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Viking Weather-Vane Practices in Medieval France

Viking Weather-Vane Practices in Medieval France

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"Viking Weather-Vane Practices in Medieval France" by Susanne Lindgren and Jehuda Neumann appeariing in Förmännen, Vol. 78, 1983
"Viking Weather-Vane Practices in Medieval France" by Susanne Lindgren and Jehuda Neumann appeariing in Förmännen, Vol. 78, 1983

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Viking weather-vane practices inmedieval France
By Susanne Lindgren and Jehuda Neumann
Lindgren, S & Neumann, J. 1984. Viking weather-vane practices in medievalFrance. (Vikingatradition i bruket av vindflöjlar i medeltidens Frankrike).
Fornvännen 78. Stockholm.
This paper discusses the apparent influence and, even, spread of Vikingweather-vane practices to countries outside the Scandinavian area. Churches,not only in Normandy but even in distant parts of France gilded their weather
cocks,
a custom unknown in countries removed from direct Viking influence,e.g. Italy. The status-symbol value of the weather-vane also spread to medieval France: only members of the signeurial class were allowed to flauntweather-vanes on their castles and lodgings.
Susanne Lindgren, Institute oj History, University oj Helsinki, Vuorikatu 6 A, Helsinki
10,
Finland.Jehuda Neumann, Department ojAtmospheric Sciences, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.
The antiquarian and archeological literatureon Viking weather vanes and a considerationof the Icelandic Sagas lead to the followingthree principal conclusions:a. The vanes were highly ornamented.
b.
As a rule, the vanes were gold-coated.c. The vanes were a kind of status symbol.As to the latter, the Sagas indicate that onlythe larger warships were permitted to flaunt
vanes.
Moreover the observation that theGrimsta vane was found in a grave whichdiffered from the others about it by the size ofits mound, and by the oval of stones around it(Biörnstad 1958, pp. 2-3), suggests that thegrave was that of an important personage andthat the vane was buried with him on accountof his superior standing, i.e. this observationtoo implies that the weather vane was a sortof a status symbol.In view of the fact that the Vikings conquered territories in the British Isles, Irelandand France and actually settled in some ofthese areas, the following questions arise: Didthe Vikings preserve their weather-vane practices in their new countries? Did these practices influence the nations among which theysettled? Did they influence the nations whichresided in territories adjacent to those they co-lonized?It appears that the afore said questions canbe answered in the affirmative in the case ofmedieval France. A study of contemporarysources indicates that the custom of gildingthe vanes, and the bestowal of a status symbolon the vanes are evident in medieval Franceeven in the east of the country, well awayfrom the areas colonized by the Vikings. Wehave some indications for England too but theevidence is scanty. In contrast, in othercountries of western, central and south-western (Italy and Spain) Europé which weredistant from the areas settled by Vikings, theabove customs were not in force. We know ofone exception and this exception is merelyapparent, see below.
Förmännen 78 (19831
 
198 S. Lindgren &J. NeumannViking weather-vane practice influences in FranceThat the practice of gilding the vanes andtheir importance as status symbols went withthe Vikings on their conquests is best illustrated by the case of Normandy. It will berecalled that about the year 900 a Vikingforce led by Rollo conquered an area of north-western France roughly coinciding with Normandy. Gradually, the force of conquerors,plunderers and tribute-collectors became agroup of settlers. The Vikings intermarried(they had, in any case, far too few womenwith them) with, and merged into the localpopulation, adopting the local language andenriching it with words of their original ton-
gue.
In 911 Charles the Simple, king of thewestern Franks, ceded Upper Normandy toRollo. By treaty, Rollo and his successorswere made rulers of the area. In 912 Rollo didhomage to Charles whose "vassal" he nowwas and converted to Christianity. In effect,he was the first Duke of Normandy. In 923 heenlarged his dominion by acquiring the Co-tentin Peninsula and some adjacent areas,induding Bayeux and Coutances (Dép. de laManehe), a city that will be mentioned in thenext paragraph. The former Vikings and thelocal population, now merged into one, became the Normans who in 1066 successfullyinvaded England under the leadership of William, Duke of Normandy, a Sth generationdescendant of Rollo. For a brief review of thesubject, see, e.g., Jones (1968, pp. 229-232)and a map (due to T.D. Kendrick) on p. 230of the same text; see also map on p. 67 ofGraham-Campell(1980).As a first exemple of the adoption of Vikingweather-vane customs, especially that of gilding the vanes, by the Normans, we cite thecase of the Cathédral of Coutances. It is related in the story of Gaufridus (Geoffroi l
er
deMontbray, 1049-94), Bishop of Coutances(see pp. 78-79 in Delisle 1877) that the mag-nificent Cathédral of the city was inauguratedin the presence of William, the future Conquer-or, in 1056 amidst great pomp. The accountcontinues (p. 79): "Anno namque Dominicaeincarnat. MXCI, indiet. XV, IV nonas novembris, cum esset idem praesul Constantiisin aula episcopali quam fecerat et plantave-rat, terrae motus factus est et fulgura exstite-runt nimia, ita ut gallum deauratum qui majoriecdesiae turri eminebat minutatim conscin-derent. . ." (Our Italics.JIn other words, onNovember 2nd, 1091 there was an earthquakeand severe lightning smashed the golden cock topiéces.A few lines below the passage (p. 79) in thestory of Bishop Gaufridus quoted above, it isrecorded that when the Bishop perceived thathis death was imminent, he sent for a craftsman from England to have the Cathédral re-paired and the gilded cock restored: " . . .fecit . . .deauratum gallum, quem praedictum ful-gur destruxerat, studiosé restaurari, majo-remque (majorique turri) superimponi.. ."As a second example we cite the case of theBenedictine abbey of St.-Pierre de Chälons,near what is now Chälon-sur-Saone, Dép.Saone-et-Loire, i.e. eastern central France,över some 500 km away from the Normandy-Cotentin area. The monk author Guillaume(Guilldmus Cabillonensis Monachus; Cabil-lonum is of one of the several Latin names ofChälon-sur-Saåne; in the French literature heis referred to as Gui de Chålons) relätes (Pat-rologia Latina, vol. 134, col. 1017)that in theevening of 25 August 965: "Dum vesperascantaremus . . . subito valde fragore codumintonuit. . . Tria fulgura visa . . . terribilia ni-
mis:
quae percusserunt tria haec monasteriinostri; turrim signorum, quam rustici clocca-rium dicimus . . . Haec de turre percussasunt: similitudo galli in summo pono: ipsumpomum cum omnibus subaurationibus et oma-mentis . . ." (Our italics.) That is, three terri-ble flashes of lightning struck the cock atopthe "äpple", the äpple
itself,
with all the gilding . . .A further interesting example involvingWilliam the Conqueror, is described in thenext Section.William the Conqueror fixes a gilded weather vaneon his command shipOur third example for the use of gildedweather vanes is connected with William,Duke of Normandy who, shortly after thetime when he afiixes a gilded weather vane tohis command ship, sails to invade England.
Fornvännen 78 (1983)
 
I
'iking weather-vane practices 199We are thus dealing with an event which tookplace about 150 years after Rollo's conquestof Normandy.The Anglo-Norman writer Wace (Nouvellebiographie générale, Vol. 46, 1866; also calledVace, Wacce, Waice, Wage, Guace, Gasse,Guasco  all these variants of Eustace) whowas born c. 1120 on Jersey and died about1180 in England, whose father appears tohave been a carpenter in the höst of craftsmenassembled by William at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme to build his invasion fleet, and was ata time a prebendary at Bayeux, wrote a met-ric chronicle Le Roman de Rou (Rou = Rollo)composed in the Norman-French language.This chronicle describes the exploits of theDukes of Normandy, beginning with Rollo,through William and the conquest of Englandup to the eighth year of the reign of Henri I.In lines 6435 to 6452 of the recent edition ofthe Roman (Wace 1971, Vol. II, p. 124) by A.J. Holden, Wace relätes how William and hiswarriors waited impatiently at Saint Valeri(Saint-Valery-sur-Somme of our days, nearthe south-eastern end of the English Chan-
nel),
about 100 km away from the site of theBattle of Hastings, for a favourable wind tocarry them to England's shores. They wereeager for booty. They bring out the reliquaryshrine of Saint Walaric from the abbeyfounded and named after him, place the shrine on a carpet in the field and pray. Theyshower the casket with their denarii and prayfor a wind that will enable them to cross över.Soon thereafter a favourable wind begins toblow. The Duke then places a lantern on thetop of his ship's mast so that the rest of thefleet can keep station and next, fixes a gildedweather vane on the mast. The following is acopy of the earlier named lines in the language of the chronicle as per the A. J. Holdenedition:
64356440
A Saint Valeri longuementsejornerent por aveir vent,as barons a mull ennoié;pois ont tant le covent preiéque la chasse Saint Valerimistrent as chans sor un tapi.Al corsaint vindrent tuit orercil qui deveient mer passer,tant i ont tuit deniers olferttot le corsaint en ont covert;6445 emprés cel jor assez briementorent bone oré e boen vent.Une lanterne fisl li dusmetre en sa nef el mast desus,que les altres nes la veissent6450
e
emprés Iui lor cors tenissent;une wirewire doreeout de coivre en somet levee.From the point of view of the present paper,the most relevant lines are 6451-2. As theeditor points out in a footnote to the page (p.
124),
other versions of the chronicle havewirewite instead of wirewire and these are butthe Old Norman forms for weather vane deri-ving from the Icelandic: vedrviti (e.g. Falk,
1912,
p. 42; further, see Section 7 below)."Doree" means, of course, gold-coated. Thevane itself is made of copper ("coivre") and,according to line 6448, William places thevane on the mast.ItalyAbove we cited two cases from the literatureof the lOth century in France indicating thatthe cocks of churches were gilded. And, as wehave just seen, the weather vane fixed byWilliam the Conqueror on his command shiptoo was gilded.These instances of gilding the weathercocks probably represent a Viking custom,for, to the best of our knowledge, it was notcustomary to gild the cocks in countrieswhich were not directly influenced by the Vikings though one apparent exception, viz. thecase of the St. Gallen Monastery in Switzer-land, will be mentioned låter. In support ofour statement that it was not customary togild the weather cocks in countries unaffectedby the Vikings, we quote two cases from Italy.In 820 Rambertus, Bishop of Brescia,northern Italy, had had a bronze cock atop hischurch. This is related by the Florence-bornFerdinando Ughelli (1595-1670), Abbot ofthe Saints Vincent and Anastasius CistercianMonastery at Aquae Salviae (Tre Fontane,
Rome),
author of the multi-volume study Italia Sacra sive de Episcopis Italiae et insularum adi-acentium (1652). The objective of this majorFornvännen
78
(1983)

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