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.


Martin Moniz – Portuguese crusader hero – an interview with him…

Martim Moniz was a Portuguese crusader who fought with the first king of PortugalDom Afonso Henriques – when he conquered what was then the Islamic city of Al-Usbuna which would subsequently become the Christian capital of Portugal…Lisbon. Many Templars assisted in this battle with Bernard of Clairvaux hoping that the new kingdom of Portugal would be a dagger in to the western flank of the Islamic realms.

Moniz did not survive the battle as, according to legend, he rammed his not inconsiderable frame in to an open gateway to prevent the Moors closing it on the invading crusaders. His body was crushed between the gates but his heroism allowed the Portuguese to enter and win.

This story has been challenged but I’ve incorporated it in to my fictional account of that siege which features in my book Quest for the True Cross

The Portuguese comedian Herman Jose lampooned this story in his show, broadcast in the 1980s, where he played Moniz being interviewed…and as he comes on, the scenery crushes him. If you speak Portuguese – this may be treat, depending on your sense of humour.