Would you like to download pdfs of my interviews? (available in both English and Spanish) - Sign up to access interview pdf transcripts.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

There is an article by Jaime Nuño, Sexo y arte románico (Sex and Romanesque Art), from El País, Papeles Perdidos, Jan. 31, 2012 (in English) here

Below, My Video Interview with Jaime Nuño, May 2016 - with English transcript

Part 1 - The Santa Maria la Real Foundation and how I became interested in el Románico erotico

click on any question or statement to expand the answer / discussion.

Mark Gredler: So good morning, we’re here with Jaime Nuño and tell us a Little bit about the foundation and what we have here.

Jaime Nuño: Well, the Santa Maria la Real foundation of historic heritage is an organization that has a long life, its origins date back almost 40 years ago. But well, it has had a very slow development process, always primarily linked to the recovery of the Monastery of Santa Maria la Real in Aguilar de Campoo and then after we started those works it was proposed the intervention of the whole environment, fundamentally in Romanesque art and has been expanding its horizons as to work in much of the Spanish heritage, studying it, reporting it, programs for scheduling jobs, tourism programs, well… everything that has to do, as we say, with the natural heritage, cultural and social to promote further development.

Yes, very well. So, how did you become interested in the subject of erotic Romanesque art?

Well, we have been working many years in the Romanesque art, it could be interesting getting in the subject of erotic Romanesque since they spoke plenty of it but I considered there wasn’t a serious analysis. It’s a topic with a lot of interest and maybe because it’s an interesting topic it has had its development.

Yes well, it’s a very unknown topic, at least in the United States; most Americans have no idea that there is this kind of art in the churches of the 11th and 12th centuries.

Of course, medieval art… the Middle Ages is considered a dark age in which people were subject to a rigid morality from the church in which they are not able to do anything but build, survive and pray. It is a completely false image, in the Middle Ages as in any other historical period, people have had their joys and sorrows, their moments of euphoria, festivals, prayers, everything. We judge them by our mental systems and you can’t do that; the historian must free himself of his own moral framework or functionality of his society if he wants to correctly analyze others, because not all values are universal nor are eternal.

But it’s really difficult to put yourself in the mind of a medieval person, it’s almost impossible for us to think like someone used to think.

It’s difficult; it’s difficult for us to put ourselves in the place of another, even of someone that is around us. It’s difficult to be fully objective, but you have to try to be as objective as possible.  And it’s true that putting yourself in the world of the medieval man is too complicated, first because those are very different mentalities, and second because the information we have it’s always very… scarce and partial.  So in the medieval sources, documentation written in the Middle Ages was written with a purpose, and we have to know that purpose. Not everything we read about the Middle Ages written in that time was true… it could be biased, mostly in a time in which many of the information has a clear function, to indoctrinate or promote propaganda.

Yes… well, your article Sexo y Arte Románico of El País, you begin with an interesting phrase that is “fornicators, exhibitionists, venerable elderly that masturbate, passionate lovers, lonely phallus… seem strange images to decorate a Romanesque church, in plain, dark and repressive Middle Ages.” Since that time was repressed, what are some of the statements given about this subject? (stone masons / represents sin / encourages procreation)

… to begin with, it catches my attention by far how in a place like a Christian Catholic church there could be representations of what is considered as not appropriate for the Christian morality. Why is it in a church? And there have been many explanations, one of them, the first maybe, is that it was a liberty of the stonemasons, meaning it was a stonemason, a crew that worked and it seemed to them that it could be hot, a little risqué and so they did it. … it seems to me this would be very difficult to accept as a reason because you can see them, they are not hidden, they are not in places or sites that are remote and many of them are important monasteries,

On the other hand, it has been said that they try to reflect the true sin, meaning, sin is reflected and lust and its one representation of what could be the sinful medieval society. It’s represented in the exterior of the churches, in these corbels, in these windows, the sins; meanwhile, inside the representations would be of purity. Outside is the world; inside is the house of God. But this idea doesn’t fit either, … yes, it’s true that most part of these representations are outside, but there are also churches that have them inside and in places that are well seen, even in the arch of triumph.

It has been said as well that it’s an encouragement to procreation, that people were needed… it’s an explanation mostly Hispanic, people for the reconquest, to repopulate, but in that case it would explain the representations there are in Spain, but not the ones that you can see in other places of Europe. I think it wasn’t necessary to encourage to procreation because there were many childbirths, that wasn’t the problem, the problem was the survival of the newborn.

There are really no signs that these figures have a Muslim person. (Medieval poetry)

It’s true, it’s true that the Muslim was the enemy, the enemy whomever it might be… meaning, what was done in those times, tell them they were homosexuals, that they did satanic rites… the enemy always had that image. The witch, the Muslim, etc. But I think to represent merely the idea of the Muslim, not only by the attires but by the context, seems unlikely. I think that in reality what is reflected is a pretty daily image.

We call it Romanesque but they didn’t call it that, but they did try to imitate the roman world. It was probably the counter-reformation, the world of Trent that made the Christian world completely asexual, it wasn’t before. You only have to read medieval poems, the examples, the stories, the Cameron ones so well known; they are full of sex everywhere. If that had been truly sinful, it wouldn’t have been published nor had that success. When you read the poems of Guillermo of Aquitania, one of the most important personalities from the political standpoint of Europe, that it wasn’t in an anonymous form, seems odd to us but they did it. And then you say well, sex wasn’t as rare or hidden or sinful as it might seem

Yes well, it was two centuries later than the erotic Romanesque but I am a fan of the Libro de Buen Amor (the Book of Good Love) and there are similar things.

During the Middle Ages, at the end of the Middle Ages the Song-book of Baena, when you see some of the poems it makes some of us blush, but then, how come people in the Middle Ages published this? And also, … the Libro de Buen Amor book is written by an archpriest, meaning a church man. It even seems odd because if it were someone of critical thinking, that is hard enough, but someone critical of the official thinking of the church, all good, but it’s someone from the church that writes it. And even these elements that we’re seeing and don’t fully understand, this erotic Romanesque, we don’t quite understand it… of course, by not understanding it with the thinking of those who did it, we judge it with our own thinking.

What we find nowadays, well we find it obscene and something to hide, but people back then didn’t see it that way, right?

Well let’s see, there were even rites like risus paschalis where it was the priest who on Easter in some churches made jokes.  It’s said that the joy was such because Christ was resurrected that day that dirty jokes were told and even obscene scenes were made starring their own priest, because it provoked laughter. Maybe it would have something else to do, I say, with the festival, normally the erotic scenes appear in a context of music, circus, and joy and so that can be their joy.

Well you were saying that these erotic scenes inside the churches even came to masturbation…(no privacy in Middle Ages houses / the Church punishes sex)

Yes, there’s actually a study about risus paschalis, it talks about the debate there was among church intellectuals, we’re talking about the end of the Middle Ages, there are some who defend it as precisely a demonstration of joy and there it ends.

There’s something else that has to be understood, sex is private for us, even when someone practices it in public it seems to us like a real scandal. But in the vast majority of the houses in the Middle Ages, in the XI and XII centuries, when these representations are made or even after that, are real huts, almost all Europe… the houses are pretty similar, a house with a partition wall in the middle, a roof with a partition in the middle, on one side the livestock and on the other the whole family. Only one room where you eat, where you cook and where you sleep. Of course, the parents are there, the children and even some grandparent. So sex was there.

The church punishes sex, pursues it, … well, specially the penitential, put within the own penitential are references even to impose punishment to the way the sex has been practiced,  so of course there is something to condemn and to condemn it it’s described with detail, which is even more remarkable.

Part 2 - Sex was a part of life 

(more on church punishes sin / married vs single women in the sculpture)

And it’s also true that these Romanesque representations are orthodox sex, meaning, there are no unusual positions in general, there are unusual positions that have to not be tolerated by the church. Because these positions, a little more creative, were condemned because they said it didn’t favor procreation as much. The women appear naked but also always with the head covered by the head cloth; those are married women. There are also women with the hair loose, … that would be the single ones, yes that is rarer.

But the musicians as well, right?

Those are also people indeed more joyful but that doesn’t mean it’s not seen as something not fully acceptable, meaning, in some way the music is condemned, there are clergymen that condemn… they condemn joy, you can’t laugh, it’s sin.

Even joy was associated with festivals as well, right? Even carnival. (reactions to death)

Yes, we even say that there are moments in which joy was boundless, the medieval man for that was… much more devious, so to speak, much more in extremes than us. Joys were huge and the sorrows were brutal. Now it’s hard to see people that laugh out loud, there are smiles, there are joys, there are hugs.

 There is a trait where it’s shown that we are calmer with emotions, that’s with death. We die, we dress ourselves in black, the sunglasses, you cry a little, but there are no signs of tragedy; the medieval man would tear his cheeks, rip hair off, quarrel and cry. But he would go inside a church and there were important relics in it and he would cry out of joy, and the sermons of San Vicente Ferrer are famous because they would make people cry.

It is medieval in that way, tremendous joys and tremendous weeping as well. So probably inside all that there was also the way of living it and condemning it, there are people who thought it wasn’t wrong… it seems to me that it was much more diverse than we think, the big mistake we have now is thinking that medieval society was something uniform and plain.

Well, speaking about laughter, going back to the subject of the Libro de Buen Amor book, I think there is an important part of the Libro de Buen Amor book, it was laughter and humor but also do you agree that humor, laughter were important for the erotic Romanesque?

Yes, if we take for example a book or a work of indoctrination parting from the church they tend to be rigid, very serious, but when we leave that frame and take the literature of the Romanesque time, we don’t have much but we do have little stories and a little after, well into the XIV century, almost all the stories are very humorous, all of them in the humor key. The Cameron one is continuously humor, the Libro de Buen Amor book… the irony, that is always very much present

And everything to provoke, those works are about showing lessons but precisely the teaching through humor. It seems to me that when we see those works, it makes me think that the medieval man had an expression that we never know and that is how we read it. Even after, all people are laughing, because it’s fundamental to survival to laugh. And in the most dramatic moment, you find a minute to celebrate, to enjoy with friends or to laugh at anything.

Very well, going back to the subject of ancient Romans, the Romans of antiquity were where a lot of the Romanesque comes from there but also there were phallic amulets and these things for Romanesque people had a different sense, but for Romans it was the protection against the evil eye, and for good luck…

All the cultures I think have had a reference in sex, it’s the way to continue the species, the way in which animals reproduce, it’s a moment of pleasure and joy, but in almost every culture they have had that sort of fondness and protection. It was very common at the Roman time also representations of sex. There are some representations that are very pretty with small bells that were put at the entry of the doors, so when you opened the doors they would sound to tell the owner…

Yes, the phallus with bells.

Yes, there is a phallus of that Samon that comes from a town and is kept in Barcelona, it’s of a naked woman riding a phallus and putting a crown, crowning it, and underneath it was little bells and that is supposed to be a ring to hang it, the door would move and well… it’s humorous. And the hangers with phallic representations are very common, which might be a sort of protection just like against diseases, we don’t know it very well but when someone carries a pendant probably that is… the way it is done nowadays, you carry it because it’s an emblem, you think it protects you or it identifies you somehow, whether it be form a religious standpoint or not. But… well, there it is.

Well, when your partner Cesar did the tour on Spanish television, there was a man in the tour that had an interesting thing to say, that it was daily life, normal life, and people wanted to enjoy life and it was a very normal thing.

Yes, just so, that’s what I think as well, sex was part of life, I have already said that in a house… houses with many rooms begin to function very much at the end of the Middle Ages so then you can have your own private room, but not back before then. It was… it was there and well, I think sex forms part of life. Its true church doesn’t criticize sex, what it criticizes is to enjoy it, the pleasure. Children… let’s say, sex is to have children, to procreate, the pleasure part is that many times what they say is that you can’t enjoy it at all, you can’t laugh, you can’t…

You had even commented in your article of El País that there was a rule in which they must only procreate on Sunday night.

Well, no… it’s just that later on the church, the church stratum try to regulate your whole life, in principle in a certain way with some logic but sometimes they go overboard. One of the ways for example that it intervenes is to regulate the diet and so goes lent, so that you can’t eat meat, won’t stop generating a health problem specially among the rich, but the others were more difficult. In the end the church says you can’t fight (wrestle in bed) Saturdays nor Sundays and you end up adding days, days, days and in the end I think, I don’t know if you could only fight (wrestle in bed) Mondays and Tuesdays, of course it was another thing to pay attention to that.

There is an Italian author, Alonso Giordano, that has calculated that in some years there are so many dates and if a woman is pregnant, she couldn’t have sex for about four hundred days, meaning, during that whole year, and this would be an exaggeration. Because one thing is what the rule says, the writings, and another is what is being done.

Part 3 - some interpretation

…it’s just that normally the law is like you say, the law is against one thing that happened and these things indeed happened, but there were some strong laws against sex with animals and…

Yes, there is one thing… well, there are even things that are truly tolerated and that to us won’t seem okay. So then there is a moment that says women that are not sacramental or something like that, talks of the beloved, the concubine, the lover and that you may have another woman. That is curious because it says God forbade it, the church doesn’t want that, but that ancient wise men seeing that, without it could provoke many evils, evils such as rapes, attacks, tolerated it. It doesn’t mean you can’t have it, it’s saying it’s not good, it’s frowned upon, that it goes against religion, but well, you can’t exaggerate either and then ends up regulating the rights and inheritance those women must have.

But at the same time, just like erotic Romanesque, some say that it’s all a representation of sin, but those sins are not represented in Romanesque. (condemned or not / sheela-na-gig / thinking men)

Those sins… there is a representation in some French Bible, it seems to me is the Bible moralisée, that does have representations of homosexuals, but clearly condemning it, meaning it’s a little the image of Sodom and Gomorra, what is shown in the Bible; it’s described but simply to justify the punishment. Here in the Romanesque representation, for example, when there’s an exhibitionist couple, no one is attacking them. It’s not praised but there is nothing that is condemned. However, in the subject of homosexuality it is condemned, at least in the writings that are much clearer.

 I’m saying it’s not the case with sex with men and women because it shows that the church doesn’t like it when it’s for pleasure, but it has to be normal so that the species can go on. It’s also remarkable, for example, some representations like there used to be in England, Ireland, what it’s called the sheela-na-gig, that was like a sin and really are monstrous beings, which increases their monstrosity showing an exaggerated sex but it is a monstrous representation. It is also true there are some characters that are masturbating, there are some in Cervatos and are like deformities but curiously enough most part of the ones masturbating have a thoughtful demeanor, of honorable elder men with long beards that are thinking and are… it’s also a shocking image of classical look, like antique scenes.

Those are very different than The Thinker of Rodin, right?

Yes well, I say it’s a field in which there’s still research to be done, there’s a lot to read about the culture of the time, read between lines and probably there isn’t a truth about all this, it’s not that it’s sinful or not, because I say that I’m not convinced, that what they are trying to show is just sin, I don’t want to say it’s the contrary but I just want to say that there are some elements that clearly, precisely because of the monstrosity, that ugliness, they can represent a vice but there are others that doesn’t seem to me like it’s that way. And when I see the Villanueva de la Nía church, in the arc of triumph a woman with her legs spread open, well… it would distract us from the mass, I don’t know if it distracted someone from the XII century, I don’t know but I consider it. If not, why is it there?

But I also think it could be that the meaning of this art was more than one meaning, and the intention was to be able to give many different interpretations for example. (for illiterates)

Well, many times it’s said that sculpture and Romanesque art is because it represents truth, there are texts of the time that say that paintings and sculpture have to teach the people who don’t know how to read the truths of the bible, but well, that’s being said in a generic way. I have said it many times; I can’t imagine the priest in the church every Sunday, every day of mass, telling about the capital again. Among other things because many clergymen were so little educated that not even they would understand. It’s not the same as a big personality of the court or an important bishop or an abbot from a monastery with a grand library and a cultural trajectory than someone that is in a village and hasn’t left it or surely doesn’t really understand the very Latin being spoken in the mass, so of course the village folk don’t either.

No but this reminds me that one with a lot of knowledge, one being very wise could have a mistaken interpretation too, for example going back to the Libro de Buen Amor book, there’s this story of the Roman and the Greek, that have a debate using signs and both misinterpret what one says to the other. (archeologist’s misinterpretation)

Yes, it happens in the Middle Ages and it happens now, you can be very wise but be mistaken, because if not you would be infallible and I think that very few, there are very few infallible. You can have criteria, standards, ideas and according to that you give your opinion but your opinion doesn’t have to be… … or just because any things are repeated, are true. It happened to me writing once, I’m a trained archeologist, writing about medieval ceramic and there’s a certain type of medieval ceramic that is dated in this zone, came to date between the VIII and X century, where does that come from? From a very old excavation in which someone, the archeologist, fifty years ago found an Visigoth brooch in a stratum, in one above found a Christ from the XIII century and said what is in the middle of those two moments, didn’t have any other criteria, rightfully or wrongly said that. The next one, who found that type of ceramic, since he didn’t know, had a reference. And the third, had two already. The twentieth that wrote, had nineteen references. But all with the same strength: none. I said of course, when you get there after thirty, forty years and say that’s not true, you have to arm yourself with an amount of arguments because they say well, you come here to argue everyone else, but it’s just that those arguments come from something that is unstable.

So if the first person has a good imagination, he could be wrong. (stonemasons had permission)

Of course he could be wrong.  Look, the theory that has been most successful about Romanesque art is the first one formulated, since this doesn’t fit within the philosophical framework of the church, it has to be done by someone out of the margin, since those are churches this has to be the stonemason that do it freely and it stays there. So of course, it’s a theory that in principle could be well thought but you have to analyze many other things and say well, in Santillana del Mar one of the big abbeys here in the north that in the interior there is a man and a woman there that is at a pretty visible height, it seems odd to me that the stonemason would leave it there when it’s building it, but well, what are you putting there? It couldn’t be that free. Surely the stonemason could offer the abbot or the community, I’m going to build this, but others would like to know, like when you’re in your home and order a kitchen to be made or the bathroom or a work, but the architect tells you but I’m going to build this, then you can argue or not but you will be able to say hey, what have you done here? You made the kitchen round and I wanted it squared. So…

Could the stonemasons make a suggestion? (Gothic phallus)

Sure, probably they made just like they make representations… I think for the most part the churches don’t have a clear iconographic program, because the stonemasons, for the most part were people that copied. So in the Middle Ages it’s true, there were places that had more strength where the good artists worked, and the others went and copied and said hey, I’m going to make a hunting scene for you, I’m going to make… it’s that sometimes the same scenes are even repeated in the same capitols, they ran out of repertoire and sometimes repeat the same scene.

It’s curious because more in gothic churches than in Romanesque churches, sometimes the corbels are smooth and there is one with a phallus. Why? I wouldn’t know what to tell you.   

You were saying that exhibitionists for example in the south of Cervatos, there is one shown in many pictures, you said that it was not necessarily an invitation nor a representation of sin but neither was it an invitation to sex. (Bayeux tapestry)

Well, I think it’s not a specific invitation to say this should not be done, daily life… sometimes when a hunting scene is reflected, it doesn’t condemn hunting nor does it tell you that you must hunt, it’s simply representing a hunting scene or a music scene.

Then you have elements that you say they just don’t fit, the Bayeux tapestry, that tells the story of the conquest of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy of England after the battle of Hastings in 1076, tells the whole process of the war and in the margins, up and down, there are various animals and among them are men and women naked and for example, there’s a naked woman and a naked man that is inviting and calling. This tapestry was done by the family of the duke, it’s said it’s done by the family of the duke and is also said it was exhibited in the interior of the Bayeux cathedral. You say now, how can this be? If that morality really exists and this is a sin, why is that there?

Well another interesting thing is that some say there is a relation maybe between the Camino de Santiago and the erotic Romanesque, but this is a little hard to prove.

I haven’t done any map, I’m gathering information to try one day to draw a distribution map, but it’s clear that it’s found… for example, there are many representations in Burgos, zones that are not Camino de Santiago, in Segovia. Precisely the most famous erotic Romanesque, like Cervatos, is not on the Camino de Santiago nor on the French way, it’s not.

But you also said that… as you said, the sheela-na-gig isn’t just showing her sex but it’s spreading her sex with the hands and well, I don’t know if that exists in Spain but I haven’t seen…

No, I haven’t seen any representation or I don’t remember one as rare as that one. Because that is a very specific format, of course but it’s a format when you think… I don’t know all the places or the environment in which it shows, of course if for example we see an exhibitionist, the Cervatos ones where it’s most common is in the environment of Cervatos. Why? Because Cervatos is probably the model they copied, the truth is many times the representations of exhibitionists that are in Italy don’t look anything like the ones in France or the ones in Spain.

I think that after just two centuries of Romanesque when they made this art, it was already starting to shock people in the XV century, XVI…
Then the more profane. (puritanism)

Part 4 - Why I like Romanesque art so much.

Well that is one of the things Anthony Weir comments on, that in the following centuries a lot of examples of this art have been destroyed that make it really hard to know how many there really were and the distribution the way it really was.

What happens is that it has been destroyed… churches have disappeared, surely many remarkable representations have disappeared, but what has been destroyed also is part of the piece, when a capital was seen of a character with a phallus well they could hit it and leave it without phallus, another thing is that it’s in a high shelf and you have to climb something and that is a lot.

We’re eight centuries after or more than that and we still don’t have it very clear all that it meant. (why I like it)

Sure, that is one of the charms of the Romanesque art, dear God why do I like Romanesque art so much? Because so little is known about the time that anyone could come and share a theory and it’s really hard to argue against it. You can come up with something and say no, I think it’s that way, and handle the documentation to say no, this is not true, because there isn’t much documentation. In the gothic world, there’s much, much more written, but in the Romanesque time… so of course, we go to a church, see these representations, imagine whatever we want, what people, what imagination, the imagination is not ours. I’m not saying they didn’t have it but the imagination is not ours and of course, also the Romanesque matches with the smaller churches, with rural zones set aside in general and it has that charm. But we still have yet to understand, yes.

Yes, even of different opinions because this morning Cesar and I were talking with Luis and he has the idea that yes, this art represented sin and it was always outside in the world, outside the church and then inside the church was the paradise, and the examples of that sex that is inside the church, is there because they were using the stones from before Romanesque times.

Well, to begin with, if they come from another place, where do they come from? A capital of triumph arc is not a capital of a little window or a corbel that can be framed anyway, in Villanueva de la Nía that is a church that has many transformations, let’s admit they could have been framed or unframed, where do they come from? It has to be a very big capital and for that it could only be a triumph arc because it has this shape, let’s say, three faces are carved and the other flat to the wall; it has to be something like that. And in any case, if they proceed from somewhere else, when was it put there? And what time tolerated that?

It’s clear to me as well that…(one can change their mind during research)

Sometimes it has happened to me, I start with a work idea and at the end what I publish is the contrary, because I have seen that the idea I had wasn’t that way and so therefore you’re good because it’s the way things work differently. But many times when you’re in the process of research, questions end up being more than the answers, because each answer produces new questions. It’s true that if you manage to answer two things and produce another and so it goes.

So you have had an evolution of your ideas in the subject since then as well. (Medieval writings / Song of Songs in the Bible)

When I started working in this it seemed to me the typical idea, what has been written always about the stonemason freedom, I didn’t follow that one so much precisely because it seems rather unlikely for me.  But effectively that they did condemn sin and that they weren’t… they had to be outside, sure but when you see there are some inside, that the shapes are different, that when you begin to read poetry of the time. Can you imagine George Bush, who then was the president of United States writing and publishing this? And we live in a moment of freedom. … when this was written, and it was written by one of the most important personalities of Europe, the mentality then was different and this didn’t form part of the daily life. If there is a great personality that writes it, why would it be sinful, have to be hidden and all that?  I also put examples, Song of Songs of the Bible, it may speak about the mystical body of God, but it’s clear it’s an erotic poem.

It’s clear. (Song of Songs)

And then in the Bible enter or don’t enter things depending on the criteria that anyone has, and someone is able to convince no, this is a mystical image, this isn’t earthly sex, but where are you going with that, your breasts or something like that, your hips… and it would have been out. Then these kind of things seem to me really interesting.

It had to do with sex, it’s clear. (there’s more than one truth)

Well, surely in all this there isn’t only one truth, and the good thing is to keep working, finding new elements. And I’m trying to draw a map with calm, because I usually don’t have time, I’m gathering information, gathering points, gathering all those elements that are falling in my hands and then most of all the different theories… because all in principle can be reasonable and then… some have gotten angry with me because he says I have said he’s not right. Well, if he tells me that I’m not right I don’t get upset, let him prove it, it’s not the same saying no, this isn’t true. I say why I say this isn’t like that, because I am dedicated to history, I don’t get upset with someone that is dedicated to history as well, it’s a vice we historians have, taking it to the personal field. So then, it seems very good to me and if I then, saying, understand a little the idea that it’s a reflection of daily life that is true, inside that daily life there is a part that is joy and a part that is sin, to which moment each of the figures I don’t know if we’ll be capable of differentiating. But if that theory that I say someone comes and says well look, see this, see that… and convinces me, bless him.

But there are also representations of gluttony…

Yes, and of greed. But for example, many of the ones handling the money belonged to the very own church. When the crusaders had to leave to the West, the one giving them money or getting lands instead of money was the church, made business from that point. Gluttony, the country of Jauja, the country of Cucaña is a medieval place. It’s a place where you eat. Of course for a society that starves many times they wish to have the stomach full. It’s true they like also the biblical image of the rich… but medieval banquets that are organized, I have been reading a little for example, an inn for pilgrims in Paris, organized a great banquet each year on the day of Santiago and it came to more than a thousand guests and with the leftovers they fed three thousand poor.

Well another thing that could be very interesting is to write a book about the locations of all the examples.

I’m onto that since… I thought a while ago to make some sort of compilations, go back a little to work on the subject, include some of the last theories there are, see possibilities, read about every literature that might have examples of one thing and others and see. And yes I wanted to draw a map, see the different models there are… I have done a classification, the article I gave you is a classification, as I see there’s also one here, I didn’t know this work, and there are things that don’t reach here and drawing a map because a map can help us understand. But the map has to be handled carefully, because we draw a map on the elements that have survived, of course, only the ones that remain. And then I think I explain it there or I have explained it in a conference at least, that when there is a concentration you have to know to what do we owe that concentration. It’s not that in that place they were more inclined to sexual joy or anything, but precisely because the church models, let’s say there’s a school that ends up copying on your surrounding and then by figurative traditions. In Galicia or in Cataluña are less figurate sculptures, so they don’t show up as much, here is pretty common, there is a concentration here of Romanesque buildings very big in small place, it’s all normal. You have to help understand it.

And for the researchers it would be interesting as well to have the coordinates of the examples. The coordinates, the GPS place.

Yes, well we have it now in Spain, we have almost everything geo referenced, the work we’re doing in Spain on digital Romanesque reference all the buildings, meaning everything… all the Romanesque Spanish is geo referenced.

Many years ago, but I had many troubles trying to locate the San Pedro de Tejada, in Burgos. (app needed)

Well I have had problems in Galicia, one of the things I am determined on doing and I never end up doing is a mobile app with a browser for Romanesque churches. Because I have lost a lot of time and you see the analysis and there are many roads, so if you want to go to this church, you go to the church and then you can download or access a little tab or our encyclopedia where you can read the information. I would have been thankful having some of that.

It would be very good, in my tablet I have topographic maps of all Spain that an English company has passed all the maps into digital to use in a phone or in a tablet and it would be interesting… (but you have to pay)

But you have to pay to use it.  Yes but right now we’re referencing them in our encyclopedia. Sometimes we also have to do corrections because sometimes putting it has to be processed, but well, we estimate there could be nine thousand Romanesque testimonies including what’s in museums or small furniture pieces in Spain. But the buildings at least and yes, ….

So let’s see if there’s anything else… here it is, what this man was saying about the tour you made, says the art comes from a very lively time where people knew how to live and enjoy, so that was his idea of the reason for this art.

Let’s see, as I have said before, even the most miserable life has place for joy, as long as it doesn’t have a depressive character it seems to me that joy was there and I refer again to the book The Name of The Rose where the monk Jorge doesn’t tolerate laughter and even condemns the books and those who read that which provokes laughter. Maybe within two thousand years someone says, oh how the people of the beginning of XXI century were! And yet it seems to us like a good time.

Well that’s one of the reasons why I had asked about the Camino de Santiago, I was thinking that it could have something to do with the pilgrimage that I had done twice to Rocío with two different brotherhoods… and it’s a very religious thing, but at the same time there’s a lot of happiness, there’s a lot of festival until it includes lust. (I have a book on the Camino de Santiago)

Yes, the Rocío is famous for as much devotion as lack of self control. The two things coexist and the people that go to the Rocío that cry, that almost jump the fence and what not, since they can’t do the procession they… that is a very medieval framework. But at the same time to enjoy all that is… and right now I have finished a book that will come out soon about the Camino de Santiago in the Middle Ages, about pilgrims to Compostela in the Middle Ages, with the prints of another and such. And for example, when it comes to food and drinking, it is seen that pilgrims look also to enjoy and there is a passage about an English pilgrim woman in the XIV century if I remember correctly, that must have… must have had some theme, some psychological issue because she dedicated, after having fourteen children, to pilgrim to Jerusalem, to Rome and to all the places and must have been… she liked to seek attention a lot and do religious manifestations with a lot of song and dance, in a moment the partners… people must have had avoided her and there is a time in which some pilgrims tell her, if you want to be with us don’t talk about the Bible and at the moment of eating and dining and enjoy like everyone else. That is a sign that as much devout they were, they also went in a journey of joy.

Another example of pilgrims is in the book of Chaucer and some say the archpriest of Juan Ruiz was a Chaucer of Spain, but it was the contrary because the archpriest comes before Chaucer and some even say that Chaucer knew the Libro de Buen Amor book. (it’s how you tell a story)

I think many of these, when you read… I haven’t read the Canterbury Tales, I recognize it, it’s one of those books that I have at home and one day I will read but no… I have read references and extracts but I haven’t read it. But well, for example, when you read some Fable, the French medieval stories that are original, when you read the… the Libro de Buen Amor book, the Cameron one or even some of these poems of William the Troubadour, you realize they must be popular stories, very in the atmosphere and probably were even more compilers than inventors of the same.

But you have to know how to tell it, that’s the grace of literature, but probably all this formed part of the woman that cheated the husband that is older than her with a lover, that is… come on, forms part of the whole medieval literature. I think they repeat it a lot and that Chaucer knew Juan Ruiz, that sounds just as odd, we don’t know but if one knew the sources of one then others wouldn’t be that far.

Yes, but it’s true that not only in medieval literature but forever what is told well is the reason why the literature is prolonged, it has to be told well.

Sure, it has to be told well and most of all… but in the Middle Ages it doesn’t matter how amazing it is, it matters most of all how marvelous it is and how well it’s told, and there always are some magical components, of omens and all that makes it a classical. We go to the writings about paganism, the penitentiaries are effectively full of condemnations against sex that must not be but also of that which takes to a crossroads and makes an offer… but when I was an altar boy in my village, I don’t remember which holiday we went with little wax crosses and burried them in different places of the village under the stones to bless the fields. Well, if that is not a pagan rite…

It’s also said of festivals that they took many pagan festivals and changed them to have something in common with a Saint or something of the church.

Well, there is one thing that is clear, it’s such a coincidence that Christ was born the 25th of December, that it’s not known when he was born. Such a coincidence that Mithras, his great rival in the roman time, was born the 25th of December. It’s more logical in Mithras, Mithras was the sun undefeated, meaning it’s the birth of the sun. Then it’s what the Spanish missionaries did that when they went to America, they adopted the native gods giving qualities of their gods to the saints, but it’s that when the Romans came to Spain, what they did was all the pantheon of gods there was here, assimilated some gods. It’s easier to say, no we’re also part of these, than saying no this has nothing to do with us. It could have been some sort of practice, like for example the human rites, the human sacrifices in America, but for the most part… the carnivals, thousands of holidays.

Well just like the Romans did with the Iberian gods, they could have done with the Greeks. (many different Madonna’s)

Of course, but it’s just that also to the shrines of San Miguel are put in a high place, that Santa Lucia is the sight patron saint, that there are churches or shrines that are Nuestra Señora de las Fuentes, what is that? I mean, I usually say, the Muslims are right, us Christians are polytheists, I mean as polytheists that is not that we have one God, one virgin and many saints, it’s just that the same virgin has fifty thousand different ways, because there’s the virgin this, the virgin that… but people within Christianity, people with certain culture that think it’s not really the same. There are people that think the virgin of Macarena is the same as the virgin of Carmen, but how is it going to be the same? It’s the same! There’s one virgin that is the mother of god, in some places they call her a certain way and put her in an emblem and in other place is another. But no, then of course you have to understand that in a popular religion that needs to see the object, that is for example the Muslim world has fought a lot against it but also they have a different sort of emblems with all the subject of calligraphy and all that. But of course, in the Christian world it’s not just a certain saint, it’s the figure of the place, and in the villages that piece is venerated, not San Roque, that this is San Roque, this is the one from another village, not this, this image.

There’s even a street next to where I’m staying in Madrid, its called Nuestra Señora de los Peligros. (Madonna of the hangover)
Well thank you so much for your time and for talking to us about the subject.

FIN

Sign up for updates from A Taste of Sensuous Spain

I will be adding a lot of material over the next few months. Please sign up for notifications as material is added. Emails are not shared with anyone.
If you would like to take a short survey to help me identify the greatest interests, please use my survey page

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
© 2016 Mark Gredler.
A Taste of Sensuous Spain
Designed by Blaze Web Studio

Hello There.

Help us improve our website.

Take a quick survey