Friar Door

Historical Marketing: The Friar Door

This week I decided to follow-up the door theme with a look at another very unusual church door.   This double door was actually not in the church, but rather outside and obviously an entrance to a related church building next door. Honestly, I don’t know if the doors were the entrances to the local church group or rather an actual entrance to the priest’s dorms.

In any case, I hope you’ll agree that it is quite a work of art in it’s own right. The wood paneling is very impressive and obviously added to the doors after construction. We know this due to the lines of the individual panels are invisible behind the raised carvings of the priests and cross. Thus, it was not carved from a single piece but rather added to it after the manufacture of the doors themselves.

The white trim following the door frame really helps to enhance the red and brown in the stain of the wood on the doors. What is more fascinating though is the strange red splotch that appears at the top of the left door and leads across the cross to the friar on the other side. Could this have been a previous stain that was on the door and for some reason was not covered properly when a new stain became necessary?

Both Friars, are obviously Franciscan due to shaved heads, the style of robes that they are wearing, and the finally, the rope belts around their waist. Interestingly enough the friars are also holding a skull in one hand and the cross in another. While the iconography of the cross is fairly easy to imagine in a Franciscan motif, The reasons for the skulls however,  take a little more research to uncover.

Indeed, this is where the marketing of the ideals of the church are present.  The skulls represent mortal death and the focus that only through the cross, can death be avoided. It is a casual reminder of mortality.   A clever way of saying, “You will die, but there is a way out.” It’s an example of the best spiritual marketing tagline; a great example for advertising to a populace who really didn’t speak your language well and didn’t or couldn’t read.  Everyone understood what these skulls meant.  Much in the same way that a stained window tells a story without the written word.

The idea of using a skull is from The Canticle of the Sun  by Francis of Assisi. They represent Sister Death in the last lines of the Canticle.

“Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.”

Regardless of the hidden religious meanings, this example of a Spanish colonial style church door way is a window into not only the past of the region and town of Taos, but also a look at the cultural Spanish influences that occurred there as far back as the 1500’s.

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