400 Quirks No.5 ~ "A Farewell To Kings"


"A Farewell To Kings"


As medieval towers go, the splendid Tour Jean Sans Peur is about as good as they get, in Paris at least.

There are still quite a few vestiges of the middle ages left in the city, especially in the Marais quarter, as we shall see later, but ones which are thoroughly visible aren't so common.

Here in the 2nd arrondissement then it's a pleasure to discover a fully-fledged medieval curiosity which has almost miraculously survived numerous city growing pains, including bursting through the old Philippe Auguste wall which the Tour Jean Sans Peur sneakily straddled.

"Most others of its ilk have been smashed to
smithereens in fits of anti-royal spitefulness."

But today's quirk isn't about the tower itself, for it holds far too many curiosities to have them all lumped together as one.

Today's curiosity is about a small architectural detail skulking way up high in a difficultly accessible position, which is no doubt the reason for its continued existence today, when others of its ilk were being smashed to smithereens in a fit of anti-royal spitefulness.

I'm talking about a symbol which has represented royal dominance down through the ages. As such it also represented all that was hated about the king when things weren't going so much in his favour. This was most in evidence during the various revolutionary periods of French history when anything and everything holding any sort of reference to royal righteousness was treated with the utmost contempt; if it could be removed from public view, ideally violently, then so much the better.

But climbing up a sheer stone wall within a rather obscure and inaccessible old tower seems to have been just about beyond both the capabilities and concerns of our sans culotte revolutionaries.

The oh-so-royal little fleurs de lys, nestled up high under the arching ceiling of the Tour Jean Sans Peur have, miraculously, survived, which is more than can be said for the unfortunate creature holding the shield, who has had his (or her?) face smashed in and lost an arm into the bargain. perhaps from rocks hurled from below by those lacking a handy piece of scaffolding at short notice. Ouch!

There are plenty of other examples of revolutionary zeal around the city, most of the successful in their aim of destroying these royal symbols, so those few remaining examples are, in retrospect, to be cherished.

Historically, the fleur de lys, or 'lily flower', is intimately connected to the French monarchy. Having said that, it actually appears all over the place, such as parts of the US and Canada which have a strong cultural or historical link with France.

It also makes an appearance on the arms of the King of Spain and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, who are linked to the House of Bourbon.

An interesting little historical quirk, and after all we're all about quirks here, n'est-ce pas, is that the three leaves are said to represent the three social classes of medieval France.

And what are those classes, you are expecting me to tell you, I presume! Try to guess before you read the next paragraph, and think... middle ages...

And the three medieval social classes were, arguably, the workers, the fighters and the prayers (i.e. those who prayed). Which in itself is highly revelatory of the state of things back in those days, I would say. Fascinating stuff.

If you've been privy to another signification of the three leaves in the fleur de lys symbol, then do share in the comments section.

As an epilogue to all this, the final picture shows Rémi Rivière, the Directeur of the Tour Jean Sans Peur, to which we'll return in due course, along with his tower, of course. Rémi was almost single-handedly responsible for reopening it to the public as a going commercial concern, thus guaranteeing, for the time being at least, that this vitally important historical monument isn't left to disintegrate and reduce the city's heritage by more than we could imagine.

My interview with Rémi will be published on Paris If You Please shortly.



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© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, requests and comments always welcome! J