A counter-proposal for the Mosque at Ground Zero

I have been following the debate over the building of a mosque at Ground Zero in Manhattan.

I have a counter proposal.

Let us build a chapel dedicated to Sts. Nunilo and Alodia next to the mosque.

Saints Nunilo and Alodia were a pair of 9th c. virgin martyrs in Huesca, Spain.  They were born to a Muslim father and Christian mother.  However, they chose their mother’s Christianity.

And so during the Emirate of Abd ar-Rahman II it came to pass that these little girls were first put in a brothel and then were executed as apostates according to Sharia law.

Their feast day is 22 October.

I think their relics are in the Cathedral of Pamplona, having been translated a couple times.

Now think about this for a little while.   And for those who don’t want to think this through, let’s spell it out.

No reasonable person thinks that the developers don’t have the legal right to build a mosque on that spot.  But do they have a moral right to build there? 

There is such a thing as propriety

The project of this Mosque is not neutral in meaning.  The location is not neutral in meaning.  The desire behind building this particular mosque is not neutral. 

In my opinion it is spectacularly insensitive to press for this mosque to be built at that site.  It would be tantamount to building a church dedicated to Christian children martyred under an Islamic regime next to a place revered by Muslims.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. doanli says:

    Everyone, please pray a Rosary.

  2. ray from mn says:

    I’ll contribute!

    It would be nice to comemmorate all the 20th and 21st century Catholic martyrs of Islam also.

  3. colospgs says:

    They were first put in a brothel and then were executed. Then how are they known as “virgin martyrs?” I know people will ask me about this when I share it, so can someone explain the apparent contradiction?

  4. mike cliffson says:

    Good point.
    But considering NY authorities have taken 10 yrs already to NOT permit one PREexisting (Xtian Orthodox I believe)church knocked down on the site to be REbuilt, versus months for permission to knock down an existing building (presumably already a mosque, etc, in use) for a 13 story tower, 20yrs to permission seems a conservative estimate for permission for RC NEW church.

    2. Goodfeely Rubbish talked abt Cordova (Cordoba) all over blosphere. Can’t find book in Spanish used to have on Corwainan (Cordoban )martyrs but they include an example to us all : Christians, dozens of em, hundreds, who knows, , who knowingly strode forward publicly well knowing their fate to be martyred alongside casees like these twoabove, Flor and Maria etc in cordova – of many- .
    The 852 prohibition of this is thorougly misunderstood.
    (Don’t trust 95% or more of what’s published., even if it’s easier to pretend we have no enemies(true in a sense, satan is our race’s only fundamental one)than to love and bless and die for those most certainly are opposed to us in this world. my immediate reaction to the truth is hate , god forgiveme,I would fain not be an example))
    Origens invitation to martyrdom as I understand it means be ready for such public lambs-to-the -slaughter inyourface suffering and humiliation as much as beeing slowly worn down dead to oneself in the daily grind, in joyous love of Jesus Christ either way. (St Paul of course had both, double whammy)
    For either of which I’m always fearful and need strengthening.
    Who said rosaries?

  5. As St. Augustine said, you’re still a virgin in the eyes of God if you were raped, and you didn’t commit adultery or fornication if you were raped. He goes into this in the first few chapters of The City of God, because many women (and probably men, and children of both sexes) were raped by the Goths during the fall of Rome, and no doubt, in the Goth chaos in North Africa as well.

    (And it’s an important principle, because St. Ambrose’s very Roman background was given to praising stories of Christian virgins jumping into raging rivers or killing themselves so as not to get raped. This is not the best idea.)

  6. Oh, and the definitive accounts of the martyrs in Cordoba in Charlemagne’s day are by St. Eulogius of Cordoba. The man wrote and wrote, and he was a contemporary and friend of most of these folks. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a full translation (or even close to it) of his extant Latin works either in Spanish or English. It’s easily available in Migne, which is online.

    Even better, scholars who write about him keep insisting that the martyrs were to blame, that they were provocateurs who caused all the trouble, that they should have kept their mouths shut and been good little dhimmis. It’s disgusting.

    The whole Cordoba dream is believed by tons of people who should know better, mostly because the Spanish literature of the time is really cool. The same thing applies to Elizabethan literature; what was written as resistance has become propaganda for the regime, because it is misunderstood.

    But Abd-er-Rahman II is still a cruel boogeyman, in the legends of the Pyrenees in France and Spain, and the martyrs are still glorious and determined witnesses to the Truth.

  7. How about a chapel to Our Lady of Victory (erm, that is, Our Lady of the Rosary)?

  8. mike cliffson says:

    4.Suburbanbanshee: Thanks. also, U R pithy.
    Think Fr z got time ever dip into same?

  9. YadaYada says:

    No veils over their faces?

    What an effrontery!

    Just like today, they were honor-killed to make up for their “sin” of getting raped.

    Oh yeah, for their apostasy as well… That reason makes the conscience all better.

  10. Prof. Basto says:

    Bravissimo, Father!

    TO ALMIGHTY GOD, in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under Her title of Our Lady of Victory and to Sts. Nunilo and Alodia, martyrs.

    That would be nice! The child martyrs of the Córdoba emirate are fitting counterpoints to the Córdoba mosque.

  11. LawrenceK says:

    Mike Clifton wrote:

    But considering NY authorities have taken 10 yrs already to NOT permit one PREexisting (Xtian Orthodox I believe)church knocked down on the site to be REbuilt….

    It is a Greek Orthodox church. I haven’t seen it mentioned in the national media at all. It was covered on local news in New York: see this link.

  12. Kerry says:

    Am I the only one thinking that next door would be a terrific place for a combination dog kennel, micro-brewery and smoked bacon and hams wholesale outlet? Or am I missing something..?

  13. Iconophilios says:

    Kerry- I think that I must correct you about the micro-brewery… Muslims cannot have any wine-based alcohols, so beer, mead, vodka are permissable.

  14. Norah says:

    I can understand the sensitivities of Americans over this matter but is it not correct that the site for the proposed mosque is two blocks away from Ground Zero?

  15. Norah: On that very site where the mosque is proposed there was a retail store through which – for several stories, landing gear from one of the planes plunged. It was “ground zero” too.

  16. Remember: We need a chapel to Sts. Nunilo and Alodia.

    Repeat: Sts. Nunilo and Alodia.

  17. Charivari Rob says:

    “I can understand the sensitivities of Americans over this matter but is it not correct that the site for the proposed mosque is two blocks away from Ground Zero?”

    I believe so, yes. Some maintain, though, that since the building in question was hit by debris from the attack against the towers, it is part of “Ground Zero” as well.

  18. Charivari Rob says:

    Sorry, didn’t refresh – missed that Father Z. already replied.

  19. Navarricano says:

    An interesting proposal. I must admit I had forgotten all about these two saints, but then there are many such martyrs in the history of Spain.

    Now you’ve caused me to doubt, Father! I had thought that their relics were housed not in the cathedral of Pamplona, but rather in the Benedictine monastery of Leyre, which is just over 50 kilometers from Pamplona. (BTW, the castle where St. Francis Xavier was born is in the area too, just 10 kms. from the monastery.)

    I know that the relics were enshrined in the monastery until the confiscation of all Church properties in 1862; it was my understanding that at least some of them were returned to the monastery after it was re-established as a Benedictine monastery in 1954. There are others in the town of Adahuesca, where they were born, too. I will have to follow this up now. At any rate, there is still a fine Baroque retablo in the monastery at Leyre that tells the story of their lives, and where the ark containing their relics used to be kept.

    [Please do follow up on that. We want to know as much about these saints as possible.]

  20. mike cliffson says:

    Fr Z’z blog, Fr Z’s idea, Fr Z’s call!
    Saints Alodia and Alodia, then!

    Bottom line : Appropriate saints for a shrine at ground zero NY.

    But remember : As with AncientRoman persecutions , venerating ANY saints thereof covers as it were the other known-by-name canonical ones and the legions upon legions of others.
    Similarly, my aquaintance in Spain covers various ofthe faithful with a particular devotion to certain named saints (typically native cordobans)and/or a more general devotion to “Martires de Cordoba”.
    Consider another parallel: More and Fisher and 40 others are the canonized names for tudor persecution in England. About 70 to 100 thousand other civilians died for the faith in England and Wales alone under the Tudors, most offering no resistance.

    Come on you cousins! Fr z’s thrown in the ball, who’s gonna run with it?

  21. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Salva reverentia, Pater, but may I thank LawrenceK for the St. Nicholas Church update?: I’ve been wondering in the back of my mind how it has been going with parish and building ever since I read (in the newsletter of a parish under the Ecumenical Patriarch) within a week or so of 11 September that priest and parishioners were awaiting the chance to gain access and see if they could rescue the ikons and relics of St. Catharine and St. Sava.

    Sanctae Nunilo Alodiaque, orate pro nobis!

  22. Agnes of Prague says:


    Sounds like Nunilo and Alodia were put into a brothel to 1) dishonor them by association and 2) try and train/talk them out of chastity. But were not actually harmed other than that.

    Google Books has ‘The lives of the fathers, martyrs, and other principal saints’ vol. 10 by Butler [http://tinyurl.com/28dsfuq] and p. 463 notes that

    “When these artifices failed him he put them into the hands of impious women, hoping these instruments of the devil would be able by their crafty address to insinuate themselves into the hearts of the virgins. But Christ enlightened and protected his spouses, and those wicked women, after many trials, were obliged to declare to the judge that nothing could conquer their resolution.”

  23. Agnes of Prague says:

    Anyways, I think this is a good idea (though the whole thing is sad). The only question is: who will build the chapel? Will the diocese? I don’t think the SSPX like you much, Father, but they might take you up on this idea if no one else does…

  24. Wendy says:

    @ colospgs

    I haven’t found a source that specifically states that the girls were thrown into a brothel, although I guess that is how it could be interpreted. In any case, look up the story of Saint Agnes of Rome (same age, a few centuries earlier than these two girls) and her miraculous protection in a brothel.

    If your audience will question their virgin status, leave out the reference to the brothel. Most of the entries I’ve found online did so, merely attesting to their resolution in the face of death.

    Otherwise, I offer this for your consideration:
    Agnes of Prague quoted Rev. Butler above: “When these artifices failed him [the judge], he put them into the hands of impious women, hoping these instruments of the devil would be able by their crafty address to insinuate themselves into the hearts of the virgins. But Christ enlightened and protected his spouses, and those wicked women after many trials were obliged to declare to the judge that nothing could conquer their resolution. He therefore condemned them to be beheaded…”

    Ann Christys, discussing the writings of Eulogius in her book “Christians in Al- Andalus 711-1000” interprets that part of the story as: “The prefect handed them over to muslim women relatives who tried in vain to get them to accept Islam.”

    “Impious women” and “wicked women” could be euphemisms for a brothel and its inmates. They could also refer to non-Christian women of any degree of respectability. It sounds to me like the two young girls were put through the modern equivalent of a cult rescue/ deprogramming (but that is not quite as titillating).

    All honor to two strong and resolute young women, fully deserving of a chapel at Ground Zero, as representatives of those who have died at the hands of the Religion of Peace.

  25. Jack Hughes says:

    Good idea Father, btw I hear over at Rorate that a Rosary Crusade has been started against the construction of the mosque.

    St Nunilo and St. Alodia Ora Pro Nobis

  26. JonM says:

    Your proposal would be met with immediate injunctions from the ACLU.

    Probably more violent responses from other quarters.

  27. irishgirl says:

    Good idea, Father Z-and that’s all I’m going to say. ; )

    Jack Hughes-who is sponsoring the Rosary Crusade against the mosque?

  28. Jack Hughes says:

    my dear Irishgirl

    I think its a private initiative by an individual


  29. Okay, here’s the scoop. After Eulogius finished his Memoriale Sanctorum about his martyr friends, he received news of Nunilo and Alodia’s deaths from Venerius, the bishop of Alcala. So he reopened his book and stuck them in as Chapter 7 of Book 2. He ended up having to add even more martyrs as the persecutions continued.

    Here’s all three books of the Memoriale Sanctorum in convenient bite-sized access.

    There’s also a later account of their deaths from when their relics were translated, and just as with other Cordoban martyrs whose relics were translated, the story told in the Translatio was somewhat different from Eulogius’ account.

  30. Tina in Ashburn says:

    How about rosaries in honor of our Lady of Ransom? Now known as our Lady of Mercy – Our Lady of Ransom appeared saying that she would rescue those taken prisoner by the Moors, at the time the Christian world was suffering brutally from the cruelty of the Moors. The order of Mercedarians then offered themselves up personally in ransom to win the freedom of captives.

    The title of our Lady of Ransom is perfect for these times. Her feast is September 24.

    There is a relationship between our Lady of Ransom and our Lady of the Rosary…but I forget…

    I like the idea of a church in honor of those martyred by the Moors Father Z. Never heard of these two.

  31. mike cliffson says:

    Scholars: Can find no physical(4 house moves, one with-inadequate- police protection) nor internet trace of physical books once read, can’t vouch 4 the below, never met em, but look promising:
    EDWARD P. COLBERT: The martyrs of Córdoba (850-859). A study of the sources (The Catholic University of America. Studies in Medieval History. N.S. 17), Washington 1962, 336-338

    Passio beatissimarum birginum Nunilonis et Alodie c. 851) Ed. PILAR RIESCO CHUECA: Pasionario hispánico. Introducción, edición crítica y traducción (Filosofía y Letras 131), Sevilla 1995, 286–304, hier 289.

    Huescar variant name in Spanish: Nunilon

  32. Here’s part one of the chapter in St. Eulogius, translated by me for lack of a better source. I’ve left out the first part of the chapter, where he apologizes for ending the book before, when all these other martyrdoms were coming up.

    Memoriale Sanctorum, by St. Eulogius of Cordoba.
    Book Two, Chapter Seven: Nunilo and Alodia, virgins and martyrs.


    2. Therefore, as reported by the consecrated and venerated fatherly care of Venerius, bishop of Compluti (Alcala), we learn in the city of Osca (Huesca) near the town of Barbitanum, there were two virgin sisters (of whom one was called Nunilo and the other Alodia) born indeed to a
    Gentile [Muslim] father but a Christian mother. After the death of the impious father, they could not stop their mother from entering into a second Gentile marriage, nor could they hold freely to the faith of Christ, opposed by the conquering stiff-necked paganism.

    However, already the souls of the girls were watered from Christ’s kind fountain. Spurning
    the maternal marriage, they were warmed again by their most faithful maternal aunt’s encouragement. Immediately, the holy infancy of Christ the Lord begins to stick to them faithfully, and the paternal rite is forgotten, restoring the religion of the Crucified to their very young and sanctified minds, to keep them whole.

    And because they were very strong in the bands of birth, and they gleamed with the highest excellences and torches of love, their ways of life could not be hidden from the city; they conducted themselves with such sweet-smelling and shining manners of holy faith. Accordingly, they already had achieved youthful adolescence’s flower, and the rumor of their holiness filled nearly the whole province. And all were astounded by the beauty of double roses leaping forth from thornbushes.

    Hence the jealous old enemy would hurl pain at their members; while through terrors from their governor, it was hatefully decided that they could be transformed. While they were sealed beforehand for marriage to the eternal spouse, he is sure they can be separated from the prize through hard deaths’ hastening; he brings it to the sacred virgins.

    Therefore, he pushes the pursuit of the holy virgins’ case upon his satellite, the prefect of the city, who immediately directs his gaze to set upon them. Trying to allure them with the vain promise of bribes and plenty of similar things, he urges the famous young women to marriage, if by this their souls would be called away from Christ’s religion and returned
    to their own natal one, by all means; in addition, he would enrich them with a flow of much wealth.

    However, if they disregarded the decree of the governor with a more obstinate spirit, on their final day they would be sentenced to being tortured with torments, then be terminated by a guard’s sword.

    To which the blessed virgins, roused by the Holy Spirit, constant and intrepid, said in one confession of faith, “O Governor, in the same way we order you to turn to piety to God. Which holy piety, viewing things by His Light, made us aware that nobody can be wealthier than Christ, nobody can be happier than a faithful Christian woman. Through whom do the just live? Through whom has the power of the saints conquered? Without Him, life is nothing; without Him, death thrives forever. To abide in Him and live in Him is true comfort. To back away from Him
    is eternal ruin.

    “By no means will we abandon partnership with Him while we are in this life, because believing our integrity is from Him, we look forward to someday being admitted into marriage with Him. For you bestow things that perish, of which you speak to entice us. We scorn them, considering them as nothing when one thinks about it; because we were aware that everything under the sun is vanity. Nor are we disturbed by the threat of punishment, which we recognize to be powerful in the short term. Indeed, death itself, which you put forward as the ultimate terror, we long for with the most welcoming love; for through it, we trust to ascend into heaven without delay, to approach Christ, and to be held fast in his embraces, never to be torn apart.”

  33. “Mulierculae” is a Bible word from the Vulgate translation of 2 Timothy 3:6, so that’s probably how St. Eulogius is using it; it just meant “foolish women” there. In classical Latin, it’s also a term for low class women. However, it seems more likely that these are women of the governor’s household or his prison, than relatives of the girls. One thing for sure — it’s forbidden in Muslim law to execute a virgin woman; the typical thing is to have a guard rape you to avoid this. It’s possible customs were different back then, but don’t hold your breath.

    I’m not really sure of a lot of this translation, so don’t write any papers based on my work!

    The governor turning from which steadfastness of faith and courage of declaration, he committed them each separately to certain foolish little women provided with expertise in profane rites to be instructed; and about whatever terrors she can, not alternately but rather whichever they had supported faithfully in the discussion, he warns.

    However, the foolish little women, receiving the virgins of Christ into sacrilegious worship, every day set forth the poisonous dogma to them, but the unsleeping care from Heaven also restores them with manna from the stinking bowl of sewer they were given to drink. The foolish little women were worn out with empty labor.

    But the foolish little women having reported back to the governor about their stubbornness, the virgins after a few days were led into the forum, set up as a public show, and confessing Christ and standing firm in faith in the face of the enemy, they fell under a sword stroke on the eleventh day before the Kalends of November — and went above the air.

    Of their bodies, however, which had fallen, left behind — they were watched with the greatest eagerness by the soldiers, lest the Christians secretly steal them away, in order to protect them and hide them. Nevertheless, those virginal cadavers were carried off to a place in which, better hidden than the deep heathen trenches, they are buried; signs and miracles flash out; and where they display to the people the merited consolation of glory, the influence of virtue so faithful.

    Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for an age of ages. Amen.

  34. Re: “Gentile” and “paganism” being used as kennings for “Muslim” and “Islam” — it’s also sharia law that nobody is allowed to say anything defamatory (or even true but embarrassing) about Islam, Mohammed, or any Muslim, on pain of death. So it was probably customary for Spanish writers to use codewords like this, in order to protect their readers.

    Unfortunately, there seem to have been some very odd theories about Islam circulating in the rest of Christian Europe at various times, relating to it having a whole pantheon of gods, so these codewords may have been misunderstood outside of Spain.

  35. Re: mulierculae, the association of “foolish women” with sin seems to have led to a secondary meaning of “hussies” in medieval Europe. So that’s some of it. Also, the difference between a brothel and a harem full of secondary wives and concubines was probably not immediately obvious to the rest of Christendom.

    Here’s some info about their shrine and fiesta. Huesca in Aragon (Roman Osca, which claims to have been the birthplace of St. Lawrence) and a town now known as Adahuesca is where they were from, according to the contemporary St. Eulogius account, and there’s a well associated with them there. But the towns of Huescar and the Puebla de Don Fadrique, in Granada, adopted them as their own in the aftermath of the Reconquest.

    Their relics got translated to San Salvador de Leyre in Navarra, for the most part; but I haven’t been able to find an online translation of the Translatio account of them, which is probably where most of the confusion comes from. Since it’s less contemporary it might not be as accurate; or it might record things remembered by locals which Bishop Venerius didn’t tell St. Eulogius, or which he chose not to record.

    In De La Fuente’s Historia Eclesiastica de Espana, there’s some info on the Translatio. Apparently that account says that an ex-Christian ex-priest was sent to persuade them that the water was fine. They replied that “In short, if you have to die, would it not be better to go with glory now, than to risk your soul to live a little time?” It also claims that when St. Nunilo fell and her feet were exposed, St. Alodia ran to cover the body; and then tied her own robes to her feet to prevent embarrassment in death; and that this practicality brought tears to the eyes of those watching her persecution. The executioner dripped her sister’s blood on her in a last attempt to get her to give up, but she said no with a headshake.

  36. Btw, their hometown of Adahuesca celebrates a feast for them on August 25 as well as on October 22. Here’s an article with pictures about it (in Spanish).

    There’s also an Alodia winery in their town. Heh.

  37. Agnes of Prague says:

    Thanks for the informative translations, Suburbanshee! An inspiring story.

  38. Panterina says:

    Thank you, Suburbanbanshee, for your reply to colospgs: Your answer made perfect sense to me. Virginity in the eyes of men, clouded as we are by sin, is very different than virginity in the eyes of God, isn’t it?

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