Taken by: Sofia Guerra, at Ancient Spanish Monastery (c. 12th century AD) in North Miami Beach, FL (2019)
Odesia por el Laberinto:
Journey of the soul to the New World
Corelyn F. Senn (2002)
“Labyrinths are allegories for journeys representing ventures across time and space, from This World to the Otherworld and back”
The journey of the soul beings already tainted by sin. According to Catholic doctrine sin entered the earthly world through the actions of one human, and we bare the responsibility for the disobedience of Adam’s second wife as the following generations (Roman 7:9-11).
The second half of the 15th century brought political changes to Spain that would eventually domino into radical historical, political, and religious changes that we see in effect to this day. The marriage between Castilian heiress and Aragon heir, Isabella and Ferdinand II, in 1469 unified the two predominately powerful Catholic kingdoms occupying that then occupied the geographic region of modern Spain. Note: this was not a marriage of love, it was essentially a power move.
The Kingdom of Spain now held one of the largest military fronts of in the developing Western world. The unification of the two largest regional powers during an era wrought with violence and conversion flavored the next two centuries for Europe, and the Americas. The spirit of crusader conquest had received its ‘second wind’ later in the previous century. The Holy Office of the Inquisition was founded in 1478.
For centuries prior to the official founding of the inquisition, Spain had been a multi-religious land. Tensions over land between Moores, Jews, and Catholics accumulated between the 8th and 15th century. The Moores were pushed out with the fall of Granada in 1492. While there were some converts among the marginalized religious populations, the Catholics Monarchs lacked tolerance for this behavior deeming converts illegitimate Catholics due to their lack of ‘blood-purity.’
Conversion and conquest would become the dominate message emanating from the Kingdom of Spain entering the 16th century. Multiplicity within Spanish Catholicism mimicked the past religious diversity of the Iberian peninsula. The catholic message of the country was far from unified. However, the newly dominating Catholic Monarch were essentially a medieval superpower. With an enormous military front and the backing of the Roman Catholic Church, Isabella and Ferdinand II moved forward with the Inquisition.
The architectural style of Medieval Spain encompassed predominate European traditions, such as the Italian Renaissance wall frescos and luminescent Gothic architecture, yet it was distinctly flavored by its Moorish occupants.
From the West, Spain uses the traditional cross-shaped floor plan. This was, and still is the cannon for construction of Cathedrals across Europe and the world after its medieval conception. Vaulted ceilings, sculptural door jams, and catholic narratives typically depict biblical stories of Christ through his passions, and into the last judgment. The aim was to essentially ‘move’ individuals spiritually through intimidation tactics.
One may notice that most of the Catholic buildings erected in Spain, and ultimately New Spain, are predominately white. This comes out of the Gothic tradition of luminescence. The white stone and light color reflect purity in spirituality, and promote penance without distractions of decoration.
From the East-Moorish and beyond- the Spanish heavily borrow a variety of arch shapes and designs, as well as different forms of ornamentation. Ogee, and lancet arches had long been appropriated by the Spanish to help distinguish themselves from other European styles. The Moorish and Western European elements are so well integrated that it becomes an architectural flavor that is distinct to the Iberian Peninsula.
Cathedrals in the New World
The first Cathedrals in the New World were put up as symbols of power from the missions sent through the Spanish Inquisition. They became institutions of conversion, education, and exploitation. The first monks of the Franciscan order reached New Spain (The Americas) early in the 16th Century and quickly began headway on building Cathedrals and Monasteries to house the new Catholic presence in the land.
Along with their patrons, the institutions built were distinctly Spanish in origin. Regardless of order, whether it be Franciscan, Dominican or Jesuit the structures still emanated the style seen across Spain’s holy buildings. Across the Atlantic ocean the spirit of Spain had made it, and embedded itself in the white walls, vaulted ceilings, and voussoirs that held up the enormous power of the Catholic church in the new world.
El Laberinto: Origins
El Laberinto, or the labyrinth, holds pagan origins, and can be traced back to the Island of Crete where the Minoan people lived an arguably decadent life free of strife. The original Labyrinth is associated with the palace of Knossos and the myth goes as follows:
The craftsman Daedalus created a Labyrinth to hold the Minotaur captive. To prevent the beast from attempting to escape and wreak havoc, the Minoan people performed a sacrifice each year. Children would be sent into the Labyrinth and, as one can assume, never return.
An Athenian hero traveled to the Island of Crete and rid the Utopian town of their filicidal habits in exchange for a pardon of Athenian debts to be paid to the King. Entering the the labyrinth under the guidance of the King Mino’s daughter Ariadne, Theseus slays the beast.
So what does this mean for the origins and ultimate symbolism of the labyrinth?
It becomes a symbol of an elusive and darkly-rooted theme of playfulness and exploration. In the Cretan myth, the labyrinth acts as a tool to confuse and imprison the half-human-half-animal Minotaur. Children also cannot escape on their own. Only the already renowned ancient hero is triumphant, and even he requires help.
The Labyrinth also represents the heroes journey, theme with a long tradition with western culture. It lives in ancient mythologies and modern religions, as well as most stories of struggle in popular culture today. The meandering maze of Crete has not been found. Its story pervades, and since its conception Labyrinths have become features to religious structures ranging in doctrine.
Pilgrimage of the Spirit
The first Cathedrals were validated by the power of the relic they held. Holy relics are often pieces of, or things belonging to the Saints. As pilgrims made their journey to bask in the holiness of these relics they would often meditate on why they were starting this voyage in the first place. Since Cathedrals were often city centers, medieval pilgrims would travel from far and wide for their individual spiritual journey.
Similarly to the pilgrims of medieval Europe, the spirit of exploration and spirituality of Spain made a ‘pilgrimage’ backed by militant and religious power to the New World. This sentiment came to me when reflecting upon the unknown voyage monks took, as well as the unknown exploitation the indigenous people would face upon encountering the newcomers to their land. The rapid change occurring over the megacontinent of the Americas manifested itself in violence and oppression. But in the name of God? The indigenous people had their own religious practices that the Spanish essentially rid upon their arrival by appropriating and changing indigenous beliefs to fit that of Catholic doctrine.
Ancient symbols such as the Labyrinth encouraged the meditative process. It inspired the piety of pilgrims as it provided them not only the time, but a visual symbol to associate their spiritual journey with. Today its meditative qualities are the same, and it is coveted in religions across the globe.
When I began doing research for this project, I wanted to find the oldest Catholic structure in Florida. I did, and its a 12th Century Spanish Monastery that had been completed IN Spain in 1133. It was reconstructed in Miami in 1950’s. The emblem of medieval Spanish Catholicism, rooted in piety and mediation evokes the mystery, excitement, and drive to find an answer for questions of an individual soul amidst a primordial spirit.
Antonis Kotsonas. “A Cultural History of the Cretan Labyrinth: Monument and Memory from Prehistory to the Present.” American Journal of Archaeology 122, no. 3 (2018): 367. doi:10.3764/aja.122.3.0367.
Fiore, Jan. “A Sanctuary of Peace and Tranquility Miami’s Ancient Spanish Monastery.” Antique Shoppe Newspaper, June 2016. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edo&AN=116635558&site=eds-live.
Senn, Corelyn F. “Journeying as Religious Education: The Shaman, the Hero, the Pilgrim, and the Labyrinth Walker.” Religious Education 97, no. 2 (January 1, 2002): 124–40. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ770581&site=eds-live.
Verstique, Bernardino. FOUR. Religion in Spain on the Eve of the Conquest. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.MUSE9780292799257.10&site=eds-live.