At the entrance to the community of Fuentesnuevas I encountered a traditional Galician cruceiro. It rose from a base that incorporated a water fountain (a welcome feature indeed!), grew to a slender shaft and was topped with a crucifix bearing figures. On one side hung the crucified Christ; on the other, where I expected a Virgin Mary to reside, stood the figure of St James.
His head was lifted to the sky. In his hand he held a staff with drinking gourd attached. He was a pilgrim, like me, on the Camino de Santiago or St. James Trail.
As previously pointed out (see here) the widespread appearance of the cruceiro in Europe falls between the 16th and 18th centuries. The responsible parties memorialized loved ones and undoubtedly received indulgences from the church for their efforts. But beyond these things, one must also recall that the age of the cruceiro is also the age of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
The shock of the Protestant movement prompted reformers (like the Jesuits) to promote art as a way to reclaim public trust and to teach Catholic theology. Guidelines for these civic presentations of art grew from the final session of the Council of Trent (read the second decree of the 25th session here).* There, the purpose of religious art is defined as that which excites the adoration of God and the cultivation of piety.
Fuentesnuevas is located on the outskirts of Ponferrada, Spain.
*Just so you know, the practice of dueling was also condemned in the 25th session, so please put away your pistolas.
The promotion of public art transcends medieval Christianity. Travel is a great way to experience its use in other cultures. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a Bible Land Study-Tour (see list of future trips here) shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.