Monday, July 30, 2012

Walking with awareness

There is much more to see on the Camino than paths, rocks, wheat fields, vineyards, monuments, churches, villages and towns.
While you are walking, look out for a few other interesting things! 

Wonderful Weather Vanes/Weathervanes

Even though you have to look down at the path to see where you put your feet, when walking through a village look up every now and then and you will see dozens of charming weather vanes on top of churches and private homes.

A 9th Century, a pope decreed that all churches display a cockerel as a reminder to parishioners of the Last Supper when Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times before the cock crowed in the morning. (Luke 22:34). These eventually evolved into weathercocks and weather vanes. 

The earliest recorded weather vane, erected in the 1st Century BC, depicted the Greek god Triton on the Tower of the Winds in Athens.
In the Middle Ages flags flying from castle towers served two purposes.  They identified the insignia of the resident noblemen and showed archers the direction of the winds.  Metal “vanes” - derived from the Saxon word “fane” meaning, “flag” - gradually replaced these fabric banners.
The Bayeux tapestry, dating to the 11th Century, depicts a weathercock being attached to spire of Westminster Abbey.

In medieval France a weather vane was a status symbol and although knights were allowed to place heraldic vanes on their castles, commoners had to wait until 1659 before they were granted the right to erect weather vanes.

The oldest known functioning weather vane in England is thought to be a recently re-gilded, early 14th Century weathercock at Ottery St Mary’s in Devon.  There are repairs to two gunshot holes which were allegedly made in 1643 by some of Fairfax’s troops when they were billeted in the town.

Stunning sundials
When looking at a church, cathedral or other monument be aware of the possibility that it might have an ancient sundial, high up, usually on the South wall.
From the early 13th Century, before the invention of the clock and the wrist watch, churches in Europe were built with sundials on their south facing walls so that people knew when it was time to attend mass by looking at the sundial on the church wall.
Evidence exists of ancient sundials in the Middle East, Greece and China from about 1500 BC.  In 164 BC the Romans began to divide daylight into hours.   A 1st Century Roman architectural engineer Marcus Vitruvius described thirteen sundials in his books, De Architectura.
In Chaucer’s 14th Century Canterbury tales, the ‘Gentil Monk’ tells the time on his hand held, cylindrical Shepherds dial. Most sundials on churches are Vertical dials

Mason Signs

In 2002 I noticed a couple of fascinating signs and symbols carved into blocks of stone on the walls of the Augustinian abbey in Roncesvalles.  One appeared to be a geometric symbol with a Star of David superimposed on six joined circles. The other carving, just below this symbol, looked like a bird or a shoe.  
Chatting to the curator of the museum I learned that stones from the original 12th century hospice had been recycled to construct the ‘new’ abbey and that these were probably reused stones.  She suggested that the shoe engraving could be that of the original stone cutter or mason as the shoe mark was often chosen by workers who could not write.  She thought that the large symbol could be that of a Master Mason.
As Romanesque architecture developed into Gothic, the Way of St James facilitated the movement of builders and architects between France and northern Spain.  Masons from all over Europe worked on the churches, cathedrals and monasteries constructed on the pilgrimage roads to Santiago de Compostela.  One theory on the enigmatic symbol is that it represents a hexagram or Hexad, sometimes known as a Thunder Stone.  As James the Greater was known as the Son of Thunder this theory suggests that the symbol could represent San Tiago.  Another theory links it to the legend of Charlemagne and Roland.

Some marks found on stones are positional and indicated where a particular stone should be placed within the structure. Carpenters and other tradesmen also had proprietary marks but few of these have survived as well as the mason marks. Some marks are easily recognizable and appear on different structures in different locations. 

Masonic marks are the same all over Europe and one can find the same signs in most medieval buildings. Although it is possible that masons in different countries chose the same signs (such as a fish or a shoe) it is quite feasible, when seeing the same sign on different buildings in close proximity, that the same mason worked on these structures during his lifetime. Theoretically, one could follow a medieval mason by the signs he left on the structures where he worked. 

So, the next time you walk a Camino, look a little more closely at the walls of the churches, cathedrals and monuments.  Those strange drawings, marks or initials you see carved into the stones might not be common graffiti but centuries old mason signs. 
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