Writer, polemicist and central figure in the "voluntary martyr movement" of mid-ninth century cordoba; b. probably between 800 and 815; d. probably in Cordoba, late 862 or early 863.
All that is known of Paulus Albarus has to be gleaned from his own writings and those of his close friend and confidant, the martyr eulogius. The spelling of his cognomen is Albarus rather than the customary Alvarus. He was probably born in or around Cordoba. Nothing is known of his parents beyond the fact that his father made a donation to a monastery. Nor is it known if Paulus Albarus had brothers and sisters. He belonged to a well-todo, land-owning family of uncertain prominence in Cordoban life. The honorific titles (Aurelius Flavius) that Paulus Alvarus and his friend, John of Seville, applied to each other in their letters are suggestive of those used by the Visigothic kings of Spain but may simply reflect friendly respect between equals. Other respectful terms ("illustrissimus" or "serenissimus") were used in letters to Albar who only used such language in his correspondence with Romanus, a doctor and former high official in the Christian community (epistle 9).
Albarus's ancestry is uncertain. While debating with Bodo, a convert to Judaism, Albarus seems to indicate his own Jewish background ("I am a Hebrew both by faith and race." ep. 18.). This may be a metaphorical claim that Christians represented the fulfilment of God's covenant with Israel. As Albarus, who certainly attended a monastic school, reported that he did not know the Hebrew language, he is unlikely to have converted directly from Judaism. His claim to Gothic descent (ep. 20) is also very plausible.
As a boy, Albar was educated at the monastery of Abbot Speraindeo. There he met Eulogius, with whom he forged a life-long friendship based on their shared love of learning. Albar recalled with great affection his debates with Eulogius over points of Holy Scripture, which were continued by letter, in verse form, although as adults they wisely chose to destroy such juvenilia. The literary output of Albar is enriched with quotations from Holy Scripture, patristic writers, especially St. jerome, and Spanish authors, especially St. isidore. He was also familiar with non-Christian Latin authors. In some cases, it is clear that Albar's knowledge was derived at secondhand from St. Isidore. On his return from a journey to northern Spain in 848, Eulogius brought back books unknown in Cordoba, which introduced Albar to other Christian and pagan writers. Both Speraindeo and Eulogius showed respect for Albar's scholarship by submitting their own writings to him for criticism.
Unlike Eulogius, Albar was a married layman. In the preface to his Vita Eulogii, Albar contrasts the priestly status of Eulogius with his own. Greetings in John of Seville's letters to "the adornment of your household" and "the beauty of your household" are, undoubtedly, references to Albar's wife (and, possibly, daughters). Even less certainly, the death of "trium ancillarum vestrum," which drew sympathetic comment from John of Seville, may refer to servants rather than daughters.
Between 840 and 860, Albar was the outstanding figure in Latin literary culture in Cordoba. Apart from an indication that he had practiced law, Albar does not appear to have held any civil or ecclesiastical post. This may have permitted him the leisure to pursue his intellectual interests and develop impressive skills in Latin composition, which included the writing of verse. It also suggests that he was a man of independent financial means.
The start of Albar's known literary activity is his correspondence with Bodo-Eleazar. There are seven letters (four by Albar and three, badly conserved, by Bodo-Eleazar), with one clearly dated to 840. In 838, Bodo, a deacon, left the German imperial court to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. On his way there, for unknown reasons, Bodo converted to Judaism, married a Jewish woman and changed his name to Eleazar. He travelled on to Cordoba where he began to urge the Muslim authorities to persecute Christians and is last heard of in 847. It is noteworthy that Albar, a layman, should try to win back Bodo-Eleazar for Christianity and prove that Christ was the true Messiah. Albar's correspondence becomes increasingly abusive in response to what he regarded as Bodo-Eleazar's provocation. The letters show the state of Christian-Jewish polemic and the bitter tone of medieval disputes between the faiths.
An undated pair of letters to Abbot Speraindeo, Albar's former teacher, probably belongs to the period before 853. Albar described the errors into which some had fallen and asked Speraindeo to write a treatise refuting them (ep.7).
A group of six undated letters make up Albar's correspondence with his friend John of Seville, another educated layman with literary tastes (ep.1–6). Albar's use of citations from Virgil's Aeneid and St. Augustine's City of God, works only known in Cordoba after Eulogius's return from northern Spain in 848, suggests that the letters should be dated between 848 and 851, when the Muslim persecution began.
Albarus and Eulogius were central figures in the voluntary martyr movement that convulsed Cordoba in the mid-ninth century. A disparate group of Christians challenged Muslim authorities in Cordoba by the public denunciation of Muḥammad or by the breaking of Islamic law, actions that carried the death penalty. Between 851 and 859, 49 Christians are reported to have been executed by the Muslim authorities. Their actions also caused a split in the Christian community between those who supported open resistance and those who wished to avoid a confrontation with the ruling power. In 859, the execution of Eulogius, who is the principal source for these events, seems to mark an end to the martyr movement.
Neither Albar nor Eulogius originated the martyr movement although each gave it his full support. They shared a concern at the rising rate of conversion to Islam and at the increasing adoption of Arabic culture among the Christian community. Their solution was a self-conscious attempt to revive Latin letters, looking back to a Visigothic past and drawing especially on Isidoran writings, as an emblem of Christian identity for a community under threat. While Eulogius's writings dealt esentially with the passions of the Cordoban martyrs, Albar's defended them against their Christian detractors and made a direct attack on Islam.
Little is known of Albar during the decade of the persecutions. He seems to have had a direct acquaintance with few of the martyrs. While he championed their actions, Albar does not appear to have incited them. In his only recorded conversation with a would-be martyr, Albar's cautionary words are heard and then rejected by Aurelius (Memoriale Sanctorum II, 10). Neither Albar nor Eulogius presented himself as a voluntary martyr. Although Eulogius was to be martyred in 859, Albar's writings, in line with his advice to Aurelius, show no self-reproach for not sharing his friend's martyrdom. In 854, Albar produced the Indiculus Luminosus, his most ambitious work. It followed two lines: attacking Christian critics of the martyrs and arguing that Muḥammad fulfilled some of the prophecies of antichrist. Albar promised a second book which would gather the judgements of the doctors of the church to support his view. This has not survived or, more probably, was not written.
Albar corresponded with Eulogius, giving moral support during his time of imprisonment in 851. Eulogius, in turn, sent Albar two works, the Memoriale Sanctorum and the Documentum Martyriale, for approval. Soon after Eulogius's execution in 859, Albar wrote the Vita Eulogii. It celebrated his friend's life and death, treating him as a saint. He also composed poetry in honour of Eulogius.
From the evidence of epistles 9 to 13 of his collected letters, Albar's final years seem to have been dogged by poverty and sickness. Around 861 he fell dangerously ill and received the sacrament of penance. On recovering, he was obliged to do public penance and abstain from the Eucharist. In his letters to Bishop Saul of Cordoba, Albar made typically forceful requests to be allowed to take Holy Communion. There may be undertones of an earlier confrontation over the martyrs but Bishop Saul refused Albar's demands (epp. 11–13). At this time, Albar wrote his Confessio, which was not a personal confession but a short treatise on penance. This outstanding figure of the Cordoban Church slipped into an obscure death by 862 or early 863.
In 961, Bishop Reccemund wrote a calendar, dedicated to Caliph al-Hakam (961–976), in which he listed the liturgical feasts that had been celebrated at Cordoba in the previous century. For November 7, it names the feast of Albar (In ipso est festum Albari in Cordubam ).
Bibliography: Writings by Paulus Albarus. Collection of 20 letters between Albar and five other known men: Bodo/Eleazar (7), John of Seville (6), Bishop Saul (3), Abbot Speraindeo (2), Romanus the doctor (1) and a letter without identification; Indiculus Luminosus ; Vita Eulogii ; Confessio ; 11 poems, following in style and content late Visigothic models, representing virtually all of the surviving material from Christian Cordoban writing of his day. Modest in quality, they were the fruit of Eulogius's attempt to revive Latin letters. Sources. j. gil, Corpus Scriptorum Muzarabicorum, v. 1 (Madrid 1973). e. p. colbert, The Martyrs of Cordoba (Washington, DC 1962). r. collins, Early Medieval Spain; Unity in Diversity, 400–1000 (London 1995). c. m. sage, Paul Albar of Cordoba (Washington, DC 1943). k. b. wolf, Christian Martyrs in Spain (Cambridge 1988).