Mournful and moving –in stone
This is a monument I have revisited on several occasions. First time was in October 1997. It was autumn. My interest was aroused when seeing a reference to Mark Twain in the guide book.
Next time I spotted the name Lowendenkmai Dying Lion of Luzern, was in 2006. We were cycle touring in Switzerland. It was raining. On this occasion the monochromatic sculpture chiselled from the rock cliff contrasted with the red summer blooms.
It is as colossal in pathos as it is in size: Six metres tall. 10 metres long, it sits in its lair chiselled from the cliff rising from a natural quarry. A broken spear protrudes from its side. Its legs are pulled against its body. There is a collection of broken weapons and a shield embossed with the Swiss Cross. Tears from the lion bubble in a pool several metres below the cave.
Surrounding the monument is an English-style garden with tall trees.
The Latin above the cave translates Faithfulness and bravery of Swiss men.
The lion appealed to Mark Twain, a sarcastic albeit humorous writer who played of the fragility of the human race.
He observed lions do die in such settings. He described the lion the ``most mournful and most moving piece of stone in the world.’’
Its unveiling in 1821 remembered the Swiss Guard (mercenaries) in service to King Louis of France when his own guards were no longer loyal.
The Swiss were seen as a reactionary of the monarchy. They were killed to the last man by revolutionaries on the night of August 10, 1792.
The massacre ended the Swiss offer of Foreign Service in France.
King Louis XV1 and his Queen were guillotined in 1793.
The monument was controversial from its beginning.
Republicans and liberals did not like praising mercenaries.
To others it represented patriotism and adherence to duty.
In 1878 the Massacre was less than a century old.
Mark Twain wrote: `` Louis XV1, as a private man would have been lovable but as a King he was strictly contemptible. His was a most unroyal career. But his most pitiful spectacle was his treachery to his Swiss guard.
``Queen Marie Antoinette was trivial and foolish. She had made the most unwise mistake of being born.’’
And the Lion of Luzern might not have been `if Napoleon the first had have stood in the shoes of Louis XV1 instead of being that day merely a casual and unknown looker on.’’
Mark Twain was in Luzern primarily to buy a cuckoo clock. He bought three. He refused to buy any of the tacky souvenirs of miniature lions.
His descriptions of Luzern, Switzerland’s medieval city, pretty well match what today’s travellers expect.
The lion monument is the same. Away from busy streets it is approached through a gate that is never closed. The lion is as poignant as it is inaccurate.
Styled largely on models seen in collections in Rome, little effort was made to study the living creature. Its pained face is designed to evoke sympathy. It is typical of 18th century romanticism.
The rain eased long enough for me to try and capture that elusive something that inspired Mark Twain to call it the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.
The rain returned, saturating our bicycle seats. It was seeping through unzipped nooks of our rain jackets. Down our necks. We opted for a good lunch.
In 2010 I made my third visit to the Lion. It was Sunday morning. For a time it was quiet. Then tourists arrived to spend a few moments, obviously with little understanding of what it is about.
Just something to tick off as a ``done that’’ sort of visit.