Catholic churches all over Europe are graced with sacred statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the many, many saints. But when these churches are closed or renovated, we see these statues in a whole new light. Shorn of their clothes, jewels and halos – the underlying puppet-like frame is exposed.
A discovery in Lisbon…
This year, I was walking up a steep hill in Lisbon to visit the medieval cathedral.
The cathedral is a very austere, fortress-like construction and that’s no accident. It was built in the years after a crusader army had seized control of the city from its Muslim rulers. Lisbon had been part of the Islamic caliphate for four hundred years and at its heart was the great mosque. This was torn down when the city was taken by crusaders in 1147 and the cathedral built in its place.
Around the mosque was a warren of streets that made up the “medina” of the Muslim city. You still get the impression of an Arab souk in this part of Lisbon. But nowadays, the shops are selling antiques – particularly baroque religious statues from the 17th and 18th centuries. Eerily, many of them do not have their clothes or hair giving them the impression of being puppets or mannequins.
Sacred statues looking like marionettes
Pictured here is Jesus Christ with the bloodied wounds from his crown of thorns but the crown, his hair and robes have gone. What you’re left with is the puppet-like body that was always underneath to be manipulated as the church saw fit. His arms could be extended, his legs crossed, his head bowed, whatever was required.
This would have been little different to statues of the medieval period and today, as in those times, these are often carried in processions around the streets on special feast days.
Quite a morbid shop I must say, but completely fascinating.