Oct 27, 2016

Religious Beliefs

Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba

A journey through the images of different religious cults.

Gods and Cults
The belief in a reality greater than human beings has been documented since prehistoric times. From the time of Romanization, Córdoba's archaeological records show the succession of the various religious systems that coexisted over time: the Roman imperial cult; the initiatory religions of Eastern origin; the consolidation of Christianity as the official religion after the 4th century; the unstoppable process of Islamization with the arrival of Muslims into Hispania; and Christianization after the Spanish re-conquest in the 13th century.

This type of iconographic representation of large-eyed idols comes from the Middle East, and was very common from the Copper Age (3rd-2nd millennium BC) onwards. They are linked to funerary objects in megalithic tombs or caves. These are figures related to some kind of cult, or magical or religious meaning, rooted in the world of those people's beliefs. Idols have been found in very varied themes: anthropomorphic, phallic, ocular, etc., and share the common feature of sun-shaped eyes and facial tattoos.

Beliefs in gods among Iberian people were influenced by Greek and Phoenician religions. We don't know the gods of the Iberian pantheon, or its rites and cults, which were the responsibility of a caste of priests. This piece, from the site of Torreparedones, has been interpreted as representing a priestess of some unknown cult, made in the Iberian sanctuary that existed there.

Roman religion was largely in the service of imperial power. A clear example is the cult called the "Capitoline Triad", which was made up of the gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The worship of these gods was widely accepted as a way of placing the people and institutions of the Empire under divine protection. There is an abundance of representations both in statues and embossing. Among them is the herm (statue) with a two-faced representation of the gods Jupiter and his wife, Juno. According to other authors, this second image is also identified with Dionysus (Bacchus in Rome).

Lower section of a female statue that seems to represent the iconography of the goddess Minerva—the Italian goddess of arts and war who, together with Jupiter and Juno, are the greatest deities of the Roman pantheon.

One of the gods most represented is Bacchus (the Greek Dionysus). There are many sculptural pieces of him, or figures associated with him (bacchanalian procession). This is a mythological god related to the renewal of nature, although he is more commonly known as the god of wine.

A sculpture that seems to represent the god Apollo—the god of beauty—who is the son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis. He was an oracular god, the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle. His Roman equivalent is the god Phoebus.

Estatua que reproduce a la diosa del amor, Afrodita (Venus, en Roma) tipo Fréjus, original griego del siglo V a.n.e. del escultor ateniense Kallimachos, discípulo de Fidias. Presenta efectos de ropajes mojados en la labra, que se adhieren a la anatomía femenina. Esta pieza puede datarse en época imperial romana, a mediados del S. I de nuestra era.

Representations of domestic deities in the form of busts (herms) were common, such as this one of the god Pan, protector of shepherds and flocks.

These herms are small busts without arms, designed to be placed on a base shaped like an inverted pyramid. They were placed in every corner of the house, or in orchards and gardens. They were protectors of the home, crops and livestock, and were honored at certain times of year that were considered religious holidays.

Sculpture depicting the god Hephaestus, or Vulcan to the Romans, who was considered the god of blacksmiths and earthly fire. It may signify some kind of offering to which the owner had a special devotion for professional or spiritual reasons. These figurines were usually located in the "lararii" or small altars of the house, where offerings and prayers to the gods and household gods (Lares, Manes and Penates) were performed.

Bronze sculpture depicting the god Mars, protector of military action, to whom the Julio-Claudian dynasty had a a special devotion. Deity enshrined in numerous temples in the Capitol and the Forum of Augustus.

El culto a los numerosos dioses del panteón romano incluía sacrificios de animales. Con estos rituales, realizados por colegios sacerdotales, se relacionan las aras, como las destinadas al taurobolio (sacrificio de un toro o buey) y al criobolio (sacrificio de un carnero). Este es un altar de taurobolio con una inscripción de agradecimiento por los beneficios recibidos. Hallado cerca de un posible templo dedicado a Cibeles, diosa que junto a Attis concentraba los misterios de los ritos orientales.

This representation of the Persian god Mitra—a unique image of this divinity preserved in the Iberian Peninsula—shows the importance that initiatory religions of Eastern origin had in the Roman world. The cult of this god involved esoteric and initiatory rites, and was especially followed by the military. Subsequently, it became more popular and spread to other social classes. In Hispania, this cult was growing from the mid-2nd century to the late 3rd century.

The god Mitra subjugated the bull by holding its nose while sinking the dagger into his neck, turning her head to look at the sun. A dog and a snake drink the cleansing blood spilling from the bull, while a scorpion attacks its sexual organs. These zoomorphic representations have a symbolic character: the bull is the symbol of fertility; the dog is the faithful friend of the god, who keeps its soul; the snake produces plants, and people and animals are born from the scorpion. It symbolizes the regeneration in nature's life cycle; the annual repetition of the cycle of death and resurrection.

Relief depicting the Eleusinian mysteries, celebrating the return of Persephone, daughter of Demeter (goddess of agriculture), who was kidnapped by Pluto (god of the underworld) and associated with the reproduction of plants and wildlife. His return from the underworld is a premonition of the cycles of nature.

La expansión del cristianismo en la Hispania tardoantigua es similar a la del resto del Imperio. Con el Reino Visigodo de Toledo se produce el conflicto entre el catolicismo de la población hispanorromana y el arrianismo de la élite gobernante. Las diferencias se superaron con la conversión al cristianismo católico de Recaredo en el III Concilio de Toledo. Este proceso se refleja en la decoración escultórica de piezas arquitectónicas, entre las que destaca el capitel de los Evangelistas, pieza destacada por ser la primera representación del Tetramorfos, en el que los evangelistas aparecen con cuerpo humano y rostro de animal simbólico. San Lucas, con cabeza de toro; San Mateo, con rasgos humanos; San Marcos, cuyo símbolo es el león y San Juan, representado con cabeza de águila.

Relief depicting the biblical scene of Daniel in the lions' den. The characters flanking Daniel are identified as Habakkuk (who carries the bread) and the angel that led him to Daniel (the character on the left). The latter makes the gesture of talking to command the lions to close their mouths. Its symbology is linked to the strength that faith brings, like a newly resurrected Jesus. It is a piece showing the symbolism of the Christian religion that supplanted the Roman religion after the 4th century.

La cristianización del reino visigodo aparece también representado en los "ladrillos decorados o estampillados", que formaban parte de la decoración de edificios religiosos y que se difundieron por el Valle del Guadalquivir. La decoración que presentan es muy variada, desde temas geométricos o vegetales hasta una rica simbología cristiana. Entre los motivos cristianos destaca el Crismón, formado por el anagrama de Cristo, consistente en las letras griegas X y P entrelazadas. A sus lados se sitúan la primera y la última letra del alfabeto griego, alfa y omega, simbolizando el principio y el fin de todas las cosas. Esta placa decorativa presenta además una inscripción lateral y un arco de medio punto gallonado sobre columnas que enmarcan el Crismón.

Ceramic plate with embossed decoration, representing a crater (cup) with a scalloped body, one foot and two handles. At the sides are two peacocks facing each other and underneath them two separate circular seals with a Constantinian chrismon. This is flanked by the apocalyptic letters alpha and omega, symbolizing the beginning and end of all things. Christian symbolism of the 5th-6th century.

Dintel de puerta con decoración a base de motivos cristianos: una cruz patada con alfa y omega, símbolo considerado el monograma de Cristo. Estos motivos se repiten en otras representaciones artísticas cristianas y son utilizados como símbolos del triunfo de la fe cristiana sobre el arrianismo y otras herejías coetáneas.

El Islam es una religión estrictamente monoteísta, que se extendió desde la predicación de Mahoma a mediados del s. VII. En al-Andalus, la dinastía omeya en el s. VIII implantó la interpretación malikí del Corán, la más rigorista y literal de las cuatro escuelas interpretativas del texto revelado, que admite el Islam ortodoxo o sunní. Es una religión de la que están ausentes los sacrificios y esto la diferencia del judaísmo antiguo y del cristianismo, del que rechaza ante todo el culto a los santos por asimilarlo a una forma de idolatría pagana. La invasión musulmana no supuso la desaparición del cristianismo. El proceso de islamización de la antigua Hispania, denominada ahora al-Andalus, se realiza de forma progresiva hasta su culminación en el S. XI.

La mezquita es el espacio religioso por excelencia y Córdoba posee el mejor y más acabado ejemplo. Esta celosía, que servía para tapar los vanos de las ventanas de las casas o edificios religiosos, tiene un paralelo en la Mezquita de Córdoba. Posiblemente fuera elaborada en el mismo taller al presentar el mismo programa decorativo y calidad técnica. La trama decorativa de estas celosías se resolvían con formas geométricas (triángulos, hexágonos, octógonos...) elementos totalmente iconoclastas, muy propios del mundo islámico.

"Yamur" that crowned mosques in the Islamic period, made up of several cylindrical bodies descending in size. It had a a decorative, protective and symbolic function and represented the various heavens. It was reused in Christian times, as evidenced by the vane with a metal cross at the crown.

This is the only piece with a religious theme from the Islamic era that is preserved in our Museum. It is important to remember the iconoclastic nature of the Islamic religion and the Koran's prohibition figurative images in a public and religious context.

Cristianos y judíos eran para los musulmanes “gentes del libro”, practicantes de unas religiones toleradas, que fueron aceptados en al-Andalus a cambio de pagar un tributo. Se controlaron las manifestaciones externas de sus cultos, aunque se les permitió mantener una organización política interna. La tolerancia descendía en momentos de conflictividad política y social, durante las invasiones norteafricanas de almorávides (siglo XI) y de almohades (siglo XII) que marcarán el declive de cristianos y judíos en al-Andalus. Muchos cristianos emigran hacia los reinos cristianos, que se hacen más fuertes en la mitad norte de la Península; en cuanto a los judíos, llega a desaparecer la rica escuela talmúdica cordobesa, decayendo totalmente su judería.

Bronze bell with an inscription bearing the name of Abbot Samson, confirming the presence of the Moorish community in Córdoba in the 10th century and demonstrating that different religious faiths coexisted in our city at that time. Considered the oldest Christian bell preserved in Spain.

Popular Piety
All of these gods, cults and rituals related to popular beliefs, superstitions and the magical practices of an anonymous population.

Head that could be part of a larger votive offering. On the forehead, there is a short Latin inscription: 'Dea Caelestis', which might be a reference to the deity to whom it was dedicated.

From the 6th century BC onwards, Iberian peoples built public shrines, where zoomorphic (bulls, lions, griffins, sphinxes, etc.) and anthropomorphic votive offerings were found, showing a clear oriental influence. This type of votive offering had the function of serving as intermediaries between the earthly and divine worlds.

Votive offering depicting a pregnant human figure, as can be seen by how large the belly is. It may have been intended as a thanksgiving to the divinity for granting motherhood.

Iberian votive offering depicting a human figure sitting on a throne, with his hands on his chest bearing a gift. Votive offerings were made in workshops at the request of elite clientele. The votive offerings on display at the Museum come from the Torreparedones Sanctuary (Baena-Castro del Rio). They are dated at around 500 BC.

Bronze votive offering depicting a female figure that exemplifies the position and participation of women in the ritual and worship of the Iberian pantheon. These pieces are considered not merely artistic objects, but socio-ideological expressions framed in a well-defined liturgical structure, with some common aspects and others that are unique to the place.

Fragment belonging to a defixionum (curse tablets) made of lead. It is inscribed on both sides with italic capitals drawn from right to left. Roman citizens practiced the rite of making formulaic written apologies, curses or complaints, made from thin sheets of lead placed in graves or thrown into wells. Most seek revenge on the gods for theft, the evil eye, slander, jealousy, etc.

Such representations were common in figurines, chandeliers, pendants, charms and throughout classical culture. Their meaning or symbology is somewhat ambiguous, and is possibly associated with the origin of life, as a symbol of fertility and opulence, although it may also have a prophylactic significance. Phalluses were widely used from prehistoric times as effective amulets against the evil eye and other evil spells. They were therefore found at the entrance to households or were worn as a pendant pinned to clothing to ward off evil spells.

Black magic statuette made of lead portraying a man, whose form is very schematic and flat. These figures were used to complement a private 'defixionum.' The use of magic can be seen in Syria, Egypt and Greece, where this kind of doll was used to prevent certain diseases, or to attack certain behaviors by other people. Its use is documented in classical Rome, throughout medieval times, and even today.

Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba
Credits: Story

Religious Beliefs

Organised by:
Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba
Consejería de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía

Curated by: Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba
Texts: Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba
Photography: Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba
Digital Edition: Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba

Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba.

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