Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Headless Saint

I used the word "saint", but I'm not sure whether it is the appropriate word or not, since three figures in the photo have angel-like wings and the one on the left-hand side must be a king (he has, besides the crown, a scepter in his left hand and a ball representing the world in the other). Anyway, these holy figures, especially the one with his head in his hand, attracted my attention when I visited Notre Dame de Paris.

A Headless Saint

Let me explain from the beginning. This is the photo of the decoration carved on one of the three entrance-gates that lead you into 'la Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris' (the middle gate is closed). The façade of the Cathedral has three main big gates (see the second photo), and all of them are magnificently ornamented with many statues and symbolic or allegorical animals and plants in relief.

The headless figure is outstanding compared with many other 'normal' figures on the gates. I have been thinking there must be some legend behind this strange figure. Is he a great martyr who was canonized after enduring hardship for the sake of his faith? Is he the same person as the king on the left, and do the four figures tell his pious life briefly like some medieval paintings where different times are often depicted in one canvas?

I remember that I have met a similar headless figure somewhere in a story, though the story was not about a saint or a king but, if my memory is correct, about a knight. The whole story escaped my memory, but the scene that remains still impressive in me goes roughly like this:

A knight had a fight in a tournament (or in a battle, I'm not sure) and he was defeated and beheaded by his opponent. He fell down from his steed but he did not die on the spot. Slowly he rose to his feet and picked up his cut-off head, which lay on the ground, and the head spoke some words about revenge and he, the headless knight, mounted his horse again and went away, carrying his head under his arm.

I'm not going to say that this bizarre story has something to do directly with the headless figure in the relief of Notre Dame de Paris. I think, however, that this kind of figure holding his head in his hand might appear in other folk tales and legends, and it may be one of the common figures the Western people’s imagination produced.


At 11:44 PM, March 28, 2005, Blogger Akarui said...

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At 11:47 PM, March 28, 2005, Blogger Akarui said...

The URL of your photo does indeed seem to be wrong. It should be either:


You will find these URLs simply by clicking on "all sizes" immediately above the respective photo page.

The headless horseman you have in mind may derive from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, which, as you note, has nothing to do with the cathedral in Paris. The cathedral precedes Irving by a great many centuries.

Offhand, I'd say the headless saint is John the Baptist (not to be confused with John the Evangelist). John was beheaded because Salome asked for his head on a platter (and yes, Oscar Wilde wrote a play about this femme fatale).

At 12:10 AM, March 29, 2005, Blogger Akarui said...


The two Flickr URLs I gave in my previous post are wrong.

I turns out that Flickr doesn't allow anyone to pull photos off their servers unless those photos are distributed (as mine are) under a Creative Commons license.

I can't link to the Flickr page on Creative Commons because Flickr is down right now, but log in to Flickr, go go to the Home page and click on "Creative Commons" under "Explore" at the foot of the page. (Creative Commons is an initiative launched by Harvard University law professor Larry Lessig, one of the brightest thinkers on the Internet.)

If you don't want to distribute your photos under a Creative Commons license, just scale them to the right size and upload them to the Data Center server. That should do the trick just as well.


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