Saint Pelagius of Cordova (c. 912–926) (also called San Pelayo Mártir) is said to have been a Christian boy left by his uncle at the age of ten as a hostage with the Caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III of al-Andalus, in trade for a clerical relative previously captured by the Moors, the bishop Hermoygius. The exchange never occurred, and Pelagius remained a captive for three years. The modern version of the story is that according to the testimony of other prisoners, his courage and faith was such that the Caliph was impressed with him when he had attained the age of 13. The Caliph offered him his freedom if Pelagius converted to Islam. The boy, having remained a pious Christian, refused the Caliph's offer.
The original version of the story took into account the beauty of the boy and the homosexual desire of the caliph. That construct "served an obvious polemical purpose for European Christians in their demonizing of the Muslims, who are pictured as prone to same-sex desire." At the same time, the flattery of his beauty by early Christian choirs suggests an awareness on the part of the Christians themselves of the dangers of such attractions and has prompted modern observers to remark, "That liturgy... focuses as intently on Pelagius' beauty as did the caliph."
In the eroticized version of the story, his beauty was such that the Caliph fell in love with him when he had attained the age of 13. The boy, having remained a pious Christian, refused the Caliph's advances, striking the monarch and insulting him. Enraged, Abd-ar-Rahman had the boy tortured, which he survived for six hours, and dismembered. Other accounts have him flung from a parapet after stripping himself naked, but the alternative accounts uphold his refusal to fulfill the Caliph's wishes.
Pelagius was later enshrined as a Christian martyr and canonized as "Saint Pelagius." His observation is celebrated on 26 June. The cult of Saint Pelagius is thought to have provided spiritual energy for centuries to the Iberian Reconquista and is seen by some modern scholars as part of a pattern of portraying Islamic morality as inferior to other moral theories. He is also the subject of a poem by Rhoswitha of Gandersheim.
Bibliography: historical background
- Jessica Coope: Martyrs of Cordoba: Community and Family Conflict in an Age of Mass Conversion: Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 1995: ISBN 0-8032-1471-5.
- Kenneth Wolf: Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1988: ISBN 0-521-34416-6.
- Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, Chicago, 1997; pp. 10–28