Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chillon Castle Santa. Black Madonna. Heraldry on Walls. And Religion on Ceilings.

Finding Santa Claus, and a Black Madonna, in Unexpected Places.
Chillon Castle, Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Join a tour, have to keep up. But, if you go on your own, you can stay as long as you like, and find things. Here, start looking at frescoes, wall and ceiling paintings, and heraldry. Some things bowl you over.

A. We found Santa Claus.

Yes. He is not at the North Pole.  He is on Lake Geneva, Chillon Castle heraldry room, confronting a big black bear -  possibly a Bern image, but what about Santa? Or is that a black dragon?  The heraldry Griffon, perhaps, also spelled "Griffin" - see :// Or Gryphon.  There are littler cute griffins or gryphons showing below, black against red griffins there?  Who prevailed:  it looks like the red griffin is bottom up. It looks like waves around, or big winds, black and white again and the red Santa. For heraldry, start at ://

Back to Chillon:  Find a clue:  "Frederic de Gingins."  Who? This is really odd.

First, Santa:  No clue from our fast look-ups. But it is there. Hoax?

1.  Frederic de Gingins as Baron de Gingins, whose name apppears beneath some unusual (anachronistic?) heraldry in the heraldry hall at Chillon Castle, Switzerland.  He is in a google book now, at "Historic Studies in Vaud, Berne and Savoy; from Roman Times to Voltaire, Rousseau and Gibbon" by an English General Meredith Read (family connections to America, Virginia; Civil War era accomplishments noted) at ://  This is full of Gingins references - skimmed for Santa or a Saint Nicholas or something, did not find.  But long long history of Ginginses.

All that is fine, but when and why and how the Santa? As a Vaudois nobleman, he is listed as Frederic Gingins-La-Sarra, 1790-1863, or La Sarraz (see Author Index at ://, a historian specializing in medieval times who sometimes went beyond his documents to make something what he wanted it to say, see :// Antoine-Charles de Gingins. has an 1859 geneology you can order. Is Santa home? Part of the Sires de Montfaucon comtes de Montbeliard.   

2.  There is a "Christmas Market" in Montreux, town just down from Chillon Castle (is it in Montreux?), but that looks modern, but then again so does this odd Santa, see ://  The heraldry is a hoax? Ok. Here is a long history of Switzerland: at :// No mention.

3.  This is not St. Nicolas of Myra, patron saint of children, see :// and there are no ecclesiastical hats or flock hooks here either. See also ://  Swiss civic heraldry is indexed at :// Have not been through them all.

B.  And a Black Madonna at Chillon.  

We found a Black Madonna. This time, up high.

We have seen free-standing paintings of Black Madonnas, and statues.  There are many, and varied in explanations and places in Europe, and, we understand, elsewhere in the New World.  See, an outdated, but good for a start, our collection at an earlier time at Europe Road Ways, Themes, Black Madonnas

Here we find our first Black Madonna painting on a ceiling, a ceiling fresco, or, perhaps, it is just a painting there.  Fresco, on the other hand, is a special technique, that means painting on wet plaster so it lasts a long time - we don't know which this Chillon ceiling painting is.  Fresco:  see the Italians who were especially good at it, at  ://

Here is the Black Madonna we found at Chillon Castle:

What is the history?  We cannot find it. But there are many other black figures at Chillon, and black-white motifs. Being researched. We see reference to a Madonna da Vico at ://, but an Images search of Madonna of Vico shows nothing like this.  Even Dorothy Dix in 1926 makes no mention of this in her travel journal from the US to Eastern Europe, this part at Chillon, see ://

Comment, approach audience from stage: Are we at the point in travel like, with news, all we can get is people's rehash on tours of what someone else said or did. Look at fact content anywhere.  Where are facts. Nowhere to be found.  We get opinions and views in place of news, and in places that are labeled "news" and aren't p they are opinions and propaganda.

Nuts. As with art. Where are the facts.  Here, in art, same thing. We get tours with see this, see that, and the people do, click the same pictures, and leave.  What about all the rest?  The things that are there, but ignored, and who knows what they are. Enough. Somebody pick up on these, however, because they are fun.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Chateau or Castle Chillon: Innards, Furnishings, Ladies in Armor?

 Castle Basics

Join us going through rooms and ins and outs of the Castle at Chillon. The top "teeth" on the battlements are called crenellations: archers and other defenders behind getting some protection, ducking frpom cover to cover. It also is a common sense kind of minimal fencing. See ://

Castle interior design did not include closets.  People used wardrobes - large and bulky; or these movable chests that could then be packed and sent on with the owner to the next castle stop.  To the equivalent of Miami for the Season, or perhaps to the next place where tolls were being collected and books had to be audited.
Clothing chests, or other household goods, wooden-carved, Chillon Castle, Switzerland

Some chests are religious in theme, others secular. As today,  it all depends on your predilection. Here is Adam and Eve, the snake now morphed into a female representation, when the Bible says the Snake is a "he."  All to suit the increasing masculinization of the Church?  Start trashing the ladies?  Above is a contemporary merchant kind of dress on the people represented.

Religious theme: Adam and Eve and, oh, no, a female snake (the Bible says the snake was a "he"); all the better for dogma, my dear. Castle Chillon, Switzerland

This kind of wardrobe - armor - would not fit into the chests. Women in armor.  Look at the shape, second from the left.  Then fast forward to other collections of armor, say, at Thun, Switzerland.  Unh-hunh. Amazing how a cultural need to box in a group succeeds just by never mentioning. Let the evidence just slide by, so nobody's antennae are set in that direction. Is that so?

Women in War. Woman's armor? Chillon Castle collection, second from left, Switzerland

Firebacks are familiar but have a longer history than we may think.  A fireback is a cast iron backer that deflects and absorbs and radiates back into the room the heat, away from the rock stone fireplace, where such heat can lead to cracking over time.  Let the fireback crack first.  See :// for American colonial firebacks.  Can't remember the theme of this one: should have made a note.

Fireback, Chillon Castle, Switzerland

How to keep warm.  Small fireplaces had iron firebacks to reflect heat back into the room.  Beds had constructions available for curtains, and little roofs to them of solid wood instead of just fabric canopies for additional warmth.  We were told that the mattress, just a few inches of something, sat directly on a wooden platform.

Bed, Chillon Castle, Switzerland; portable. Guide said Duke took furnishings with him castle to castle.

Roofs served many functions inside and out:  here, outside, the roof to the battlements were solid, for weather-proofing, as well as to withstand invaders' weapons and fire arrows. Hurling weapons at each other, including setting fire to them and then firing them off, has a long history among enemies, see History of Rocketry at ://

Roofed battlements structure, post and beam, Chillon Castle, Lake Geneva, Switzerland

The roofing was not only protection for the fighters beneath, but also could deflect a fire weapon into the courtyard where somebody else could cope.

Medieval post and beam structure: here on battlements.
Large medieval fireplace with overhang, not heat-efficient, Chillon Castle, Switzerland

In fireplaces, even the huge ones, most heat went straight up.   It took the later wood-burning stove, or coal burning, with its ducts leading hot air to different floors and rooms, to make large places livable without an active fireplace in each room. See Europe Road Ways, Themes, Wood-Burning Stoves.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chillon Castle, Chateau de Chillon, Switzerland

 Chillon - A Small Castle
Lake Geneva

Castle Basics

Smaller castles, used for residence and defense, can be known as "chateaux" - or, a single one, a chateau.  Use a variety of names when researching a castles - add chateau.

Castles on the water, on peninsulas, or on islands, are particularly lovely. Water all around, or on three sides, is a military advantage to the defender. Some manufactured the defensive advantage of water by creating moats (many of those old moat areas are now gardens, or just depressions left when watercourses changed, or drained.

Chillon is still on its island in Lake Geneva, firmly built out of the rock foundation already there. Was it a peninsula? There is a bridge now.

Now:  a tour of some of the main rooms, courtyard, staircases, little doors for going where you don't want people to know you are going.... and the necessaries. Necessarily included.

Before electricity lighting up the water, it was easy to glide over to climb in. Bars on windows was a common sense defense, and did not signify a prison area inside.

Pilfering: keep the keys on the manager's hip. Or was this a prison cell?  

Round towers came later as a defensive measure, and signify a newer addition.  Read an online discussion of the development at :// Apparently, the rectangular form persisted well after the 1200's. Some used the round form as a kind of trademark. And Romans used a rounded front sometimes.

Escape hatches or hiding places.  We saw many floor-level indications of spaces beneath, with only the need for a crowbar in the iron ring to lift it.

Shapes of doors indicate function:  where it is desirable to keep armed people out, make the door too narrow for armor.  Where it is desirable to let someone in after hours, or to leave one's own chamber after hours, make a little door suitable for a quiet in and out. Or, let the person slip away to the pottie and back.

Our idea of staircases folding into the attic is not a new one.  Here are folding castle stairs.

A covered staircase was not only for weather, but also to shield from arrows, to a degree. Lattice-work allows a look at whoever is trying to climb up from the other angle.

Prisons were not always below ground.  We saw prison confinements at the tops of towers.

Life's necessities.  Castle toilets. Garderobes. /.  See :// idea of a one-holer or two-holer is not new.  In Sicily, see the sizable square room with one-holers all in a row on each side.  A family affair, no problem, and a special slot in Sicily at the Roman Villa for the handy stick on which a piece of disposable cloth or wool was attached for cleanliness, then let go, and the water flowed beneath - running water. Our medievals were not so pampered here in the towers.

Letting ash fly into the air from the kitchen fires was dangerous, with wooden shingles on many roofs.  Chimney toppers, known as chimney pots, baffle the embers' flight enough for them to cool and die, flameless.

Was this bar there originally? Perhaps, because it was possible - and considered a fine invasive maneuver - to grapple your way up the wall and into the castle this way.  Here is a Museum of Toilets, at ://  Here is Plumbing Information, including Turkish, Crusader, etc.  Go to :// has more, but this is enough.

Persuasion techniques.  Many castles have their old torture equipment around.  And the various Madame Tussaud's wax museums recreate it all.  This table, however, was different. Its pieces move and extend and contract and twist about.  Un-Cheyney us, please.

Who was it from the US who put in an order a few years ago from the Chillon Grisley Catalogue? In 1348, Jews were accused of poisoning the water supply and causing Plague that broke out in Villeneuve. They, along with accused Christian accomplices, were tortured at Chillon. See ://  But the site says they were tortured in the dungeon - the dungeon at Chillon is above water level, so the window is not inconsistent. First cause:  lack of understanding;  first resort:  go torture somebody.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Prisoner of Chillon (Castle), Switzerland. And Poem, Lord Byron 1788-1824

Here is the castle at Chillon, just northeast of little Villeneuve on the Swiss Riviera, on the road heading for more famous and pricey Montreux.

There is noise here now.  The autostrasse passes nearby, so people don't have to tarry with past things any more.Read the poem slowly, aloud, to sense the history. We start here with the dungeon, where the prisoner Bonivard was held all those years, at water level - not underground, but here just at water level, where he feared each storm would flood it all.   

With the old print of the google book, you may prefer an easier read, try ://

The castle is modest in size. But it has been well maintained. There is the bridge, that may once have been a drawbridge.  Get there right at 9AM, before the buses.

Get right to it, and head down.

Part of the dungeon area was for storage, with the casks of supplies, including wind, and the narrow arrow slit for defense on the lake side.

Chillon is a small chateau, and tourists are free to wander anywhere with unlocked doors.  Tours stay together, which is far less fun.

It has been well-maintained.  An impressive feature is the rock bed, that forms the flooring at the lower level.  There is no under-water level that we could see.  Imagine the boats of provisions anchoring just outside; or invaders trying to slip by.

Supplies would have been brought to this water level, and unloaded for the castle's needs, but that room and its gates to the water were out of reach for the prisoner. See his story below.

There is a noose hanging in one of the rooms, but hardly original  For more, see ://

Now, read the short sonnet about Chillon, also by Byron, at ://  See the alternative spelling, Francois de Bonnivard.  This site says that the narrative by Byron, supposedly the prisoner speaking, is fictitious.  See ://  Probably.  How would anyone know?

 How to see the Castle of Chillon, on Lake Geneva, without first reading Lord Byron's poem about the prisoner.

Read first. Meet a monk-scholar from Geneva named Francois Bonivard, who was chained there from 1532 to 1536 or  1530-1536, depending on the records; and during the Catholic-Protestant Troubles there; and also at a time when he was accused of inciting the Genevese, along the lake, to rebel against the Duke of Savoy, only being released when the Bernese from the north pressed that far south with their newfangled contraption, mobile artillery.

Varying accounts, see :// for the   The poem is now a google book and free for the taking: go to The Prisoner of Chillon, Lord Byron.
The Bonivard (sometimes spelled Bonnivard) family was persecuted during this era of Reformation-CounterReformation, and then the 30 years' war between Papists and Reformers who could not stand each other.  Of the three Bonnivard brothers sent to Chillon, with other family members already deceased, the prisoner here is the only survivor.

Alternate scenario: He was released when nobody cared anymore what anybody else believed, according to the religious accounts, not the social change accounts.  Good choice. Faith-based conflicts get nowhere, then or now. Just leave people be. In the end, I am the guns. I cover all?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Villeneuve - Lake Geneva, Swiss Riviera, Lac Leman, Deep Lake Breath After Alps

Hairpin turns take their toll in the Alps. Go slow, but keep up, edge around the bends, no passing but the other guy just might be, where you can't see. Then, down, and flat finally, and Lake Geneva. To the French, it is Lac Leman. Half of the lake is Swiss, half French, with the Swiss city, Geneva, at that little pointy bay, a jutty-out place that looks like it should belong to France, dipping down at the eastern end. Lake Geneva is a traditional respite, resort area, long history of boundary changes, castles; and also a center of intellectual and political ferment through the centuries.

Here is Villeneuve. A gateway, quiet town. It was founded in 1215 by Thomas I of Savoy who owned nearby Castle Chillon, some two kilometers away, and lived there seasonally. Villeneuve became a supporting port, and a place for a tollbooth and warehouses.  See ://

Mountains behind, finally.

Villeneuve begins, at this end of the lake, the area known as the Swiss version of the Riviera. Romans stopped the ancient Swiss Helvetian tribes from moving south into France, and contained them in Switzerland until Roman Rule faded in the 400's. This was not an animus - just practical. There was relative peace during the Roman occupations. All the major Swiss cities stem from Helvetian Celt or Roman settlements: Lausanne, Zurich, Geneva, Basel. Only Bern emerged after the Romans. See ://

That history of Switzerland site gives a full listing of Roman towns and military outposts, and when they reached their peak size and influence, with the linguistic suffixes that identify them, as opposed to the linguistic clues for the Celts.

With day ending, why go further into the major resort of Montreux where prices will be higher, and the lake the same.  Looking toward Montreux, from Villeneuve here, the view from the long dock here is even spoiled by the autobahn stretching above the old Castle of Chillon there toward Montreux,  below the arches.  

This was a market town, and the Old Town still has its medieval character. Stop and look for it: go inland a block or two, rather than merely driving through on the main road.

When choosing a hotel room, aim for the back, without the view, where it is quieter.  You will close the drapes anyway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Swiss Side: Gran San Bernardo Pass, Great Saint Bernard Pass, Alps

The Gran San Bernardo Pass
Great Saint Bernard Pass
Swiss Side

See Part I, from Italian Side, at Italy Road Ways, Italian Side, Alps, Gran San Bernardo Pass. FN 1

The San Bernardo Pass crosses the Alps from Italy to Switzerlandl and we took that south to north route.  We started at Aosta, in Italy, and then went to Montigny, in Switzerland. The Romans called the primary mountain here Mons Jovis; in the Middle Ages, the Pass was Mont-Joux. Use those names to research very early material.

1. The Pass on the Swiss side; the Monastery at the Summit
2. An accident there - no injuries, and not ours. But no tow truck available, either.
3. The Saint Bernard dogs;
4.  Napoleon
5.  The Black Madonna image in the monastery; and excerpts from Legends of the Madonna

1.  The Pass

Don't take the tunnel.  Cross  the big one, the Gran San Bernardo, the Great Saint Bernard Pass.
Our route:  South to north.  We went from Italy, at Aosta, in Italy; to Switzerland, at Martigny.  Napoleon crossed in the opposite direction -  from Martigny, in Switzerland;  to Aosta, in Italy. Same road.

You need to be prepared show your passport at the summit, because Switzerland is not part of the border-checkpoint-free European Union. The EU. 

Probably the monastery here was not founded by St. Bernard, because of conflicting date records (the founding if at 950 was 130 years before his death in 1081, or some such), see ://;  but no mind. The Pass was named in the 16th Century. 

 2.  The small accident.

Car and motorcycle.  Somehow, though, the rear end of the car went over the edge. No injuries. But the passage remaining was so narrow, and there are no tow trucks up there, so in the bustle nobody checked passports or vehicles for a long time. Surrounded by EU countries, why doesn't Switzerland just join up and let us through all the time. Why? Because they make money making us change our money from Euros or Dollars into Swiss Francs.  Give a Euro, and they may take it, but they will give change in Swiss Francs and charge the conversion fee.


3.  The Saint Bernard dogs. 

Rescue dog needed. Rescue dog needed.  Here is one:  a Saint Bernard, right there. They were bred by monks at the summit, see a history of them at :// The monastery could not afford to maintain them on their own any longer, and we understand that a benevolent fine lady bought them all and supports them, including handlers, bringing them to the mountain for all of us to enjoy. Other groups have also stepped up to save the Saint Bernards from breed dissipation, example ://

  Saint Bernard rescue dog, Great Saint Bernard Pass, Italy

That is not the offending motorcycle of accident fame.  Now - Look closely, there on the mountainside. There are more of the old breed, the Saint Bernard dogs, out for exercise. Listen. They are being very loud about it.

Saint Bernard rescue dogs, Gran San Bernardo Pass, Italy. Exercising, with handlers.

The Saint Bernard dog.  Where is the little keg flask?

 4.  Who else passed this way?  Napoleon and 30,000 of his closest friends.

History: who succeeds, who finds the route, who learns the secrets of survival in nearly impossible conditions, and manages to pass them on.This pass has served for millennia.

There is no note of Napoleon on the Italian side.  Only the Swiss, because he prevailed in battles against the Italians, probably.  Is that so? The Swiss love Napoleon; and feature his army crossing in illustrations and hats by the side of the road.  Italy? You would never know that the hatted, hand-inside-vest one, ever passed this way.  The Swiss side so happily exploits Napoleon, we expected to see a halo over the hat.

On the Italian side, find no reference to Napoleon. To victors, the spin.

5.  The  Black Madonna, a copy of an original now at Czestochowa, Poland

The most famous Black Madonna is at the Jasna Gora Monastery, here at the summit of the Gran San Bernardo.  Did the original pass this way on its way up to Poland? There are several Black Madonna representations and original at Jasna Gora Monastery at Czestochowa, Poland, and this is one that is seen there.  See Poland Road Ways, Czestochowa Black Madonna.  Scroll down to the second image.

What is the history of the Black Madonnas.  They appear in many places in Europe and Central and South America. Here is some information, an author's views from the 19th Century, in this free e-book, Legends of the Madonna, 1860 and 1881, at ://  The author is a Mrs. Jameson, 1794-1860. We know no more about her, yet.

Here are passages attempting to explain the theme in that 19th Century book:

It is curious that, hand in hand with this development of taste and
feeling in the appreciation of natural sentiment and beauty, and
this tendency to realism, we find the associations of a peculiar and
specific sanctity remaining with the old Byzantine type. This arose
from the fact, always to be borne in mind, that the most ancient
artistic figure of the Madonna was a purely theological symbol;
apparently the moral type was too nearly allied to the human and
the real to satisfy faith. It is the ugly, dark-coloured, ancient
Greek Madonnas, such as this, which had all along the credit of
being miraculous; and "to this day," says Kugler, "the Neapolitan
lemonade-seller will allow no other than a formal Greek Madonna, with
olive-green complexion and veiled head, to be set up in his booth." It
is the same in Russia. Such pictures, in which there is no attempt
at representation, real or ideal, and which merely have a sort of
imaginary sanctity and power, are not so much idols as they are mere
_Fetishes_. The most lovely Madonna by Raphael or Titian would not
have the same effect. Guido, who himself painted lovely Virgins,
went every Saturday to pray before the little black _Madonna della
Guardia_, and, as we are assured, held this old Eastern relic in
devout veneration.
We have not yet found that particular black Madonna della Guardia. Do a find for "black" and this passage appears about 3/4 inch down the scroll bar. 
Continue to the next occurrence of "black" and find the author's view further:
Because some of the Greek pictures and carved images had become black
through extreme age, it was argued by certain devout writers, that the
Virgin herself must have been of a very dark complexion; and in favour
of this idea they quoted this text from the Canticles, "I am black,
but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem." But others say that her
complexion had become black only during her sojourn in Egypt. At all
events, though the blackness of these antique images was supposed to
enhance their sanctity, it has never been imitated in the fine arts,
and it is quite contrary to the description of Nicephorus, which is
the most ancient authority, and that which is followed in the Greek
So, this work has its own explanation, and rejection.

The next reference is to an artwork with a black servingwoman behind Mary. Would that be Sara la Kali?

10. We will now turn to a conception altogether different, and equally
a masterpiece; it is the small but exquisitely finished composition
by Rembrandt. (Grosvenor Gal.) The scene is the garden in front of
the house of Zacharias; Elizabeth is descending the steps in haste
to receive and embrace with outstretched arms the Virgin Mary, who
appears to have just alighted from her journey. The aged Zacharias,
supported by a youth, is seen following Elizabeth to welcome their
guest. Behind Mary stands a black female attendant, in the act of
removing a mantle from her shoulders; in the background a servant,
or (as I think) Joseph, holds the ass on which Mary has journeyed; a
peacock with a gem-like train, and a hen with a brood of chickens (the
latter the emblem of maternity), are in the foreground. Though the
representation thus conceived appears like a scene of every-day life,
nothing can be more poetical than the treatment, more intensely true
and noble than the expression of the diminutive figures, more masterly
and finished than the execution, more magical and lustrous than the
effect of the whole. The work of Albertinelli, in its large and solemn
beauty and religious significance, is worthy of being placed over an
altar, on which we might offer up the work of Rembrandt as men offer
incense, gems, and gold.
Continue the "find" and there is Black Balthazar, the Ethopian King as the author identifies him, with his train borne by a white page, to signify equality of the races, she says.  So, vet your sources, see if you agree, see what is objective fact, if anything, and what is authorly surmise and wishful thinking. Always interesting, not always reliable, is that so? Couldn't Balthazar, even if black (is that Biblical, be from elsewhere?)

Find a website on Black Madonnas from the University of Dayton at ://

Now:  go to the first half of the way over, from Italy, at Italy Road Ways, Italian Side, Alps, Gran San Bernardino.

FN 1
We came from the south, Aosta on the Italian side, toward Martigny on the Swiss side, through the Gran San Bernardo Pass - abbreviated as GSB on the green road signs, on the highways. Note that the Gran San Bernardo  is different from the less taxing Bernardino Pass.

For the lesser San Bernardino, see ://  That lower, and easier, San Bernardino Pass, has had its place in enabling ordinary people to cross over, but has not been pivotal in history, as has the Great Saint Bernard.