AFTER the Moslem surge exploded out of Arabia in the 7th century and swept westward until it had engulfed Spain, one of the first areas to be liberated (by Charlemagne in 788) was Catalonia. There, in their outpost of Christianity, the proud, fiercely independent Catalans built their churches on the foothills of the Pyrenees, decorated them with some of the oldest European tempera murals and paintings still in existence. Long considered provincial copies of Byzantine art, less rich than the Moorish splendors of the Moslem mosques to the south, and primitive by comparison to the French Romanesque and Gothic triumphs...

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