Romanesque churches have a language. It is not only one of architecture and frescoes but one of sculpted images that have their origins in early Christian mythology, pagan, Roman, and all the art that came before. To modern eyes many of these images are mysterious and their meanings buried beneath time, but their power is still evident.
As we travel from church to church we begin to see certain images in the sculpture that repeat. One of my favorites is the siren. She finds herself on capitals and lintels, bare breasted, her seaweed fish legs splayed. My research states that the mermaid or siren is mythological, half female, half fish whose purpose is to lure us to our doom. She is a reminder that the seductive temptations of life must be avoided in order to achieve salvation.
Seeing one of these sirens in a church, flaunting her sexuality is surprising, delightful, and a little scandalous. But she’s here to teach a lesson that is older than religion – the follies of human nature.