Sofia Guerra: España as Text 2019

Sofia Guerra is a Senior in the FIU Honors College pursuing a BA in Art History, with a minor in World Religions. She will have completed the Honors Spain program by the end of June 2019. She specializes in the painting and architecture of the Western Classical period. Here are her reflections from her experiences through her As Texts.


Peace Through Strength by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Madrid, Spain

Photograph by Isabella Maria Garcia (instagram: @isamxrie CC 4.0)

I landed in Madrid a few days before the program commenced, confident with my packed Osprey and extremely limited, broken Spanish in my arsenal. A desire to get away, learn about the ancient history of España and not-so-ancient mishmash of my own identity propelled me to leave all I’ve known for the last 21 years of my life. Madrid is a city foreign to me, one I’ve only experienced through class lectures, family stories and sparing Google searches. The steadily sustained microcosm of Miami pushed me to a point where I felt exhausted of the city and not what is going to propel the next phase of my life after graduation-so I ran.

Museo del Prado, arguably the crown jewel among Madrid’s art collections houses masterpieces from the Classical age through the dawn of Modern art. A carousel of Greek-inspired Roman sculptures welcome you to the museum, one of which is a marble representation of Antinous. A young Grecian of Bithynian decent, a poor boy turned God by the will of Hadrian greets you. 

Hadrian ruled during the 2nd century AD during and was part of a legacy of Emperors that maintained peace and growth for the empire. He grew up native to the lands that would become Spain, and once he gained power he spent most of his reign traveling, checking on his administrations, living among his soldiers and living in common spaces; a habit that would ultimately introduce him to his forever love, Antinous. 

The two continue Hadrians travels, the world is their oyster until one day on the Nile Hadrian had a close encounter with death. Hadrian began to drown, Antinous dives in to save him, and Hadrian’s soldiers follow. While Hadrian’s soldiers save their emperor Antinous is swept away by the river and drowns. 

Hadrian deifies Antinous, an honor reserved for Emperors after death. He names cities after his lost love to keep his memory alive. Hadrian defies tradition set out before him by elevating his poor foreign lover into a God to be covered, l living life far form his capital and living as a peer to his constituents. All these actions reveal and authenticity to his humanism. 

Madrid is nothing as I anticipated. The hustle and bustle of the city swept away my shallow confidence and replaced it with a wash of anxiety, confusion, and disorientation. What am I doing here and why would I put myself in this position, all by my own choosing? 

Rome was not built in a day. Greatness and growth take time, and both occur in the face of adversity. While the Madrid presented itself as a metropolitan rip-current, the desire one feels to broaden ones perspective should not be stifled.

Hadrian accomplished all he had through his exploration and understanding of himself and his people. An expansive empire rich with culture and peace are a result of this awareness, and sweet the stage for the development of modern Western history thousands of years later. While Antinous met a tragic end his divine status and plethora of namesake cities keep his legend of love and truth alive. The Roman Spaniard and his Grecian lover live on in Museo del Prado and the city of Madrid. Madrid, the capital of the country where my journey for inner peace will continue through the strength I gain, and will continue to gain in Hadrian’s native land.


God almighty, all Mercy, in Toledo by Sofía Guerra of FIU in Toledo, España

Photograph by Sofia Guerra (CC 4.0)

Fungia– (n). fOOn-ja. An intense frown where both corners of the mouth almost reach the chin. Often accompanied by crossed arms, the evil eye, and a tantrum.

The thought of a building bringing one to tears may sound strange in concept, but when standing inside Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo it becomes much easier to grasp. 

When I hear the term “going to church” my thoughts take a time machine back to my childhood. I think of being no more than nine years old, and seeing every Easter morning, Good Friday, Noche Buena, and speckled Sundays of fights with my father, crossed arms and the hardest fungia I can muster plastered on my face. 

Waking up before even the sky is fully awake, frilly dresses with matching ribbons, and tight french braids slicked to my scalp were not on my child-minded To-Do list. As soon as I got a say, or protested just enough, the silent visits with God in our neighborhood church stopped. 

More than a decade later, with a few years of college-level Religion and Art History classes under my belt, I gained a deep founded appreciation for the Italian and French masterpieces of Catholic paintings, altarpieces, and cathedrals. I also gained the opportunity to stand inside the massively elaborate Cathedral of Santa Maria de Toledo, built in a Gothic style. 

Building of this masterpiece in the heart of Toledo began in the 13th century and took nearly 300 years to complete. The architects and artists were outsourced from Italian, French, and even Flemish craftsmen to assemble a group skilled enough to build a structure so large, and visually powerful to reflect the importance of Toledo as the Catholic center of the Western world in its era of conception. In a town ruled by the Bishop it exudes spiritual dominance, precisely what the role of Catholicism was during the reign of Felipe II.

On a chilly Wednesday morning I stand inside el Catedral at the west end. Tears stream down my face, my arms are crossed to constrain my chills, fungia-less, and with a full heart. The beauty and radiance of the gold-gilded altarpiece depict the passions and life of Christ in full sculptural relief, topped with a crucified Christ whose pain is so tangible my heart drops. I begin to understand how religion was such an immense force so many centuries ago, and still today. 

In a time when literacy was so rare, these sites are more than enough to guide someone silently, not only through the Cathedral but to a place of utter spiritual transcendence. 


Juderia Wrought by the Holy Cross by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Sevilla, España

Photograph by Sofia Guerra (CC 4.0)

Barrio Santa Cruz, covered in bougainvillea vines, intricate wrought iron work, boutique shops and tapas bars. The humble abodes that line the streets are quaint and close knit due to the kissing streets that take you through el barrio.  The street get their name because they’re so close knit that if you walk side by side, you’d be kissing your company. 

“Juderia” spelled out on painted tiles in the Barrio Santa Cruz naming the yellow wall that separated the jewish community from the rest of Sevilla 600 years ago. Houses packed on top of each other, trying to make the most of every square inch, the street so narrow that you must walk single file if walking with company. The walkways open up to small plazas, the site of the Acts of Faith, torture tactics and tests of faith given before execution of jews, instilled by the Fernando and Isabela in 1481. The humble abodes are locked by jewish families, holding tight to their keys hoping one day they can return home from the violent persecution sparked by monk Ferdinand Martínez. 

The whitewash city of Sevilla is punctuated with strokes of yellow, and barred with wrought iron. It’s welcoming, homey, and offers a place to land, but it’s blood runs deeper than the vines on historically segregating walls, and is tangled with secrets of human atrocities that cannot be painted over with whitewash and yellow paint.


North African Paradise by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Granada, España.

Photograph by Sofia Guerra (CC 4.0)

A fort. 

A palace. 


La Alhambra sits atop a hill, overlooking a whitewashed town in the mountainous valley it reigned over for nearly 800 years. However when walking into the ancient city one actually walks into paradise. 

Throughout Spain there are remnants of the Moorish occupation through the mudejàr style of tiling and calligraphy-a seemingly Islamic decorative style that is vacant of its true spiritual purposes. It developed by the will of Catholic monarchs who coveted the beauty, spirituality, and harmony accomplished by true Islamic craftsmen. However, these craftsman acted to please their patrons, violent enemies. Today La Alhambra is among the only places in Spain where you can still see the natural harmonious style of Islamic architecture and design used for its true intentions, communication with God.  

Shapes that a child becomes familiar with before they can even speak act as the building blocks to the entire palace and paradise of La Alhambra. One on top of the other, the square foundation of the building is spiraled to create circular tents, the original dwellings of the Moores who made their home in Spain after their landing in 711 AD.

Shapes visible in the plants that build a natural agricultural paradise construct the architectural beauty that stands as a true testament to the Muslim power that held the land longer than the Catholics did after their violent conquest of 1492. Catholics monarchs appropriated the natural, symmetrical, and harmonious style of tile decoration present in Islamic art to communicate to the heavens, just as they did with each consecutive conquest of Islamic land on the Iberian peninsula. Luckily when they conquered Alhambra they did not destroy it-they stole it. The messages inscribed in the red stones monument to divinity in nature can not be silenced, it is alive in the walls and domes of La Alhambra. 


Moonlit Coasts: Miami to Barcelona by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Barcelona, España. Region of Catalonia

Photograph by Juan “Juanky” Ortega

The dewy beach in the moonlight feels undeniably like the Miami shore lines past sunset. The Palmetto Expressway isn’t a 3-lane highway connecting Broward and Miami-Dade, it’s a pious man’s catholic masterpiece that has been under construction since 1882. The empanadas are incredible, the festivals are zesty and seductive, the city tempts you to become Catalonian. It brings out a need for rebellion and independence, self-searching and a strong spirit.

Annually on the 23rd night of June, the festival of San Joan light up the dark streets of Catalonia. As the sun starts to set a bonfire is ignited in a town square. The blaze is fueled by the ragdoll version of King Felipe IV, and the crowd erupts. Barcelona belongs to Catalonia, not Spain. A statement that sets the tone for the rest of the night- A flame-fueled night that honors an ancient tradition in worship of the summer solstice. A night of whimsy that caps of the year’s longest day. Reverence to San Joan is a mask. This 23rd night of June has been celebrated before Catholicism dominated the region, as a pagan tradition honoring the giving sun and all it has to offer.

As the night progressed, I found myself to be more and more separated from who I am, or who I thought I was and being surprised at how much I truly enjoyed it. To top it all off, a 3 AM subway scuffle created the perfect opportunity for petty theft as a stranger slipped my phone out of my pocket, truly forcing me to disconnect.  taking me away from any connection to home.

The Catalonian spirit transcends its history, folklore, and present-day politics. A region represented by a blood-soaked shield is not to be taken lightly. The passion, determination, and vivacity of the land lingers, infects its inhabitants and drives them to become the core of themselves-their freest selves. Just as one comes to the capital, Barcelona, riddled with the trials and tribulations of life and leaves cleansed by the fire of the little devils running through the town. Change, identity, and truth are undeniable. Strong as a bull, but free as the capital’s bat, no one can clip the wings of Catalonia.


Sea-Salted heart of Charles by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Sitges, España. Region of Catalonia.

Photograph by Sofia Guerra (CC 4.0)

How one man’s whim took  heart and soul of Catalan art away from its roots.

How one man’s carelessness used the Marciel treasure to quench his debts

How one man’s project lacked vision. 

How one man’s life brought us El Greco’s to the US.

From 4Gats in a narrow side street down Portal de l’Angel, to a waterfront home in Sitges, Charles Deering was living life like a turn of the century Modernisme artist. He passed time in cafes bumping elbows with Picasso and Casas before traveling throughout Europe with Ramon Casas.

Destination: Cau Ferrat, Santiago Rusiñol’s home and masterpiece. Artist and art collector Rusiñol left his own mark in the churning culture wars of the 1900s with his “House of Iron,” a Temple of Modernisme. 

Sitges blue and hand painted dishes cover the walls of Rusiñol’s Iron-clad heart. His collection holds medieval Italian treasures used as commonplace furniture, El Greco’s welcomed with a procession modeled after those for Corpus Christi, and masterpieces of his own hand. Rusiñol’s artistic eye dives deeper and is driven by his heart and soul. Piece by piece he created his own corner of the world along the Mediterranean coast, with a view of the sea that fades into his ultramarine walls and into his heart. 

Deering saw this artist’s life work come together on the coast of Sitges. He placed an offer on the Cau Ferrat, but Rusiñol refused to sell his heart’s collection. Deering took his money for Cau Ferrat and settled on being neighbor to Rusiñol’s ultramarine beauty. Rusiñol’s Iron masterpiece was dwarfed by the massive palace, Palau de Marciel- of the sea and sky.

Such a palace became a dwelling for what would be referenced as Marciel’s Treasure, a nearly encyclopedic collection of Spanish art and artifacts. An American man, rich with family money gained access and ownership to some of the most treasured Spanish artifacts, some artworks in themselves. After setting out on this mission to create such an extensive, culturally rich place, personal circumstances him to pack up his treasure and move it across the Atlantic.

Charles Deering’s heart did not lie in Sitges the say Rusiñol’s did. He saw everything he experienced in that quaint beach town with his eyes and wallet. He didn’t let the salty air, thick with Catalan penetrate his comfort zone and slow him down, and settle roots in Sitges. His vision did not end in Sitges because it never belonged to Sitges to begin with.

Off of 152nd street in Miami, the nature preserve and the Chinese bridge lead you to the Deering Estate: the ultimate fruition of his vision. The waterfront home is inspired by Cau Ferrat, overlooking Biscayne Bay. From the back porch all of Biscayne Bay spills into Charles Deering’s heart.

Sofia Guerra: Ida

Odesia por el Laberinto:
Journey of the soul to the New World

“Labyrinths are allegories for journeys representing ventures across time and space, from This World to the Otherworld and back”

Corelyn F. Senn (2002)

Labyrinth within picturesque garden at the Ancient Spanish Monastery. North Miami Beach, FL 2019. taken by
Sofia Guerra

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 what is drawn with modern boarders as “España” . 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.’

12th century facade, made in Spain and relocated to North Miami Beach, FL. Part of Ancient Spanish Monastery campus. taken by Sofia Guerra (2019).

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, including its instability. The Catholic message of the country was far from unified. However, the newly dominating Catholic Monarchs 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.

Architectural Styles

The architectural style of Medieval Spain encompassed predominate European traditions. Histories of great medieval Italian basilicas paved the ground work for a Spanish counterpart. Romanesque and Gothic flavored freestanding sculptures punctuate the grand spaces.  Simple bright light walls tied in 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 dress the Cathedrals. Biblical stories are brought to life as Christ’s passions are depicted through frescos covering the walls. The artists tasked with adorning the Cathedrals walls did not shy away from the brutality Christ faced in his pious trials. The aim was to essentially ‘move’ individuals spiritually through intimidation tactics and a running narrative. Gothic traditions of a bright white luminescence work to literally light up the place, but also evoke the symbology of the color. White evokes purity in spirituality; the simplicity of the hue promote penance without distraction from over-ornamentation.

Stained-glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and St. Bernard du Clairvoux, Spain 12th Century AD. North Miami Beach, FL. Part of Ancient Spanish Monastery campus. taken by Sofia Guerra (2019).

Architects: Enrique Egas the Elder (Netherlandish, active in Spain, ca. 1455-1534); Diego de Siloé (Spanish, ca. 1495-1563); Juan de Maeda (Spanish, ca. 1510-1576); Alonso Cano (Spanish, 1601-1667); Francisco Hurtado Izquierdo (Spanish, 1669-1725); José B. Begun 1521, main (west) façade 1667, sanctuary (Sagrario) 1704-ca. 1717, Image: 1969. Granada Cathedral, Catedral de Granada, Interior: view of portal to Royal Chapel from north. Architecture; Architectural Elements.

From the From the East-Moorish and beyond- the Spanish heavily borrow a variety of arch shapes and designs, as well as different forms of ornamentation from the same group they spend hundreds of years pushing out of the Iberian peninsula. Ogee, and lancet arches had long been appropriated by the Spanish which distinguish their style from other European styles. Voussoir arch ways, which were not original to Moorish architecture, yet regularly and incredibly used, became a staple in masterpieces like the baths at Albambra de Giralda. Rather than following in strict adherence to the Italian tradition of heavy sculptural reliefs on the door jams and archivolts, the Spanish used those surfaces as opportunities to employ the intricately precise geometric designs, and similarly designed coffers and corbels to show divinity. The Moorish and Western European elements are so well integrated that it becomes an architectural flavor that is distinct to the Iberian Peninsula.

Architects: Enrique Egas the Elder (Netherlandish, active in Spain, ca. 1455-1534); Diego de Siloé (Spanish, ca. 1495-1563); Juan de Maeda (Spanish, ca. 1510-1576); Alonso Cano (Spanish, 1601-1667); Francisco Hurtado Izquierdo (Spanish, 1669-1725); José B. Begun 1521, main (west) façade 1667, sanctuary (Sagrario) 1704-ca. 1717, Image: 1969. Granada Cathedral, Catedral de Granada, Interior: view of dome of apse. Architecture; Architectural Elements.

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 early in the 16th Century and quickly began headway on building Cathedrals and Monasteries to house the new Catholic presence in the land.

Facade of Monastery of San Francisco. Lima, Peru. wikimedia: public domain

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.

Interior, facing the high alter of the Monastery of San Francisco. Lima, Peru. wikimedia: public domain

The sacred structures erected in South and Central America bear the flavor left on Spain by the Moores.  From the outside the new Cathedrals showed resemblance to discovered Moorish forts. The infrastructure is intimidating and solid, rendered in white. Sculptural decadence varies from structure to structure. However, a striking point to note is that when the ornamentation is included it is highly geometric-in Moorish fashion. This influence snowballs into the interior as well. The alters are gilded and decadent, simple and to the point. Ornamentation is non-objective, however it is balanced and vast giving viewers plenty to work with in terms of focus points for mediation. While a new Catholic may not be staring at a Christ figure they don’t recognize, they can recognize balance and perfection within shapes.

El Laberinto: Origins

Source Unknown

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 never to return.

An Athenian hero traveled to the Island of Crete and rid the utopian town off their filicidal habits in exchange for a pardon of Athenian debts to be paid to King Minos. Entering the labyrinth under the guidance of the King’s daughter Ariadne, Theseus slays the beast.

So, what does this mean for the origins and ultimate symbolism of the labyrinth?

Labyrinth of Batty Langley.
Unknown – “Labyrith,” Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.

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 greenery thickens as one delves deeper into the Labyrinth. Taken at the
Ancient Spanish Monastery. North Miami Beach, FL taken by Sofia Guerra (2019)

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 artifacts of the Saints. Catholic 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 dismantled 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 is a freestanding symbol of balance and perfection: chaos perfectly enclosed in a sphere. The shape is universally recognizable. It exists in nature, and it is a common language. The sphere represents the cycle of life and death, a never-ending journey, and in this case a journey of self-exploration. It inspired the piety of pilgrims as it provided them not only the time, but a visual symbol to associate their spiritual journey with. The Labyrinth contains a meandering maze that can be conquered by few but approached by all, it exists in religions across the globe, including Hindu folklore. Today its meditative qualities are the same and still in practice.

A fork in the road, which way would you go? Taken at the Ancient Spanish Monastery. North Miami Beach, FL Taken by Sofia Guerra (2019)

When I began doing research for this project, I wanted to find the oldest Catholic structure in Florida. It turned out to be a 12th Century Spanish Monastery that had been completed IN Spain in 1133 and later transported to North Miami Beach, Florida in the 1950’s. Exploring this cloister led me to a labyrinth deep in the Monastery grounds that as I walked, evoked thoughts within me of the first people to walk a Labyrinth in mediation and how the symbol even came to be. It soon became clear, as the spirit of journey, self-discovery and spirituality lives within all of us, and has persisted in humans since the dawn of time.

Finding a labyrinth within a picturesque garden was not what I expected I had gone to just observe the architecture, and I wound up taking a journey instead.
Taken in the Monastery Gardens of the Ancient Spanish Monastery. North Miami Beach, FL. Taken by Sofia Guerra (2019).

The Spanish invasion of the Americas brought pork, sugar, disease and colonization. It also brought new religion, spirituality, and a new language for searching for spirituality. Deities range across religions but geometry exists in the natural environment that surrounds us all.  Recognizing the beautiful and divine around us day to day was accentuated in this country through elaborately sculpted, geometric facades and interiors of the first Cathedrals of New Spain.


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.

Bayón, Damián, and Murillo Marx. History of South American Colonial Art and Architecture : Spanish South America and Brazil. Rizzoli, 1992.

Fiore, Jan. “A Sanctuary of Peace and Tranquility Miami’s Ancient Spanish Monastery.” Antique Shoppe Newspaper, June 2016.

Giffords, Gloria Fraser. Sanctuaries of Earth, Stone, and Light : The Churches of Northern New Spain, 1530-1821. The Southwest Center Series. University of Arizona Press, 2007. 

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.

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