Sacred statues without hair and clothes

2017-08-05 14.28.56I was in Lisbon in August of this year and made an interesting discovery…

This year, I was walking up a steep hill in Lisbon to visit the medieval cathedral. This austere fortress-like edifice was built after the city was taken from its Muslim rulers by the Templars and the Portuguese army – assisted by many foreign crusaders – in the year 1147.

What the Christians found when they entered the city was a huge mosque at its centre. This was torn down and the cathedral erected in its place.

It’s not the most attractive medieval building in Europe and with its thick walls and arrow slit windows, you get the impression that the citizenry were expecting their former rulers to try and return and recapture the place.

It’s hard to imagine that there was ever a Muslim city here, at the westernmost end of a global medieval caliphate stretching from India to the Algarve in southern Portugal. Algarve, by the way, is from the Arabic “Al-Gharb” meaning the west. The city had been in Muslim hands for over four hundred years. It’s been the capital of Catholic Portugal for the last eight hundred years. So the Islamic heritage has been largely erased.

2017-08-05 14.28.27-1Half way up the hill, I found an antique shop selling statues from the 17th to 19th centuries that had once adorned churches in Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal. Curiously, many of items had lost their clothes and hair at some point. So 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.


Things you never knew about the Knights Templar

English: Knights Templar Česky: Dva templáři
Knights Templar 

Here are a few random facts about the Knights Templar – things you may never have known.  These are from the Templar Rule which every knight had to follow to the letter.

Hair – Templars were required to keep their hair short.  No long flowing locks for them.  During the reign of William II (Rufus) of England and Normandy, his male courtiers were accused of being sodomites on account of the length of their hair (amongst other things!).  So our macho Templars had to keep it nice and short.  The Draper, an official of the Templar Order, would tick off a knight who wasn’t keeping his hair neat.  Templars could be bearded but not a big fulsome beard.  Something trimmed.

Hunting – other knights might go off in to the forest to hunt deer or indulge in a bit of falconry, but not the Knights Templar.  It was strictly off limits.  Their horse was strictly a machine for war and not chasing after wild animals.

Fancy armour – forbidden!  Medieval knights did like a bit of showy glitz with plumes and colourful crests and mantles.  Templars were told that no decoration of this kind was allowed.  Bridles, sword handles, helmets, etc – all plain.

Meals – like other monastic orders, Templar knights had to eat in total silence.  If they wanted to ask for something to be passed along to them, they had to use sign language.  Other orders like the Benedictines developed hand signs for use at meals and it seems Templar knights employed them as well.

Judges in courts – this may seem odd but there is evidence that Templars were able to sit as judges in trials for non-capital crimes, that is where the criminal was not likely to be executed.  This might have narrowed their area of judicial activity down quite a bit as a lot more crimes were punishable by death in the Middle Ages than in modern times.