“The Sacred Heart of Oseira” is a photograph of a cloister from the Spanish monastery of Santa María la Real de Oseira. It was taken in 2007 by Paul Preece as part of his “Cloisters” series.
The image is of interest due to the accidental presence of divine symbols hidden in plain view. The term accidental is used in the sense that the symbols were not added to the image in post-production: the symbols are present on the original 5″x4″ black and white negative.
The Spanish monastery of Oseira is of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance otherwise known as Trappists. It was built in 1137 in an isolated rural location of Galicia, Spain on the Camino de Santiago. At one time its extensive buildings housed hundreds of monks, today some 13 elderly monks rattle around its endless stone corridors. Contrary to popular belief the Trappists do not have a “rule of silence” although small talk is discouraged. I stayed here for 3 nights and barely got any sleep due to the ringing of its bells throughout the night. It was also a spiritual retreat for the English writer Graham Greene who stayed on a regular basis.
During the 12th century the Cistercians and the Knights Templar were widely regarded as two sides of the same coin – the one a Catholic monastic order dedicated to retreat and contemplation, the other a Catholic military order headquartered at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is said that the Cistercians and the Knights Templar combined were the worlds first corporation and international bank. Some even go so far as to say they invented capitalism…
Symbol I – The Heart
The symbol that gives the artwork it’s title is the heart. It is also the easiest of the hidden symbols to see.
If the photograph had been taken either earlier or later in the day or even on a different day or season would the heart shape be as strong as it is? The lower parts of the heart are flanked by the upper ends of the strong light entering the cloister. It is difficult to say whether different light would alter the heart shape sufficiently to make it unrecognisable. What is clear is that cloisters live and breathe light and they can go from a dull and murky gloom to a full-on box of light in seconds. Their medieval builders knew this and the good ones could plan accordingly to utilise the daily passage of the sun and how it filtered into the cloister and its galleries.