Category Archives: Bad Christian Dragons

Wales, Dragons, and the Book of Esther

Okay, Geoffrey of Monmouth fans, what does this sound like?

“….Mordecai… a great man and among the first of the king’s court, had a dream… And this was his dream:

“Behold, there were voices, and tumults, and thunders, and earthquakes, and a disturbance upon the earth.

“And behold, two great dragons came forth ready to fight one against another. And at their cry all nations were stirred up to fight against the nation of the just. And that was a day of darkness and danger, of tribulation and distress, and great fear upon the earth.

“And the nation of the just was troubled fearing their own evils, and was prepared for death. And they cried to God, and as they were crying, a little spring grew into a very great river, and abounded into many waters. The light and the sun rose up, and the humble were exalted, and they devoured the glorious.

“And when Mordecai had seen this, and arose out of his bed, he was thinking what God would do; and he kept it fixed in his mind, desirous to know what the dream should signify.” (Esther 11:2-12, or Esther Prologue A:2-12, depending on Bible)

In the Greek epilogue to Esther contained in some Bibles, there’s more dragon talk:

“And Mordecai said, “These things have come from God; for I remember the dream that I had concerning these matters, and none of them has failed to be fulfilled. There was the little spring that became a river, and there was light and sun and abundant water. The river is Esther, whom the king married and made queen. The two dragons are Haman and myself.”

Ha! Another good Jewish/Christian dragon!

UPDATE: So that explains why Madonna thought her Purim costume should be the dragon lady from Game of Thrones with two shoulder dragons. Well played!

And here’s Merlin and King Vortigern, in Regum Historia Britanniae, Bk. 2, chapter 3:

“As Vortigern, king of the Britons, was sitting upon the bank of the drained pond, two dragons… came forth, and approaching each other, began a terrible fight… After this battle of the dragons, the king commanded Ambrosius Merlin to tell him what it portended. Upon which, bursting into tears, he delivered what his prophetical spirit suggested to him….”

Some versions of the story do more with the pond. Most versions of the story make a big point of mentioning how big a racket the dragons were making. This probably comes from Esther, but it becomes an important part of the story in the Welsh dragon prequel, “Lludd and Llevelys.” As Charlotte Guest translated it in the Mabinogion:

“The second plague [of Britain] was a shriek which came on every May-eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. And this went through people’s hearts, and so scared them, that the men lost their hue and their strength, and the women their children, and the young men and the maidens lost their senses, and all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters, were left barren…

“And thereupon King Lludd felt great sorrow and care, because that he knew not how he might be freed from these plagues… Lludd the son of Beli went to Llevelys his brother, king of France, for he was a man great of counsel and wisdom, to seek his advice…

“And the second plague,” said [Llevelys], “that is in thy dominion – behold, it is a dragon. And another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it, and striving to overcome it. And therefore does your dragon make a fearful outcry… thou wilt see the dragon fighting in the form of terrific animals. And at length they will take the form of dragons in the air. And last of all, after wearying themselves with fierce and furious fighting, they will fall… And they will drink up the whole of the mead; and after that they will sleep. Thereupon do thou immediately… bury them… in the strongest place thou hast in thy dominions, and hide them in the earth. And as long as they shall bide in that strong place no plague shall come to the Island of Britain from elsewhere.”

“…And thus the fierce outcry ceased in his dominions.”

In the History of the Kings of Britain, Merlin acts an awful lot like Joseph and Daniel and Solomon, and not much at all like a pagan druid. This is why it’s explicitly said that Vortigern and his advisors thought Merlin’s prophecies (which appear later in Book II at the request of the Bishop of Lincoln, and try hard to sound like the Book of Revelation processed through Welsh poetry) were based on “divine inspiration.”

This kind of Biblical reference is something that was more obvious to people in the past than to us: because we aren’t as big of Bible readers, or because our favorite books are different from theirs, or because our spelling is different. For them it’s obvious that Iona = Jonah = Columba = Colm [Cille] = dove, but to us it’s totally non-obvious and hidden from our sight.

Of course, a lot of times Biblical references are even hidden from us by our nice modern Bibles! Very few sources deign to notice that the Mary in the Magnificat is quoting Esther 11:11, which is (horrors!) from the Greek Septuagint!


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Dragonfighting Saints of France

This page has a good list of “sauroctones,” or dragonslayers, of French legend and hagiography:

Saints Agricol (Avignon), Amand (Tournay), André (Villiers-sur-Loir), Aredins (Gap), Armel (Ploërmel), Armentaire (Draguignan), Arnel (Vannes), Avit (Dordogne), Bertrand (Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges), Bienheuré (Vendôme), Clément (Metz), Derrien et Neventer (Landerneau), Donat (Sisteron), Dié (Saint-Dié), Dyé (Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire), Efflam (Plestin-les-Grèves), Florent (Anjou), Front (Lalinde), Georges (Velay), Germain d’Auxerre, Germain d’Ecosse (Flamanville), Hilaire (Poitiers), Jacques (Aix-en-Provence), Jean Abbé (Tonnerre), Jouin (vallée de la Dive, dans les Deux-Sèvres), Julien (Maine et vallée du Loir), Liphard (Meung-sur-Loire), Loup (Troyes), Marcel (Paris), Martial (Bordeaux), Martin de Vertou, Mauront (Saint-Florent-le-Vieil), Méen (vallée de la Loire), Mesmin (aval d’Orléans), Neventer et Derrien (Landerneau), Nicaise (Rouen), Nicaize (Moret-sur-Loing), Ortaire (Normandie), Paul (Lyon), Pavace (Maine), Pol-Aurélien (île de Batz), Quiriace (Provins), Romain (Rouen), Samson (estuaire de la Seine), Saturnin (Bernay), Saulve (Montreuil-sur-Mer), Tugdual (environs de Tréguier), Véran (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse), Victor (Marseille), Vigor (Bayeux), ainsi que saintes Marthe (Tarascon) et Radegonde (Poitiers).

Plenty of laypeople were non-saintly dragonslayers too, of course. Generally they were either noble knights or condemned prisoners fighting for life, but there were also clever peasants.

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Good Christian Dragons – “Good Holy Vermine”

It’s a well-known fact that anti-Catholics and anti-historics refuse to see jokes. You can wave them in front of their faces and explain the whole thing, but they won’t get it. They’d rather be shocked and horrified.

So in Poitiers, like many other places in Europe, they had a processional dragon called the Grand’Goule. It had a legend with it, about how good St. Radegonde and her nuns defeated the wicked dragon. St. Radegonde founded St. Croix (Holy Cross) Abbey, so named because they had some relics of the True Cross (courtesy of the Byzantine Empire and St. Radegonde’s aristocratic connections). The legend says that one day, nuns who were sent down to the caves of the wine cellar next to the river weren’t coming back. So armed with either some blessed bread, some holy water, her abbess staff, or the abbey’s bit of the True Cross, St. Radegunde went down the cellar and found that a big female dragon had come in from the Clain River’s spring and made the cellar its den, and was eating all the nuns. (Not just meat, but virgins too, you’ll notice.) So St. Radegonde defeated the dragon, and all was well. There’s a little statue of the Grand’Goule sporting bat wings, eagle feet, a wyvern’s tail, and a snake’s head.

The other thing that people don’t get is that dragons, when representing Ultimate Evil or Death Incarnate or just something scary, are usually portrayed by the medievals as kinda funny critters. The devil and his angels may be dragons, but their wings are stunted and unable to carry them back to heaven. They’re just pests and nuisances and losers. Dragons are usually shown this way, too. They quickly turn into the procession’s comical characters.

OTOH, because of the draco banners’ use in warfare and because dragons guarded things like cities and treasures, the French city’s dragon is something of a patriotic monster. It’s like Godzilla protecting Tokyo from all other monsters. So the processional dragon was popular and loved in its comical menace.

By the 17th century, the little processional draco banner had turned into a big parade float, with the statutory kung-fu action jaws that really opened and shut, and a big bag to hold bread donations to the poor (and the guys who worked hard propelling the float and operating the jaws). So people would throw bread, apple cakes, buns, and cookies* into the Grand’Goule’s mouth, or try to aim flower wreaths at the head as extra decoration.

Then the good Catholic people of Poitiers in the 1600’s thought that it would be funnier to elaborate on this. So when tossing bread, they’d yell, “Bonne sainte vermine, protegez nous!” or even “priez pour nous!”

“Vermine” means vermin, in French. It’s also a pun on “verminus”, little worm or little wyrm/dragon; and on “vermina,” someone who has worms. Finally, it sounds like “St. Firmin” or “Fermin,” the shorter versions of St. Firminus of the famous bulls. So it’s funny several ways, especially if you’re pretending to ask for intercession against worms. It makes a great parody of normal saint processional float behavior, too.

When you give donations to charity, it’s normal for the receivers to pray for the givers. So it’s funny to feed the dragon while asking it to pray for you; but it’s also not a total joke, because the poor and the guys driving the dragon really are going to pray for the donors.

Needless to say, the anti-Catholic English sources of the 19th century take this fun float and turn it into the epitome of ignorant idolatrous ebil. They are all for saying that this proves that Catholics think dragons are saints, that Catholics worship dragons, blah blah blah.

I say that they are party-poopers. And I really, really want me a dragon float.

* The Poitier dragon-feeding cookies were called “casse-museaux,” which means “snout-breaker.” (This pictures St. Radegonde whacking the dragon with blessed bread.) Here are some recipes for today’s casse-museaux, which are probably pretty different from the ones in 1600’s Poitiers, but obviously are still yummy.

Rogation Days casse-museaux biscuit-cakes with white cheese and orange peel. A similar recipe with both milk and cheese with a texture more like muffins or cake.

Casse-museaux hazelnut bars.

Casse-museaux the Ste. Maure de Touraine way, with goat cheese and a lot of alcohol.

Kid in Brassac selling anti-dragon casse-museaux. Here they make them from sheep’s milk. The article describes them as being hard and crisp on the outside, but soft and scrumptious within. Legend says that the inhabitants of Castle Brassac drove a dragon back to the Agout River by smacking him on the nose with some quickly flung casse-museaux. If you have sheep’s milk, here’s a recipe for Brassac casse-museaux.

(Casse-museau can also mean a sort of apple cobbler, chestnut biscuits, or an unsweetened goat cheese cake from Berry.)


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St. John’s Dragon and St. John’s Love

St. John’s dragon in a chalice is almost as common in some churches as St. Michael vs. the dragon/devil. There’s a lot of different stuff behind this.

1. Pretty much everybody in church history identified St. John the Apostle with the author of the Book of Revelation. (And “the beloved disciple,” too.) The Book of Revelation has a dragon in it (the one menacing the Woman Clothed with the Sun), so there’s an obvious association of ideas. (Sometimes St. John even gets pictured with the monsters of Revelation, which is cool if you like many-headed monsters on your stained glass.)

2. St. John and St. James (the “brothers of thunder”) used to share December 27 as their feast day. They were associated with the chalice as a symbol, because (after they angled for thrones next to Jesus) of the fulfilled prophecy that they would both “drink from the chalice from which I will drink” by suffering similar troubles. The confusion lies in that Church also carries a chalice in scenes of the Crucifixion; and that Jesus had another prophecy about John (the ‘hey, what business is it of yours when John dies’ prophecy/snark), and in fact John didn’t get martyred. So it’s a little bit confuzzling as an attribute.

3. However, there’s a legend that John, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy about being able to drink poison, either drank a poisoned cup of wine at a feast without harm, or that when he said Grace over the wine, a vision of a snake/dragon of poison appeared over the glass so that John and everybody else were warned, or that a snake/dragon actually slithered out of the glass and out of the room with the poison. This made for a cool stained glass scene (chalice plus big bitey snake, or chalice plus little flappy dragon) or statue or painting.

This also made St. John one of the patrons of wine and winemaking. (This was particularly fitting, since wine often is associated with fervent love in the Scriptures, and St. John’s Gospel is particularly associated with love.) This was particularly handy on his December 27th feastday, because it was still the Twelve Days of Christmas and a time to be merry.

So on Dec. 27, people would (and still do) bring some of their wine to church and have it blessed by the priest with a special blessing. When blessed by a priest with this old prayer, the wine, called “St. John’s wine” or “the love of St. John,” is actually a sacramental, not just blessed for usefulness like a car. So people would pour it into their wine barrels at home to bless all the other wine. People would save it and give to the sick or dying, or use it for peacemaking when needed. But most of all, people would drink “the love of St. John” to each other at dinner that night. (In Austria, the Family Von Trapp learned to have the older members drink to the younger, all around the table, saying, “I drink you the love of St. John,” which was answered by the toastee, “Thank you for the love of St. John.”)

It is also very nice to give one of your blessed bottles to the priest, so that he shares the merriment too! (And if he doesn’t want to drink it himself, I’m sure he’ll know who can use a nice bottle of the Love of St. John.)

So St. John’s dragon in the chalice is really more of an obedient answer to prayer than a totally bad dragon; and he’s associated with merriment and salvation.

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“Unless a serpent eats a serpent…”

“… he won’t become a dragon.”

A Greek proverb translated into Latin. Dryden and C.S. Lewis also quote it.

Well, that does explain all those solitary dragons….

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Nice Dragon Pictures

A Flicker set of dragons from churches.


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St. Veranus of Cavaillon’s Couloubre

French Wikipedia has gotten a lot better, these last few years.

Here’s a cool little article on St. Veranus (aka Veran or Vrain) defeating the Coulobre “drac”. Once again, it’s a pretty snakey dragon; and “colubra” is Latin for the female of a certain kind of snake. (The same species as the ones forming Medusa’s hair, btw.)

St. Gregory of Tours (his contemporary) tells the story in History of the Franks, but apparently things got more elaborate down the centuries.

The current story is that the female Coulobre abducted handsome young men, and the statue of St. Veran fighting the Coulobre at Fontaine-le-Vaucluse shows it with wings.

St. Veran seems to have taken the dragon to the wilderness, forbidden it to come back, and then let it go. The public works he did in the fountain area and the church he built seem to be associated with this in other legends later on, as a barrier to dragons; possibly because dragons sometimes guarded old pagan sacred springs, and Vaucluse’s fountain actually was a documented pagan sacred spring.

Anyway, much much later, Petrarch vacationed in Vaucluse and wrote a poem about Laura and the Coulobre and so forth, basically saying that for her love he could emulate St. Veran’s great deed, and build a church in the Virgin Mary’s honor just like St. Veran did. Aw. (There’s a lot of Petrarch, and I need to find the actual quote instead of people just talking about it.) The contemporary bishop of Cavaillon was his friend, and he visited him in his castle there as well as living in a little house in the village; so it was logical that he’d take an interest in St. Veran.

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May 1: St. Jeremiah’s Day in Macedonia

May 1 is a traditional day of celebration all over Europe, but the details of the party do tend to change quite a lot! In the Eastern churches, it’s not an important feast of Mary or Joseph. They celebrate St. Jeremiah’s Day. (In Western churches, it’s always been an optional feast, which tends to get celebrated more in monasteries and the like.)

But in Macedonia, people seem to have been particularly struck by the story of St. Jeremiah being lowered into the cistern full of snakes, because it’s a big anti-snake day. Legend in some places says that anybody who works in the field on St. Jeremiah’s Day will be snakebitten, so obviously work is not encouraged. Young girls are sent out barefoot to pick wild garlic, however, as a sovereign remedy against snakebite the rest of the year. In other villages, however, this is the day to go to work and plant cabbage, because young cabbage is supposed to look like snakeheads.

Also, every female member of the household gets up in the morning and goes through the house, the outbuildings, and the grounds in a procession, with pokers and tin capture boxes in hand. Loudly they warn the snakes and lizards that this is St. Jeremiah’s Day, and that they’ll be punished if caught. (Naturally, with all the racket and pounding, they don’t normally see any snakes or lizards.)

In some villages, the men walk nekkid in a body through the village at night, east to west, “chasing the dragon” of drought away by pounding on everything with sticks. (In most of the Oriental world, snakes and dragons are associated with water and rain. In Macedonia, snakes and dragons hold back clouds blowing into town and thus prevent rainfall.) The village men finish the night off by washing off together and then getting dressed; thus averting the wrath of the women at home.

This info comes from a very interesting webpage (in French) on Macedonian holidays in May. They do firewalking on Ss. Constantine and Helena’s Day, for instance.

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St. Ammon’s Dragon Guards

St. Ammon or Amun was an early Christian monk who lived in Nitria, Egypt. He and his wife were forced into an arranged marriage while young. On their wedding night, they agreed to remain celibate together, and kept the vow for eighteen years. After that, they mutually consented to get away from their families’ plans: his wife keeping the house and inviting other vowed virgins to stay there, and him heading out to the desert to be a hermit. Other people heard of his holiness, and tons of other hermits camped out in his area, just as with the popular St. Anthony of Egypt. This caused St. Anthony to invent monasteries for men, and he passed the idea along to St. Ammon for keeping a dull roar among his several thousand hermits. It all went well, and his feast day is October 4.

In this story, we see a bit of the Greek “dragon = big python snake” and a bit of a more Western approach. We also learn that Egyptian desert dragons are scary, but not always bad, and that snakes listen better than people do (as St. Martin of Tours also complained).

Anyway, this story is from St. Rufinus of Aquileia’s Historia Monachorum, chapter 8. (PL 21: 420, 14 – 422, 4.):

I don’t believe that what we heard about Ammon, from a certain holy man we saw in the wilderness in the place in which he had lived, should be omitted. And so when, having parted from the blessed Apollonius, we proceeded to the part of the wilderness opposite Meridianum, we saw a dragon’s huge dragging tracks across the sand; his size had appeared so great that it looked like some treetrunk had been drawn through the sand. So that as we looked, we were struck with huge terror.

But the brothers who had escorted us encouraged us to dread nothing at all, but to rather to take hold of faith and follow the dragon’s track. ‘For you will see,’ they said, ‘how much faith may prevail, when you would have quenched it out of us. For we kill many dragons and snakes and vipers* with our hands; for as we read it written that the Savior allows those believing in Him “to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”‘ (Lk. 10:19) But with them saying this, we dreaded more and more because of the fragility of our faithlessness, and we asked them not to want to follow the dragon’s tracks, but rather that we might proceed straight on the road. Yet one of them, impatient, had followed the dragon with alacrity. And when he had found its cave not far off, he called us so that we might have gone to him and seen the end of the business.

Yet another of the brothers who dwelt nearby in the desert hurried to meet us, and forbade us to follow the dragon, saying we could not endure his appearance, especially because we were not used to seeing anything such as that. Truly, he said that he himself frequently saw that same beast of incredible devastation, and that it was fifteen cubits long. And when he had advised us against approaching the place, he hurried himself to pull away, recall, and turn back the brother who had awaited us, prepared for the beast’s killing and unwilling to depart unless he had killed it.

When he would have come to us, he refuted our faintheartedness and faithlessness. So arriving at his little cell, we rested, received by him with much love. Truly, he told us that in this place where he always stayed had been a certain holy man named Ammon, whose disciple he had been; through Ammon, the Lord had done many things of power. And so he told us this one, among others.

“Frequently,” he said, “thieves came to him, carrying off the bread from him which was the only thing he ate, and was what he stored for his most continent way of living. And when he had suffered this annoyance frequently, on a certain day he proceeded into the desert; and coming back from there, he ordered two huge dragons to accompany him; and then he ordered them to stay at his monastery door, and they went in and guarded him. The thieves came according to custom, and saw what the guards on the threshold were, so that the dragons saw them; and [the sight] made them unable to move or think; they lost the power to speak and they collapsed immediately. When the old man realized this, he went out and found the thieves half-dead, and coming near and rousing them, he rebuked them, saying, ‘You see how much stubborner you are than these beasts; for they obey us according to God, but you neither fear God nor go blush to disturb the life of God’s servants.’

“Nevertheless, bringing them into the cell, he set the table and asked that they take food. Truly, with pricked hearts and their whole minds, they turned away from brutality; in short, they did better than many who began to serve the Lord earlier. For they did such great penance that after a few seasons, they also could do the same signs and the same works of power [as Ammon].

“Afterwards, at a different time, with a certain most immense dragon having laid waste to the neighboring regions and killed many, the inhabitants of that place came to the above-mentioned Father, asking him that he might kill the beast for their region; and at the same time, that they might persuade the old man to mercy, they brought a shepherd’s young son with them who had been terrified out of his mind by only a sight of the dragon, and had felled and been carried off, unable to move and swollen, from only the dragon’s breath. Then he restored health to this boy, indeed by anointing him with oil.**

“Meanwhile, he would promise nothing to those urging him to kill the dragon himself, as if one who could not help them with anything. But rising early, he went off to the beast’s sleeping place, and fixed his knees to the earth, begging the Lord. Then the beast began to come against him with a huge attack, sending out foul snorting and hisses and rattles. But fearing nothing of this, he said, turning toward the dragon, ‘May Christ, the Son of God, Who shall destroy the great whale, destroy you.’*** And when that old man spoke, immediately that direst dragon also vomiting poison with every breath, blew up, bursting down the middle.

“But when the neighboring inhabitants would have gathered and wondered at it, unable to bear the violence of the stink, they got together an immense mass of sand over it — with Father Ammon still standing by, because not even when the beast was dead did they dare approach it without him.”

* Vipers: literally, “horned serpents,” a translation of the Greek “cerastes”. It all means “vipers.” There’s a specific species in Egypt that has little scales standing up above its eyes and looking like horns.

** Anointing him with oil: Presumably, oil of the sick. The Anointing of the Sick is plenty ancient.

*** “Who destroyed the great whale” — Isaiah 27:1. “In that day the Lord, with his hard and great and strong sword, shall visit Leviathan the bar serpent, and Leviathan the crooked serpent, and shall slay the whale that is in the sea.” Also, since Christ compared Himself to Jonah, and since He was in the belly of Sheol for three days and nights when He was dead, Hell is the “great whale,” and Hellmouth has often been portrayed looking like a stylized whale mouth, in pictures of Jesus leading out the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

There is such a thing as a Nubian Spitting Cobra and a Red Spitting Cobra, both of which are found in Egypt. Maybe that’s what’s meant by the poison breath?

Here’s a translation of all of The History of the Egyptian Monks. Unfortunately I didn’t find it until after I did mine!

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Names of French Rogation Dragons

A list of local medieval, Renaissance, or later names for their local Rogation Days processional dragon. Just because it’s nifty.

Metz: the Grawly or Graouilly.

Nimes: the crocodile.

Niort: the crocodile dragon.

Poitiers: The Grande Gueule.

Reims: the Kraulla or Grand Bailla.

Rouen: the Gargouille.

Tarascon: the Tarasque.

Troyes: the Chair-Salee.

Local dragons defeated by saints:

Defeated by St. Armentarius.

Defeated by St. Victor.

Metz: the Grawly or Graouilly.
Defeated by St. Clement, bishop.

Defeated by St. Quiriatus.

St. Marceau/Paris:
Defeated by St. Marcellus.

Tarascon: the Tarasque.
Defeated by St. Martha.

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St. Marcellus’ Paris Dragon

I found a very interesting article on dragons today!

It was in the Google preview of a book called Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages by Jacques Le Goff. The article is called “Ecclesiastical Culture and Folklore in the Middle Ages: Saint Marcellus of Paris and the Dragon.”

This thing is pretty darned good. He brings up the fifth century bishop of Paris and his Vita by Venantius Fortunatus, which is the first source we have that tells the story of St. Marcellus scaring off a dragon that was attacking tiny pre-medieval Paris. He then goes into all sorts of considerations of dragons in the Fathers, dragons in medieval saints’ legends, Rogation procession dragons, and so on. He points out that dragons often are explicitly a symbol of a particular nation (like the Welsh and Saxon dragons fighting each other, or the Draco Normannicus), or are thought of as just an impressive animal (Romans and medievals believed that dragons were the largest animal in existence, as Mediterranean whales were big but not as big as oceangoing whales), or as a symbol of pagan beliefs or an unjust government. They don’t always represent the Devil, although they often do.

We also learn from Le Goff that in Romanesque art, dragons on bishops’ staffs and croziers were usually portrayed as defeated — either killed or subdued by the Cross — instead of as Moses’ lively snake/dragon staff as was the Eastern style.

In Paris, Notre Dame’s parish used a Rogation dragon made of wicker. This giant basket dragon had gaping jaws and a gullet, into which Parisians threw fruit and cakes as the dragon was marched along the procession route. A reverse pinata! This also happened in Metz and in Troyes, particularly in front of bakeshops, and particularly by customers or the bakers themselves. This may have been a form of collecting alms for the poor, or a gift to the procession walkers (who doubtless were hungry by the end of the day). Rogation Days were days of abstinence, so fruit and bread were things you could eat that day. The dragon may also have represented the temptation to break the fast with meat, so throwing cakes and fruit to a hungry carnivorous dragon was a mockery of the devil’s power to tempt.

So yup, more dragons in Christian symbolism!

Here’s the current St. Marcel’s Church in Paris, which only dates back to 1966. Their parish website does tell you a lot about the previous (much nicer) parish churches and their patron. In late Roman/early medieval times, St. Marcel/St. Marceau was a small village on the road between Paris and Sens. Later it became a Paris suburb, and then part of the city.


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Dragon-Stompin’ Jesus!

Sometimes, you just need a good song about whacking things and harrowing Hell. Here’s an Easter poem by the Scottish poet Dunbar, which clearly needs more exposure. (So I’m modernizing and Anglicizing the spelling.)

Everything goes better with dragons.

Done is a battle on the dragon black,
Our champion Christ confounded has his force;
The gates of Hell are broken with a crack,
The sign triumphal raised is of the Cross,
The devils tremble with hideous voice,
The souls are borrowed and to the bliss can go,
Christ with His blood our ransoms does endorse: *repay
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro. *”The Lord rises from the tomb.”

Done in is the deadly dragon Lucifer,
The cruel serpent with the mortal sting,
The old keen tiger with his teeth ajar,
Which in wait has lain for us so long,
Thinking to grip us in his claws strong;
The merciful Lord willed not that it were so,
He made him for to fail of that fang:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

He for our sake that suffered to be slain,
And like a lamb in sacrifice was dight,
Is like a lion risen up again,
And as a giant raised Him up on height;
Sprung is Aurora, radiant and bright,
On loft is gone the glorious Apollo,
The blissful day departed from the night:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

The foe is chased, the battle is done cease,
The prison broken, the jailers fled and flemmed; *banished
The war is gone, confirmed is the peace,
The fetters loosed and the dungeon temmed, *emptied
The ransom made, the prisoners redeemed,
The field is won, overcame is the foe,
Despoiled of the treasure that he yemmed: *guarded
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

Hell as a dragon’s dungeon-lair full of his hoard and his prisoners, and Christ as a dragonslayer. Man, you have to love Dunbar.

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Hardbitten Hunter Saints

Check out this Durer altarpiece! (Click for bigger size.)

I am not kidding about the “hardbitten” thing. It looks like St. George and St. Eustace have been riding all day, want a beer bad, and wouldn’t be above a brawl in the tavern if anybody gives them reason. Check out St. Eustace’s riding boots; even they say the same thing. And check out that dragon… or rather, that ex-dragon!

Apparently, somebody named Paumgartner must have told Durer they didn’t want any wimpy-looking saints, and he must have taken it as a challenge…. 🙂

The altarpiece was commissioned by a couple of Paumgartner brothers (not the religious kind) who had just come back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and wanted to make a thank-offering. I don’t know why they went to Jerusalem (I hope they didn’t murder anybody in a tavern brawl!), but apparently the dangers of the journey didn’t make them look much like St. Francis. Anyway, Durer did something radical and modelled St. George after Stephan Paumgartner and St. Eustace after Lukas Paumgartner; their whole family is depicted as a group elsewhere on the altarpiece, in the corners of the Nativity panel in the center. Mom could take somebody out, with those rosary beads. But actually, in closeup it looks like Lukas had a softer side, which is probably why Durer is a great artist and I’m not. 🙂

It’s weird to see the Nativity from behind, isn’t it?

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