Last modified: 2014-02-10 by ivan sache
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"Flag of Cantoria" - Image by Eugene Ipavec, 15 April 2009
The flag (photo) usually presented as the "flag of Cantoria" (bandera de Cantoria) is indeed a Morisco flag dating back to the 16th century.
Moriscos were Spanish Muslims that converted to Catholicism after the reconquest of Spain by the Catholic Monarchs. Suspected of being covert Muslims and spies in the service of Turkey, the Moriscos were subjected to strong measures by the kings of Spain. After they had revolted in the Alpujarras in 1568-1571, most of them were sent to the Kingdom of Valencia, from which they were eventually expelled in the beginning of the 17th century.
The Morisco flag of Cantoria, captured from the Moriscos by the regiments (tercios) of Lorca in 1569, restored in 1856 and 1976 and kept in the Honour Hall of the Town Hall of Lorca, was exhibited during the "Regnum Murciae" exhibition, held in Murcia in April-June 2008 (La Verdad de Murcia, 24 January 2008). The details of the flag are best seen on a video presenting the exhibition. The flag shall be subsequently shown in the Archeological Museum of Almería during the "Red: a colour in history" exhibition, to be held from 19 to 26 April 2009 (La Verdad de Murcia, 15 December 2008).
Historical and technical details on the Morisco flag of Cantoria are found in La Bandera de Cantioria de 1569, published by Salvador Fontenla Ballesta (Revista de la Asociación de Amigos del Museo Arqueológico de Lorca 1: 161-164; text).
On 12 November 1569, the troops from the town of Lorca gave their help to the neighbouring town of Oria, which was besieged by the revolted Moriscos. Once the siege lifted, they marched against Cantoria, attacked the walls defended by Moriscos with several banners, seized the first gate of the fortress and burned down the powder magazine. Threatened by Morisco reinforcements, the troops from Lorca withdrew to a place, not identified yet, called "Llanos (or "Corral") de Arboleas"; there, the riders and arquebusiers defeated the Moriscos and captured from them five banners, which were proudly brought back to Lorca. Mármol (text) writes that there were seven Morisco flags in the battle of Arboleas, representing Cobdar, Lijar, Albanchez, Purchena, Serón, of which five were captured by troops from Lorca. The Municipal Council of Lorca decided that the victory would be celebrated every 12 November by a procession, a mass and a festival.
The Morisco flag of Cantoria is not among the banners described by Mármol, but was definitively captured during the battle and kept as a relic in Lorca. There is a written, contemporary, description of the flag of Cantoria, in the records of the games organized by the Morisco ruler Aben Humey in Purchena: "A square flag charged with the fortress of Cantoria and writing allegedly saying 'The force of my force is that no force can force it'", meaning that the fortress of Cantoria made Aben the strongest ruler in the neighborhood.
The Morisco flag of Cantoria, made of red fabric, is 1.50 m x 1.05 m, with twelve sharp points in the bottom (plus two now missing).
The upper part of the flag is charged with a writing made of Arabic-like letters made of white fabric.
Below the letters is a stripe with geometric figures, separated from each other by short vertical stripes made of white fabric: in the middle, an eight-pointed star, symmetrically flanked by a double cross, an eight-pointed star with a central circle and a floret, all made of green fabric. In the middle of the flag is shown a fortress made of white fabric, with a horseshoe-shaped gate and a central donjon, the whole fortress being crenelled.
The tower is charged with two painted yellow eight-pointed stars, surmounting the hand-written inscription in 16th-century Gothic letters, undoubtedly added in Lorca, "Cantoria cibdad" (Town of Cantoria). At the level of the wall crenels are painted nine hands of Fatima, five blue and four yellow, in turn. The keystone of the gate is charged with a painted yellow key. On each side of the gate are three hands of Fatima, painted in yellow and blue, in turn.
On each side of the fortress is one hand of Fatima, made of white fabric, between them and on their outer part is a floret made of green fabric.
At the bottom of the flag, above the points, are three hands of Fatima (one is actually missing) and a floret on each side (the left one is actually missing), all made of green fabric, separated from each other by short vertical and angular stripes made of white and green fabric, respectively.
The Morisco flag of Cantoria's shape and colour recall the flags painted in the manuscripts of Songs (Cántigas) CLV and CLXXXVII by King of Castile Alfonso X the Wise (end of 13th century) and on walls of the Alhambra of Granada (14th century). Like these flags, the Morisco flag of Cantoria was bore by a rider, the stripe with the writing being placed at hoist, when the Morisco troops from Cantoria entered Purchena. The iconographic sources confirm that the Morisco flags of that time had sharp points whose number varied from seven to twelve.
Red was the distinctive colour of the Nasrid dynasty, the last rulers of the Emirate of Granada, suppressed in 1492 by the Christian kings of Aragón and Castile. The standard of the Morisco ruler Aben Humeya was vermillion; several Morisco rulers are represented with a traditional scarlet Morisco cloak.
"Flag of Cantoria", detail of the writing - Image by Eugene Ipavec, 15 April 2009
The interpretation of the writing on the upper part of the flag is not straightforward. Some authors have claimed that the text is the shahada, "There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God", very common in the Arabic epigraphy of the time. Pérez de Hita "translates" the writing as "The force of my force is that no force can force it", allegedly alluding to the strategic position of the fortress of Cantoria (see above). However, the writing was indeed hardly legible for the Moriscos after nearly one century of Spanish acculturation; Aben Humeya himself could not write Arabic and his Arabic signature was approximate. Fontenla proposes to read the writing as "(I take refuge) in God from Satan, the stoned. In the name of God the clement, the blessing of God (on Muhammad and his own)".
This translation matches the writing shown on the upper part of the so-called flag of Las Navas de Tolosa, indeed one of the several Granada flags captured in the second half of the 14th century and in the 15th century. It is possible that the Moriscos used red flags with various kinds of writings to preserve the Nasrid heritage and tradition. The fortress shown on the Morisco flag of Cantoria was the model of the today's coat of arms of Cantoria, adopted at the end of the 19th century. The keys represent sovereignty and authority to open and close and, more generally, loyalty. The key painted over the gate may refer to the Gate of Justice of the Alhambra of Granada, built in 1438. The hand of Fatima represents the five precepts of Islamic Law and acts as a talisman protecting gates; such a symbol is sculpted on the keystone of the greater outer arch of the aforementioned Gate of Justice.
Ivan Sache, 8 February 2009