How did the cathedral, which was a pilgrimage church, use sculpture as a teaching tool?

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stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many cathedrals were built during periods of time in history when education was not widely available through formal schools. The most educated individuals in many European communities during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance era were trained by the Roman Catholic Church or were employed in its service. The artisans involved in building the great cathedrals combined their skills as workmen with the religious beliefs, traditions, and knowledge of their faith to create teaching tools and testaments to their faith in the creation of the churches.

Statues frequently portrayed patron saints, the apostles, or members of the Holy Family. Elaborate friezes were carved above altars or doorways to illustrate the relationships between individuals or to record events from the Bible. In a time when many parish members were unable to read, sculptural or pictorial representations such as statues or stained glass windows were used to explain and remember the important points of faith.

The Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, for example, has been a pilgrimage church since the ninth century as believers traveled to worship and pray at the shrine and tomb dedicated to the apostle Saint James. Above the doorway leading into the cathedral from the south is a large frieze presenting the Transfiguration of the Lord. This would have been used as a reminder or visual aid in teaching the story to pilgrims and others entering the cathedral.