One of the things I like doing with history is trying to understand the thought processes of those that came before us. One of the best things with which to do this is religion, and in this case, religious art and architecture. In my travel experience, museums and churches tend to have a multitude of items that, to the modern sensibility, are hilarious or just plain odd. What I can’t figure out, though, is if the creator of each particular thing in question did it in seriousness and piety, or if they have a wicked sense of humour. Either way, it can make religion an unexpected source of humour.
One church where I had a great time entertaining myself on a rainy day along the Camino Frances was in Fromista, Spain. Fromista is a regular rural town, a little rundown in parts but it provided me with some “artsy” photographic opportunities as I did my usual exploration of a new city/town/village at the end of a (on average) 23km walking day. What I remember most about Fromista, though, is one of its churches, the San Martín de Tours.
San Martín de Tours was built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style. It’s a pretty solid-looking building with very few windows; it also has an octagonal tower along with two bell towers, one with a rooster on top. And that’s not even the most interesting thing about this structure. That honour lies with the 300 or so carvings deliberately placed all around the building. Each carving is different and most of them are quite amusing. For example, some are rather risqué, some are humans being eaten by creatures, some are people with random facial expressions, and some are people being…regurgitated.
Inside the church are many treasures to be found as well. After a search, I found vomiting creatures, people riding on what looks like giant cats, someone choking next to the Tree of Life, and a pair of people engaging in some hanky-panky. There were also several paintings distributed around the church, including one where a guard looked a little too into whipping Jesus. And let’s not forget the statues. Two of my favorite pieces were a black Jesus and a lady with boobs on a plate.
I’m sure tradition dictates that each of these pieces has a story and a reason behind why it looks like the way it does. However, knowing humanity, there are many people today with a fantastic sense of humour and there is no reason to think that historical people weren’t the same. So while I’ll never know if these items in Fromista were the product of a mischievous mind or if they were done that way for a reason, they did amuse me and I like them for that.
What about you – have you seen a collection of historical items that made you wonder if they were supposed to be serious or if they were crafted by someone with a sense of humour?