing innovative elements to the recent Christian kingdoms in all aspects.

While there is an exceptional subgroup of temples, grouped as part of the distinctive art of the Kingdom of León or fusion art, these Mozarabic temples were likely the work of Muladis or Muslims converted to Christianity who migrated from Al-Andalus. Examples include Santiago de Peñalba and San Miguel de Escalada, temples with Cordoban influences and considered two of the great artistic achievements in the frontier society of the Kingdom of León during the 10th century.[1]


Beatus of Facundus: Judgment of Babylon

The principal exponent is religious literature: Mozarabic missals, antiphoneries and prayerbooks, created in the scriptorium of the monasteries. Examples of quality and originality of the miniatures and illuminated manuscripts are the Commentarium in Apocalypsin (Commentary on the Apocalypse) from Beatus of Liébana, Beatus of Facundus or Beatus of Tábara. Or antiphonaries like the Mozarabic Antiphonary of the Cathedral of León (Antifonario mozárabe de la Catedral de León).

Toledo and Córdoba were the most important Mozarabic centers. From Córdoba was the abbot Speraindeo, who wrote an Apologetic against Muhammad. And very important for the history of philosophy studies is the Apologetic of the abbot Sansón (864).


Caliphate-style mural paintings in Santiago de Peñalba
Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada

Mozarabic architecture is a blend of elements that defy easy classification, often showcasing influences from Paleochristian, Visigothic, or Asturian origins, while at other times, the Muslim imprint takes precedence. The primary characteristics defining Mozarabic architecture include:

Currently, only two examples of Mozarabic architecture in Muslim territories have been preserved:

Monastery of San Millán de Suso

The most significant examples within the territories of the northern Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula are:

- San Miguel de Escalada (León)
- Santiago de Peñalba (León)
- Santo Tomás de las Ollas (León)
- San Baudelio de Berlanga (Soria)
- San Cebrián de Mazote (Valladolid)
- Santa María de Wamba (Valladolid)
- San Salvador de Tabara (Zamora)
- Santa María de Lebeña (Cantabria)
- San Juan de la Peña (Huesca)
- Church of the Serrablo (Huesca), as the Church of San Juan de Busa
- San Millán de Suso (San Millán de la Cogolla)
- Sant Quirze de Pedret (Barcelona)
- Santa Maria de Marquet (Barcelona)
- Church of Sant Cristòfol (Barcelona)
- Sant Julià de Boada (Girona)
- Santa Maria de Matadars (Barcelona)
- San Miguel de Celanova (Orense)
- São Pedro de Lourosa (Lourosa da Beira)


Codex Biblicus Legionensis

Mozarabic painting stands out for its contribution to the religious illuminated manuscripts, with the Beatus manuscripts being among its most significant achievements. Characteristics of Mozarabic painting include vibrant and striking colors, especially intense yellow, figures with a sometimes primitive and childlike style, calligraphic elements, fantastical animals, ornamental letters formed with human figures, and architectural motifs of horseshoe arches and whimsical interlacing. This style evolved from an initial Byzantine-Merovingian influence to an Islamic-Carolingian character, incorporating elements from the Carolingian school and Islamic arabesques.

Prominent examples of Mozarabic painting include the Morgan Beatus, Tábara Beatus, Valcavado Beatus, and Gerona Beatus. Additionally, the León Bible of 920 and the León Bible of 960 are notable, with the latter considered one of the best-documented Mozarabic Bibles.


Stone block from San Cebrián de Mazote (10th century)

Mozarabic art sculpture is characterized by its flat nature, typically carved in bevel, following techniques used in earlier periods. Common themes are often of a vegetal and geometric nature, with few examples of figurative representations. This artistic expression is mainly found in capitals, with notable works of high quality such as those in San Miguel de Escalada or Santiago de Peñalba.

A distinctive feature of this era is the decoration of stone or wooden corbels supporting the roof overhang in various constructions. These corbels display decorative motifs, usually composed of geometric drawings inscribed in lobes, contributing to the unique stylistic identity of Mozarabic sculpture.

However, surviving sculpture from this period is scarce, with a notable exception being a rare bas-relief in San Cebrián de Mazote. Additionally, sculptural elements from San Millán de la Cogolla, such as ivories including the arms of a cross and a portable altar, have been found, highlighting the influence of Cordoban Caliphal art.

Mozarabic or repoblación

Following the publication of Francisco Javier Simonet's work on the Mozarabs of Spain in 1897 and Manuel Gómez-Moreno's monograph on Mozarabic Churches in 1919, churches constructed in Christian territories from the late 9th to early 11th centuries were attributed the Mozarabic character. The term "Mozarabic" was employed to describe the architecture and related art. Despite gaining widespread acceptance, modern historiography has raised questions about the term "Mozarabic," suggesting alternatives such as "repopulation art" or "Leonese art." This has led to academic controversies regarding the most appropriate designation for this period. Despite these debates, the term "Mozarabic art" continues to be the most commonly used in academia and cultural discourse.


Further reading


  1. ^ a b Castillo, Alejandro Villa del (2017-11-27). "Talleres escultóricos itinerantes en el Altomedievo hispano: el llamado 'Grupo Mozárabe Leonés'". Arqueología y Territorio Medieval (in Spanish). 24: 151–184. doi:10.17561/aytm.v24i0.5. ISSN 2386-5423.
  2. ^ Regueras Grande, Fernando (2018). "Promotores, clasicismo y estilo en el arte mozárabe leonés". Brigecio: Revista de estudios de Benavente y sus tierras (28): 27–45. ISSN 1697-5804.
  3. ^ Caballero Chica, Javier (2017-12-13). "Santiago de Peñalba y los influjos Hispano-Musulmanes". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)