If you stroll by the New Cathedral in Salamanca, Spain, an unusual figure might catch your eye amidst the Gothic and Baroque facades—a seemingly out-of-place astronaut. While you might be tempted to think it’s a sneaky nod to extraterrestrial visitors or time travel, the truth is a blend of modernity and ancient tradition.
The New Cathedral, built between the 16th and 17th centuries, is a testament to the mastery of ancient architects. But why the astronaut? Well, during a 1992 restoration project, the whimsical figure was added by a stonemason.
“It is generally a tradition of cathedral builders and restorers to add details or new carvings to the facade as a sort of signature,” says one account.
Instead of a traditional marking, the stonemason decided to leave a more contemporary imprint. He carved an astronaut as a symbol of the 20th century. Alongside our space-traveling friend, there’s also a gargoyle munching on an ice-cream cone—a nod to Salamanca’s lively student population.
However, this isn’t just a fun gesture. Stonemasons, especially those working on religious structures, have historically added symbols to represent their current era. In this case, the astronaut embodies the modern age, much like gargoyles of old captured the imaginations of their creators.
While most locals and historians are well aware of the cathedral’s recent addition, it’s become a topic of intrigue for many tourists. Some even speculate about ancient space travel or alien interventions. The tradition of incorporating a new contemporary element each time the Cathedral is worked on, though less supernatural, is just as compelling.
Sadly, in 2010, a vandal damaged the astronaut, mirroring the challenges religious structures face in the modern age.
The next time you’re in Salamanca, take a moment to marvel at this blend of the old and the new!