Saving souls is serious business, and the intricately carved entryways of Spain’s Gothic cathedrals start the process even before worshippers get inside the building – sort of a preview of coming attractions.
Saints and Disciples look down on the faithful; biblical scenes remind everyone to stay on the straight and narrow.
Other carved embellishments feature ferocious lions, placid pigs, exotic birds, and a space-walking astronaut. Wait a sec – did I say astronaut? On a 15th Century cathedral?
Welcome to the Cathedral of Salamanca and its architectural easter eggs.
In this case, an easter egg might not be what you normally expect. According to the folks at PC magazine, an easter egg is:
“An undocumented function hidden in software that may or may not be sanctioned by management. Easter Eggs are secret “goodies” found by word of mouth or accident.”
As the story goes, in 1979 a video game programmer wanted to be credited for writing a piece of software, and his management refused to put his name in the credits. So he hid a secret message in the game giving him credit for its creation.
In other words, his “easter egg” was a signature on his work, which is precisely what the stonemasons at Salamanca did when the cathedral was restored in 1992.
In addition to the church-approved astronaut, there’s an ice-cream eating dragon (or some say singing karaoke):
A wary lynx lurking in the leaves;
A perturbed bull with horns at the ready – well there used to be horns;
A stony crayfish, or crawdad as we say hereabouts;
A shaggy dog … uhhh … gulping tennis balls (you make the call on this one);
And a chubby cherub whose gender is definitely not in question.
The day we visited it was miserably cold and windy, so we were happy to have a few hints on finding the easter eggs. To see the carvings, go to the side door facing the Plaza de Anaya, which is also the main entrance for tourists, and the astronaut is about 10 feet up on the left side. And for the other easter eggs, as always, you’ll have to search. But don’t worry, they’re close by.
After a lengthy, slightly too preachy self-guided audio tour, it was good to see that the Monsignor has a sense of humor.
James & Terri
P.S. This isn’t quite on par with cathedral easter eggs, but just for fun, open a google search window and type the phrase “do a barrel roll.”
Last updated January 5, 2020
Gorgeous carvings 🙂
Thanks Gilda. All the stonework at the Salamanca Cathedral was amazing, including the easter eggs. ~James
Being an obedient follower, I’ve now done a barrel roll!
Do you know the story behind the ‘astronaut’ in those carvings?
Yvonne, apparently the artist wanted a carving which represented the 20th Century, and he thought that an astronaut did that best. ~James
Wonderful post. I love it when everyone shares a sense of humour. Thank you for confirming they can be called crawdads. Now I can prove it to Poor John.
Peggy, until we moved to New Orleans, I didn’t realize that crayfish/crawfish/crawdads were regional terms. But I would have been laughed out of town if I had called the Louisiana delicacy a crayfish instead of crawfish. Check out this cool map:
Here’s an old, old song that will help you out! The Crawdad Song I’ve danced to this one at Whiskey River, down on the levee in Henderson, Louisiana.
Thanks for this link Linda. I’m a huge Doc Watson fan and haven’t heard that song in years. I haven’t been to Whiskey river in Henderson, but there are lots of fun joints on the levee to be sure. Here’s another of my favorite Doc Watson critter songs:
I love the astronaut. There’s so many awesome easter eggs on the Internet, and one of my favourite things to do when I watch a Disney movie is to look out for the easter eggs that they always hide in every single one of them.
Fi, I’m sure that companies like Disney have to be watchful for easter eggs that show up in their movies. They certainly wouldn’t want a surprise in front of all those impressionable eyes. Do you have favorite Disney easter egg? ~James
Disney and Pixar deliberately put at least one Easter egg in each of their movies. I only found that out a year or so ago and now I always look out for them. Don’t really have a favourite though.
What fun it must have been for the sculptors to think those creations would be around for visitors to look at in the centuries to come just as we look at those from the 15th century. Thanks for pointing them out.
The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has a gargoyle of a worker whistling at a girl and near it another of a shocked bishop with his hands to his face.
We visited the National Cathedral a few years ago, and saw the Darth Vader grotesque, but didn’t see the gargoyles you mentioned. Umm, I guess that’s why they’re called easter eggs – you have to hunt for them. ~James
Amazing carvings! So many different interpretations to be seen. 100 people could look and see 100 different messages! Great post. The barrel roll is too funny!
Laura, the assortment of carvings on the cathedral is interesting. I’m sure they were all approved by the church, and I find the anatomically correct cherub the most puzzling. ~James
Oh these Easter Eggs are so cool. Very fascinating post. I would never have thought to look at cathedral carvings so closely, but clearly at Salamanca it’s worth it. And yes I went searching do a barrel roll, and watched it happen, and then watched a short video showing other Google Easter Eggs. Fun.
Thanks Alison. I’m sure there’s a “Best Easter Eggs” list on the internet somewhere, and after the google eggs, I might have to go looking. You’ve seen your share of cathedrals, so I’m sure you can relate to a bit of levity after all those somber messages you’ve seen inside. ~James
I’m glad to see that the talent still exists for such work. It really is amazing, James.
Leslie, given that “they don’t build ’em like they used to,” I agree with you. I’m sure there’s a very small circle of artisans that are able to do this sort of work. ~James
and they are becoming increasingly rare…
This is fascinating James. Such an eclectic group of carvings! We were always blown away by the intricate work on the churches in Spain. La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona blew our minds!
Lynn, Gaudi was one of a kind, and his detailed work was fantastic. It’s amazing how long it’s taking to finish the work, but given the intricate design, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. It just won’t look right without the cranes. ~James
I love your blog, full of interesting, out of the ordinary places, with a different point of view! This one sure didn’t disappoint! Now I’ll be looking even closer at stonework in the future!
Thanks for the comment Patty and for dropping by the blog. In addition to Salamanca, we visited cathedrals in Toledo, Segovia, and Burgos. Each had its own character, and each one had a few quirky carvings both inside and out. It appears that the folks in charge gave the artists a bit of leeway – and it’s good they did. ~James
Great humor, James. I stopped when I saw the astronaut and said “What the…” Happy for the explanations and pleased that the workers added their personal touches including the well developed cherub! 🙂 –Curt
Curt, a less serious and less disciplined blogger would have had more to say about that cherub and his posture. 🙂 In the meantime, it will remain a curious mystery. Hope all is well on your side. ~James
James I am thinking that I have seen the astronaut on a previous visit to your blog? At any rate I love these humorous touches. Also thank you for taking the time to showcase the details. We are notorious for rushing past cathedrals as previously confessed.
Thanks Sue, and nope, this is the first appearance for the astronaut. Dare I say it, the themes in the religious art in cathedrals get repetitious, especially if you see a few churches in quick succession (as is possible in Spain). But I find the places where artists aren’t constrained by religious messages are the places to look for different and interesting images: wall and ceiling decorations, columns, floor tiles, etc. These details keep the interest up for me. ~James
This was 100% not what I expected to read under that title! Great fun. I feel like I’ve seen that carved astronaut before (I have no idea where), but I’d never heard of this kind of Easter egg or seen any of the other whimsical carvings.
Thanks Lexie, I’m glad I caught you by surprise and that you had fun reading. The Gothic style, with its abundant embellishments and decorations was late to come to Spain, and many of the cathedrals there are known to be at the peak of the style. In fact, some are considered a bit over-the-top. Watch this space for the Cathedral at Burgos. ~James
These are great! An astronaut! And the others – fantastic.
Pam, it’s interesting that the stonemason chose an astronaut to represent the 20th century. I might have chosen something more boring: like a desktop computer. ~James
It’s my favorite choice since we live on the Space Coast of Florida!
Love the architecture! Perhaps the astronaut was a reference to aliens amd space travel, which we have seen depicted in the most unlikely of places, often as with this case, untimely and seeming out of synch with history. What other explanation could there be?
What a well endowed little cherub! 🙂
Thanks Peta. Funny you should mention aliens. While doing the research for this post, the Salamanca easter eggs turned up on an alien-conspiracy website. You know the kind where aliens have supposedly contacted the Mayans, Egyptians, etc. And just so you know, they debunked alien contact in Salamanca. 🙂 ~James
These are hilarious. I was not aware of modern touches to this cathedral. I must look out for these Easter Eggs when we visit next. Every era should leave its mark.
Darlene, I wonder how many people look right at this doorway and miss these figures? The day we visited there was a group photo shoot directly in front of the astronaut, and I really don’t think anyone in the group realized it. I was tempted to tell them but decided it would be better if they discovered it on their own. ~James
Kudos to you two for finding an array of interesting easter eggs and assorted carvings that make you look twice! Love the astronaut and the karaoke one. I might have missed all had it not been for this enlightening post. Now, I make start looking at all European cathedrals more closely.
Rusha, I’m not sure how common architectural easter eggs are, but I think they’re a great idea. They’re a little comic relief from all that somber messaging that’s both inside and outside cathedrals. ~James
So much detail in the Gothic reliefs and a good reminder to the faithful of the terrors and travails awaiting those tempted to stray from the church. I love learning something new and will now be carefully looking for Easter eggs hidden in unlikely places. And the barrel roll got a good laugh, too! Anita
And remember Anita that these carvings were only on the exterior. Couple these with all the extravagant stonework on the interior and the amount of work required is incredible. In addition to easter eggs, I love the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages conveyed by the carvings. The choir in the Salamanca Cathedral was beautifully carved wood, and is one of the most intricate that I’ve seen. The upper section were saints, etc, and the seats below (where the choir put their backsides) were carvings representing a sinful life. ~James
What a wonderful post. I’ve read before about the various carvings, but never had heard of the astronaut. Maybe the bloggers I read had missed it, too. An amusing side note: there’s a fully suited-up astronaut atop the McDonald’s across the lake from me, near the the Johnson Space Center.
Thanks much Linda. This cathedral is huge and incredibly ornate inside and out, but as I said in the post, the audio tour was a bit to preachy for my taste. So it was a pleasure to find bit of humor in the carvings outside. I still wonder about the cheeky cherub. 😉 ~James
This post made me smile! Good eye (or good help?), I’d say! 🙂 The way you present all the photos makes me realize that looking at churches and architectural marvels in depth can be fun and might reveal some unusual images and unexpected scenes.Did you use binoculars? Stiff necks afterwards?
Thanks Liesbet. Luckily, none of these carvings were higher than 10-12 feet, and thanks to my trusty travel-zoom camera, I was able to photograph them quite easily. I’d love to take credit for discovering these on my own, but I got a tip from a travel guide. And I still have questions about the cheeky cherub. 🙂 ~James
Salamanca is on my travel list! I am actually planning to stop also to Zamora, a small town only one hour drive away. Have you been there also?
Julia, Spain is one of our favorites in Europe. We’ve been many times and have never been disappointed. We haven’t been to Zamora, but honestly, you can hardly go wrong in Spain. It’s a large country and each area has its own unique character. I hope that you can make it to Salamanca, but I’m sure that you’ll enjoy Zamora. ~James