Postcard from Lecce, Italy: Frolicking putti, Solomonic columns and saintly relics

she-wolf on facade of chiesa di sant'irene in lecce

She-Wolf and Oak Tree, Symbols of Lecce, on the Façade of the Church of Saint Irene

Baroque churches of Lecce are filled with putti frolicking amidst birds and pomegranates, twisting Solomonic columns covered with intricate lacelike carvings, images of saints and some of their bones.

 

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Size foremost in the minds of Cathedral founders

In the year 1482, Pierre Dancart began carving the High Altar for the Cathedral of Seville, el Catedral de Santa María de la Sede. The enormous project probably consumed most of his life, as he did not finish until 44 years later. The sheer size of the altar overwhelms the vignettes from the Bible and lives of saints contained within it, such as the rather gory spearing of children above.

But size was what mattered most to those who determined to build the grand Cathedral in 1401.

Prior to that time, the site was occupied by a major mosque with a minaret designed by architect Ahamed ben Basso for Almodhad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1135-1185). When King Ferdinand III of Castile (1199-1252) conquered Sevilla in 1248, both the city and the mosque were Christianized. Chapels were inserted to convert the interior into a more Catholic appearing space.

Seville became a center of wealth, and the initial redo of the mosque was not as grandiose as the city’s leaders vision for the city. They wanted an awe-inspiring Cathedral, so work commenced.

The resulting Cathedral was built astride the mosque and inside some of the walls of its compound. The imposing edifice covers close to six acres, with the center transept soaring to a height equal to a 12-story building – by most measurements, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The minaret was converted into a bell tower, the Giralda, and rises more than 30 stories in height.

Perhaps some of the plans were more grandiose than practical. The center dome collapsed in 1511, only five years after its completion. Its replacement, however, lasted until an earthquake in 1888. The newest one was completed in 1903.

The Cathedral contains the tombs of several kings as well as that of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). The riches within are suitably impressive, and art includes works by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) and Francisco de Goya (1746-1828).

One can be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Cathedral, or zoom in on the details, such as tiny shards of saints held in reliquaries or predatory, the Moorish lock on a door or wolves topping pilasters at one of the entrances.

Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Palm Sunday floats sway through the streets

His reputation preceded him. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem astride a donkey, his miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead was fresh in the minds of many. They swarmed into the streets to greet Hosanna, paving his way with palms and even their cloaks.

Jesus’ progress probably was faster then than when he was waiting. Waiting. Waiting outside the door of the Cathedral in Cadiz for yet one more procession to commence.

A lot of waiting is involved for all participating in the processions commemorating Domingo de Ramos, or Palm Sunday. The dirges are slow-paced. And the costaleros porting the heavy floats on the back of their necks need breaks, as their duty lasts for hours and hours.

Upon re-levitatating the pasos following the brief “restful” squats, the team of about 40 porters are greeted with applause by the faithful lining the streets. Hoisting these ornate beauties is a major feat, as some weigh in at more than 4,000 pounds. It was not surprising to witness a mother peeking under a skirt of a float at rest to check on the health of her son.

The capirotes, tall caps funneling messages to the heavens, worn by the nazarenos appear a bit uncomfortable for the participants struggling to keep the holes aligned with their eyes. Some of the penitents bare their feet to help them identify with the suffering Jesus endured during the week following his initial triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The videos are not action-packed but will give you a feel for the swaying motion of the men carrying the pasos and the accompanying music. A large percentage of the population in Cadiz must grow up playing horns.

The processions from various churches to and from the Cathedral last most of the day. Drums still echoed down the street hours after sundown.