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Time & Space Travels
Fuentidueña (Segovia)
Iglesia de San Miguel


Figurative enthusiasm!

There is no other term to describe the decorations of the church of San Miguel in Fuentidueña, a town of about 150 inhabitants near Segovia.

The medieval stonemasons have gradually refined the art of telling stories by decorating capitals and modillions.
Within the churches, in Spain as in all of Europe, the clergy imposed the representation of stories related to the Bible, to the lives of the saints or illustrations with complicated symbolic meanings.
Outside, on the other hand, great expressive freedom was granted: stonemasons could indulge themselves with more direct and even audacious figures.

It is normal - in the churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries - to see represented, sometimes even inside the churches, the itifallic man (a cultured term for a little man with an erected penis - often of exaggerated size ...) or the woman ' exhibitionist 'with the vulva in the wind.

Christianity had overlapped almost everywhere in religions that had fertility cults as one of their strengths. The new religion - to be competitive - had to somehow include the most striking and popular components of the old.
It was a process that involved the whole of Europe.
Just to exemplify, in Italy there is the church of San Secondo in Cortazzone and Saint Vigor in Cheux in France.

But such an explicit representation of a joyous embrace we saw it only under the roof of San Miguel!

It is probable that many churches of the era throughout Europe enjoyed similar decorations.
We must not forget that religious buildings are 'living things' and therefore subject, as well as to the ravages of time, to restyling based on the change of morals and tastes and therefore a great deal of material has been 'erased' (as in the case of Trani).

The area between Segovia and Sepulveda enjoyed considerable wealth between the tenth and twelfth centuries due to the fact that it was an area of exchange between the Arab world and the Christian world, and then fell into a substantial abandonment to the present day: the Romanesque churches in the area have therefore been built but - fortunately for us - they have not been subjected to the 'normal' update (and cancellation of what was no longer politically correct) and constitute for us an unmissable 'snapshot' of those years.

In the Middle Ages, in addition to meeting the needs of the cult, churches were also places of assembly, political decision-making, administration of justice, meeting, celebration and play.
In the cathedral of Geneva - for example - the clerics, after having finished their religious services and removed their talari clothes, dedicated themselves to a game similar to volleyball inside the cathedral ...

It was therefore natural to recall on the modillions and capitals the songs of the troubadours, the arguments of errant clerics, the stories of the bestiaries, the legends of an oral culture certainly rich and widely shared.
Writing was an art reserved for very few people, while stone decoration was a genuine instrument of mass communication, and as such it was carefully employed. (Perhaps it was also painting but, by its nature, unfortunately less suitable to overcome eight centuries ...)

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there were real stonemason companies that traveled around Europe by offering their work for the decoration of cathedrals, but they did not even disdain small and large churches.

The discovery of the power to 'make the stone speak' is one of the fundamental inventions of the Romanesque.

In the area on the border between the Christian world and the Arab world, what was then the area of Segovia, there was probably one more element: the need to compete with the architectural beauty of the Arab world.
The Arabs - for religious reasons - limited the decoration of geometric and vegetal elements.
A church full of 'talking stones' could involve the visitor with a message like: 'See how your stories are written in the stones? And how many stories you can recognize! You belong to this team and not to the Arab team!'

In addition to the 'erotic canecillo' on modillions you can see a 'escape in Egypt' four sirens two-tailed, real animals more or less recognizable (two are intent to ensure the continuation of the species), a gallery of characters, fantastic animals from symbolic meaning (beautiful the centaur feminine who offers the breast to a figure, unfortunately ruined): a universe of figures largely common to the churches of Spain and Europe but made by experienced craftsmen and of great expressive vivacity.

In Fuentidueña, in addition to the church of San Miguel, you can visit the Franciscan Convent of San Juan de la Penitencia (dating back to the 6th century), the Hospital of San Lázaro (11th century, the lepers were treated), a Roman bridge over the Duraton, the medieval walls and the 'twin' church of San Martin.

The apse of the church of San Martin 'emigrated' in 1957 in the United States to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the so-called "the Cloister" where concerts are often performed.

In the 1920s the cloister, the refectory and the chapter hall of the Cistercian monastery of Santa María la Real de Sacramenia were already expatriated in the United States and were used as a banqueting hall in Miami.

It should be noted that modern Spain has decidedly reversed this cultural policy.

We have admired a remarkable effort by the central and regional Spanish government to consolidate, make usable and enhance the immense and splendid Romanesque heritage of the province of Segovia. The interventions concern not only the 'mirabilia' of the city centers, but also the small towns and the innumerable rural 'ermitas'.

The interventions are carried out with accuracy and historical respect and we are sure that over time will reward the foresight of the governments that have invested considerable resources in this operation, to the benefit of Spain and of all of Europe.