Universal literacy is quite a recent thing, though there are still some parts of the world where few people have the advantage of a formal education. Before the masses could read texts they surely could read pictures. It was only on studying the exterior of a cathedral in Pontevedra that I came to think about how knowledge may be transferred in a society where most people can’t read.
One of the factors in my realisation must be that while I’m very strong on words, my visual capabilities are extremely weak — I’m the person who consistently turns on the wrong element on the stove top because I have to match the position of a dot with the element it refers to. Give me words and I’m on top of things. Give me images and I’m a lost cause.
11 September 2015: Christian iconography is woven into the fabric of Spanish life. Street names and place names call on numerous saints. There are churches, cathedrals, shrines, crosses, sculptures and decorations of all kinds everywhere you look, especially in villages and the older parts of towns.
I relive last year’s fantastic holiday by bringing posts over from the trip blog. This doesn’t aim to be identical to the trip blog, but an improvement, with text edits and more / better photos. Find all these posts under the tag: Spain2015.
Today we are in Pontevedra, a lovely town only 15 minutes by train from last night’s stop in Cesantes near Redondela. The old town here is one big pedestrian area, and there are many churches and crosses in the tangled streets.
As I walked I came across the old town wall, ruined now, but still many metres thick. Next to it was the Renaissance Santa Maria Basilica and I stopped for a moment to look at it and take a photo.
The front was heavily decorated with small statues. There was much to look at and I’m not so much an appreciator of such detail. But I was thinking about how long it would take to really look at all the detail, on this and other churches and suddenly realised that such things may not be the simple decoration I have always taken them for. It is only quite recently that the general population has been able to read. Perhaps all these ornate features in churches were originally designed to tell stories, to teach the congregation, to reinforce the messages being delivered by the priests.
Our hotel is on the edge of the old town. It takes about one minute to walk to the Baroque Pilgrim Church. This building’s floorplan is apparently in the shape of the clamshell we see all along the Camiño de Santiago. I was about to go in and look when they closed the church for evening mass.
I took a few photos of the exterior though, noticing the figures high up with their pilgrim staves. The two towers had statuary at the top that looked like the traditional pawn chesspieces, and on the next level down that strongly resembled the castles from chess. I found that quite intriguing and took some close up shots.