Camino Talks with Dr Jenny Alexander – The Cathedral’s Secret Stone Selfie

Written by Caitlin

You may have heard the saying “if these walls could talk”, which is used for saying that many interesting things have happened in a room or building. Well, thanks to the amazing work of dedicated historians and scholars, the walls of Santiago’s impressive cathedral are starting to share their story. We interviewed Dr Jenny Alexander from the University of Warwick about her work uncovering the secrets of the cathedral walls.

Dr Alexander has a background in art history and archaeology and specialises in the history of masons’ marks. She is absolutely overflowing with incredible knowledge about the art and architecture of medieval and early modern buildings, their construction and their use.

In this interview, she talks to Sean about her research on the Santiago de Compostela cathedral and what they have learned from the stones that make up the building. Many of the stones, especially those in the columns and arches that hold up the cathedral’s domed roof, have masons’ marks on them. As Dr Alexander describes, these marks were used for a few different purposes. For example, they could be used to calculate how much work each stonemason had done, so he could be paid for the stones he had carved. They were also used for a period of time as a way of ensuring that all the correct pieces were assembled together.

The marks begin to tell the story of the stonemasons who built the cathedral. In one case, an even more interesting find gives us more than a story. It gives us a face.

High up at the top of one of the columns, nestled in the detail of the carving, is a smiling man. It is believed that this is a cheeky self-portrait of one of the masons! This stone ‘selfie’ brings the story of the stonemasons to life, showing that they were people just like us, with a bit of creativity and humour.

a smiling face of a stonemason in the capital of a column in the cathedral

A special thanks to the University of Warwick for sharing some of Dr Alexander‘s time with us. You can read more of the academic details of the research done in Santiago de Compostela on the University of Warwick website.

Visit the Cathedral and see these amazing stones for yourself! Contact us to learn more about your dream Camino.

About Camino Talks
Camino Talks is a collection of interviews about the famous Camino de Santiago. We talk to the people that make it so special and share their stories with you. By Follow the Camino
3rd December 2020

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