Dragons: Not Just for Rogation Days

It turns out that the French really, really liked taking their “draco” windsocks/floats out for processions.

The “draco” or “dragon banner” came first from the Sarmatians, who used them as military insignia. They were sort of like giant red windsocks, with a noisemaker in the “mouth” of the dragon that caught the wind, like a bullroarer or similar. The Romans who fought the Sarmatians thought this was cool, and adopted the custom. It later became the official banner of the late Roman cavalry. From there, it spread all over Europe. But the Normans were especially fond of dragon banners, and you can see one in the Bayeux Tapestry. Very very windsock in appearance, too.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the original Greek/Roman “dragon” was a giant snake. Several of the ancient sources said that the dangerous part of a dragon was its whipping or strangling tail. So a windsock looked like a very dangerous, long-tailed dragon.

Anyway, if you had the local feudal military in your religious procession, they brought along their various banners, including their draco. If you won a battle through your local saint’s intercession, you might give your banner to the local church, too. So eventually, most French-area cathedrals and parish churches seem to have had either a real draco, or the increasingly elaborate dragon floats and automata and costumes of later days. (England was Norman, so England had dragon banners and floats and costumes in their processions too.)

Anyway, depending on the festal preferences of French people, the dragon got hauled out on the following dates:

The three Rogation Days, and sometimes Ascension also. (The last day featuring a limp, draggling tail.)

Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday. (The last day featuring a limp, draggling tail, because Holy Thursday was coming.)

Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday, and Ascension Day.

In Spain, there were dragones, monstruos, bestias, and serpientes on various days. However, the Corpus Christi processional dragon was called the tarasca. In Lima, Peru, there was a processional dragon on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (summer in Peru), and it was also called a tarasca.


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