European Traditional Sports and Games Association

Intangible heritage and tangible representations

by Biel Pubill Soler in Uncategorised

By the so-called tangible or material cultural heritage, we mainly consider monuments, architecture, works of art and furniture, and even certain built landscapes. It is the tangible, what we can touch. Intangible cultural heritage is the intangible, that is to say what one cannot touch, but only guess, imagine. These are all the social practices, traditions, representations, expressions, knowledge and know-how transmitted by the population.

Yet the intangible is not the opposite of the tangible, but often the inspiration, the source of art and of all the representations that can be seen on the monuments that are the pride of civilizations. Without the intangible, one could almost say that there would be no monuments.

When we visit some of our monuments, it is not always obvious, because we have to question the representations of the works and we therefore need to have cultural bases. Here is a concrete example during a visit to an old town called Sangüesa in Spanish, or Zangoza in Basque, in Spanish Navarra. This city is a very old Hospitallers Commandery of the Saint John of Jerusalem Order (crusades). The church was built around 1130 but the South facade is more recent (early 13th century).

Photo Zangoza Church

As usual, all the scenes are meant to describe scenes from the bible only, but as usual, the craftsmen of this time were first and foremost human beings. Thus, to represent a scene that had been commissioned from them by the architects in charge of the construction of the building, they certainly used the reality of their experience or close environment. The example chosen for this article is wrestling. The scene depicted on the facade is what contemporaries could see at parties, fairs or certain tournaments with soldiers, etc.

Here the wrestlers are only dressed in “boxer shorts” like someone would be after deciding to wrestle at a fair after having to take off some of their clothes to do so. They wrestle standing up. They grip to the wrist and behind the neck or shoulder like anyone has to do to wrestle without a jacket or canvas vest. The view from below clearly shows that a wrestler grabs his opponent’s ankle in order to unbalance him and knock him down. What were the rules? Nobody knows exactly. They depend on mentalities, influences such as religious culture, clothing and its robustness, etc. The only thing we know is that the rules were modified only by the local populations, actors of their own lives.

Ball players Hurling player

We can find this kind of symbolic representations in many religious buildings, places of expression of art, knowledge and power. This is the case in cathedrals in particular. Some examples: 1) ball game, stall of Gloucester Cathedral (13th) England; 2) Hurling game, facade of the Church of La Martyre (16th) France; 3) stick wrestling game, stalls of St Bertrand de Comminges cathedral (16th) France, to be compared with a stick wrestling scene in Yakutia today, but this game still exists in several countries.

Pulling the stick Pulling the stick or mass wrestling in Yakutia

During your tourist travelling, you can all experience this kind of discovery, in religious buildings, with street names or in the old quarters of our cities, through the place names of hamlets or even the names of fields.

(Text G. Jaouen. Photos G. Jaouen & last, M. Maximov)


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