Don Pelayo rejects the call to surrender and triumphs at Covadonga

February 17, 2011

Statue of Don Pelayo in Gijón, Spain

The great succession of Spanish warriors like El Cid, Saint Ferdinand, the Duke of Alva, and Don Juan of Austria would not have existed if Don Pelayo, the first nobleman in that heroic tradition, had not had the courage and fortitude to risk all to defy the Mohammedan occupation of his homeland.

Pelayo gathered about him a dedicated band of Christians and accepted the leadership as king. Annoyed at his impertinence, the Moslems sent a large force, accompanied by the renegade bishop Oppas, against Pelayo in his mountain stronghold at Covadonga. The turncoat prelate warned him about the futility of his resistance and suggested that he enjoy the good life with the benevolent Moors. Pelayo responded, “I will not associate with the Arabs in friendship; nor will I submit to their rule. Through the mercy of God, we will restore this country to the people of Spain.”

At that, the army of Berbers, Arabs, and Christian traitors attacked. Pelayo’s guerrillas trapped them in a mountain pass. From the heights, the Catholics rolled down rocks upon their adversaries and riddled them with arrows. A terrible storm passed over, swelling the mountain streams into torrents that finished the rout. At the death of King Alfonso I, Pelayo’s son-in-law, Galicia and Leon north of the Douro were in Spanish hands. The inability of the Moslems to eliminate this small resisting band became fatal, for in Reconquest the territory of the Spaniards grew steadily until they pushed the Arabs back to North Africa over 700 years later. The Reconquest became a holy war for both sides because the religious doctrines also included cultural values that affected one’s daily life and traditions. These irreconcilable differences were at the root of the struggle.

Jeremias Wells, History of Western Civilization (n.p., n.d), pp. 175-176.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 50

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