The Cathedral of Salamanca's Astronaut

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The ancient Spanish city of Salamanca, situated on the banks of the River Tormes, is one of the oldest university towns in Europe with a rich and elegant collection of Renaissance, Roman, Gothic and Baroque monuments. Among them are two majestic cathedrals built between the 12th and 18th centuries. The New Cathedral, constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries, features late Gothic style with a Baroque styled cupola. The cathedral’s vaulted stone ceilings contain graceful paintings and its sandstone walls are intricately carved. But one element is peculiarly out of place and out of time.

Over the cathedral’s northern entrance, perched high among the ornate carvings, is the unmistakable figure of a tiny modern astronaut floating in space. He sits on a stalk complete with boots, helmet, and breathing apparatus on his back with tubes attached to the front of his suit.

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Photo credit

Photographs of this astronaut figure has been circulating on the Internet via email, online forums and blogs for years now, generating a considerable amount of debate. Some skeptical commenters believe that the photograph is a fake and the astronaut was added using image manipulation software, while other observers suggest outlandish theories of ancient alien visits and time travel.

The figure of the astronaut exist for real, but it wasn’t carved in the 16th century but added much later during a restoration work that was done to the cathedral in 1992. The figure was purportedly added by stonemason Miguel Romero under the supervision of Jeronimo Garcia, the person responsible for the restoration, who reportedly chose an astronaut as a fitting symbol of the twentieth century. The use of this motif was in the tradition of cathedral builders and restorers who included contemporary motifs among older ones as a way of signing their works. Apparently, the astronaut isn’t the only contemporary symbol added to the cathedral's facade. He is also accompanied by an ice-cream eating gargoyle grotesque, a lynx, a bull and a crayfish among others.

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The New Cathedral in Salamanca. Photo credit

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The astronaut with another modern figure of a bull on the right. Photo credit

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The astronaut figure was vandalised in 2010. Photo credit

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Photo credit

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The ice-cream eating grotesque. Photo credit

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8 comments:

  1. By definition, a gargoyle is a decorative waterspout; it derives from the French gargouille (throat), from which we get gargle in English. If there's no spout, it is known as a grotesque.

    That's enough pedantry for today!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the lesson.

      Delete
    2. So that strange thing in my pants must be a gargoyle.

      Delete
  2. Thanks!
    I was just getting ready to look that up when I saw your comment.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey...I don't see that the gargoyle is eating an ice-cream...probably it is holding their own tail broken by the years...

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is quite common. In the cathedral of Palencia you can even see a couple of xenomorphs from "Alien" movies, in the arch over a gate.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just FYI. Before people call this figure an astronaut (which it certainly looks like, no arguing that), you should be made aware that underwater breathing apparatuses were being toyed with. Leonardo DaVinci also played with these suits. They look exactly as depicted.
    This is further confirmed with the fronds the figure is in. This is long seaweed.

    ReplyDelete

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