or: “Santos” is true work of art
It is not known precisely where the tradition of creating dolls or figurines depicting Christian saints originated. Still, one thing is known for sure – Santos appeared on the Iberian Peninsula in the period from about the middle of the Apologists, which corresponds to the end of the 2nd and the middle of the 3rd centuries. The development of altar dolls and figurines was influenced by centuries of internecine strife and constant wars, the remoteness of villages and small towns from churches and priests. People were afraid to go to church for a prayer service or a sermon, which could be their last, especially during the period of Muslim domination over the Pyrenees.
Santos is translated from Spanish as “Holy”, representing a modern and generalized concept of the image of saints. At the beginning of their journey, Santos depicted the Virgin Mary and biblical, religious, cultural, and social scenes. Early Santos was found only in homes and later appeared in Catholic chapels and churches. The creators of Santos dolls were called Santeros (men) and Santeras (women). Sculptural images of Santos eventually began to be painted, decorated and dressed in expensive clothes.
Gradually, general and biblical subjects began to be replaced by images of the Saints, whose faces became more and more perfect, the device of Santos itself was more complicated, and the clothes and decorations were richer and pretentious – gradually turning Santos into real works of art that only very wealthy people or rich parishes could afford.
The historical prerequisites have developed in such a way that the image of the Virgin Mary, the main patroness, and intercessor of all Christians, has been and remains the most revered shrine in the Iberian Peninsula, which could not but affect the development of Santos depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary.