About three weeks ago I was in Burgos, Spain, where I visited the Catedral de Santa María which is the burial place of El Cid.
Needless to say Hollywood’s version of El Cid’s life bears no resemblance to the one lived by the man himself. There isn’t that much of El Cid’s life to be seen at the cathedral other than a marriage contract and an old trunk said to be his coffin. El Cid has been buried under the floor of the cathedral and unlike so many other people intered there, there is nothing but an inscription to mark where the great man is buried.
This brings me to the point at which I start my rant.
There are times when I look at gigantic structures like cathedrals and I think to myself, “what a colossal waste of time, money and effort”.
When I was in Bangkok a few years ago I can remember having the same thoughts about the Buddhist temples and then it occurred to me how much industry and commerce religion causes. For example in Thailand there is a whole industry employing thousands of people who just prepare the offerings that are changed everyday, that go into household shrines.
In short religion keeps a lot of people in employment.
Even the small shrines and chapels in the nooks and crannies of the cathedral would’ve kept teams of craftsmen busy for years. So when I was looking around the cathedral in Burgos I found myself once again thinking about all the people and the wide range of skills that were employed to construct such an amazing building. Make no mistake, the Burgos Cathedral is amazing. It has it all; beauty, size, complexity and history.
The trouble I started to have with the cathedral was when I started thinking about where the money came from to build it. The answer of course is the people. Back in medieval times the common person’s life was short, brutish and full of misery. Archeological evidence from medieval graves has shown that the lower classes quite often suffered from malnutrition and often went through long periods of starvation while their overlords lived the high life.
Which brings me to my next problem; the aristocracy.
Back in the old days if you were a bigger and nastier than other people you just took their stuff and if you were really good at fighting you built up a gang around yourself and made a career of making other weaker people’s lives miserable.
As Thucydides (c. 460 B.C. – c. 395 B.C.) once said, “”Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
The aristocracy is basically a group of people who have descended from the worst kind of people and who for some strange reason think that they are better than others. It always blows me away when I talk to people who defend the whole idea of rule by monarchs as though it were a good thing. The idea that someone who comes from a long line of selfish bloodthirsty bastards would make a good leader in this day and age strikes me as completely ridiculous.
So what has this got to do with Burgos cathedral?
Over time Burgos cathedral has become shrine to aristocratic hubris and ego. Huge chunks have been added to the original medieval cathedral by rich people trying to buy their way into heaven. All over the church are either paintings or statues of rich people that try and associate them with god.
For example there are paintings of archbishops (a common person could never hope to rise so far in the old church) in triptychs showing the crucifixion as if to say, here is god and I’m his best mate.
Probably the most disgusting display of overwhelming arrogance and cluelessness on display is the Chapel of the Constable which houses the bodies of Pedro Hernández de Velasco, Constable of Castile and his wife Doña Mencia de Mendoza.
The chapel it’s self is a tour de force in carved stone with lifelike carvings in Carrara marble of the constable and his wife. The chapel was begun just before Columbus found the Americas so gold that had been tortured out of the Indians wasn’t yet available for its construction so it can only be assumed that the peasantry of Castile paid for its construction with their blood sweat and tears.
Building a church that employs a lot of craftsmen because the people have a fervent faith is one thing, bleeding an already oppressed people to build a hugely expensive monument to one’s greed and desire to buy their way into St. Peter’s good books is utterly unforgivable.
A pox on Pedro Hernández and people like him.