Brioude (Haute-Loire)

It is possible that this capital in the basilica of Saint-Julien represents the moments before the decapitation of St Julian,
a fourth-century saint (probably legendary) who was allegedly pursued by the soldiers
of a certain Crispinus, commander of a garrison, had his head cut off at this 'pagan' cult-centre of Brioude,
and his head carried to the important Roman administrative centre of Vienne.

However, his nakedness and large penis are not explained by the legend,
and the soldiers carry lances and shields, not short swords or battle-axes
suitable for decapitation. One of the soldiers appears to be grasping him by the beard.


photo © Adrian Fletcher, www.paradoxplace.com


The legend of St Julian shows that there was considerable anxiety in Romanesque times
about the continuation of 'pagan' practices in the more remote areas. It should be remembered that the word 'pagan'
from Latin paganus became the word paysan in France - a term of abuse even today.
It should also be remembered that Christianity is the most intolerant of all religions,
and that people (like St Julian) who went around destroying shrines and desecrating holy places
were declared saints and martyrs.

Alas, there are no pagan martyrs: some of the figures depicted at Brioude my be almost the only record.

Here is a semi-exhibitionist 'pagan' sheep-farmer straddling a severed head.
He is also sticking out his tongue, a common metaphor of sinfulness.
Is this a slander on rural life ?


photo © Emmanuel Pierre

Another sheep-carrying pagan, also (apparently) exhibitionist.
Commentators have linked this motif with the Greek Hermes Criophoros (ram-carrier),
but while the iconographic origin probably goes back to the
Roman period
the depiction here is surely not that of Hermes/Mercury as god of flocks, nor of The
Good Shepherd.


photo © Emmanuel Pierre


But these tongue-stickers, flanking another naked, winged figure with mouth agape, are winged acrobats.
(I cannot interpret the insscription.)


photo © Emmanuel Pierre


These figures, on two sides of the same capital are easily interpreted:
the male exhibitionist with snakes represents Concupiscentia.
The figure in between is having his moustaches pulled by the exhibitionists.

photos © Emmanuel Pierre


This is a good example of a moustachioed mouth-puller on an external keystone.
This also is a sin-motif.


photo © Adrian Fletcher, www.paradoxplace.com


Although from this angle this scene might be interpreted as sodomy, one of the most heinous sins,
it seems to me to represent Adam-as-peasant, with the tree and the serpent, being grabbed by Satan.


photo © Emmanuel Pierre

A capital featuring beard-puller ?monks and ?monks blowing oliphants
or trumpets of doom to announce the presence of evil.

see more beardpullers
photo © Julianna Lees

Compare with a capital at Passirac (Charente) depicting a concupiscent male
being warned by similar trumpeters of doom.


Amongst the gamut of Romanesque themes at Brioude are centaurs, mermaids,
centauresses with bow and arrow...


photo © Emmanuel Pierre


...asses playing the harp, rote or lyre...

more asses
photo © Emmanuel Pierre


...human harp or rote players flanked by monsters (in this capital a rare Minotaur)...


photo © Emmanuel Pierre


...and acrobatic mermen (another rare motif representing unnatural behaviour).


photo © Emmanuel Pierre


Another merman/acrobat on an exterior capital.


photo © Adrian Fletcher, www.paradoxplace.com


Here is a naked ?ape
with a chain around his neck, as at
Droiturier (Allier) and other Auvergnat churches.

more capitals at Brioude
photo © Emmanuel Pierre


And finally, to raise the tone, here is one of the many Biblical scenes beautifully interpreted by master-sculptors,
still retaining its original polychrome.


photo © Emmanuel Pierre