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QR Vic-le-Comte – Bourg 5

110 creatures

A world of signs and dreams

The saddle roof of the Sainte-Chapelle is highlighted by a wonderful cornice carved with 110 creatures. In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, animals featured heavily in church décor. In a time when people did not travel much, there was no distinction between mythical, exotic or familiar animals. Animals were depicted in forms that were far removed from real life – animals that can fly, swim, crawl, split into two, undulate and even devour themselves… Because of this, some creatures are difficult to identify.

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  • The wolf, cunning and cruel, devours a lamb in the image of the devil who torments mankind.
  • The lion, king of the wild beasts (rex bestarium) described in the Old Testament as brutal, cruel and dangerous. He incarnates the forces of evil, tyrants and villainous kings.
  • The wild boar, a foul, evil, ugly, black, bristly, fearless beast that fights to the death when hunted by man.
  • The bear, « la masle beste », hirsute and of prodigious strength, which the Fathers of the Church place in Satan’s bestiary. He is associated with the deadly sins of gluttony, anger, sloth and lust. On the cornice, he gorges on honey.
  • The manticore has the body of a lion, the horned head of a man, three rows of teeth, a scorpion’s tail and the wings of a bat. She attracts men, women and children with her beautiful and harmonious voice so she can devour them.
  • The goat, always feverish. It is said that his blood is so hot that it can burn through anything, even diamonds. The goat is driven by carnal desire and symbolises humans as slaves to the pleasures of the flesh.
  • The unicorn and its horn in the middle of its forehead. For many authors in the Middle Ages, it was a cruel beast, a figure of the devil, dangerous to capture.

Exotic, fantastic or familiar animals were therefore interpreted according to the dogmatic or moral lesson they represented. Animals with human-like personalities and feelings embody the battle between good and evil. Sin is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists, who have always used ugliness to represent transgression (we can also see on the cornice a small demon whose posture leaves little equivocation as to his transgression). By placing this bestiary outside the Sainte-Chapelle, we are reminded that « the earthly kingdom » is populated with human beings who are susceptible to the devil’s many temptations, whereas « the heavenly kingdom » (the interior of the church) is under God’s power.

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