10 facts you didn't know about symbols used on top of church towers
Within the project Research activities on Cultural tourism situation, common identities and the cultural footprints in Baltic – Nordic countries there were concluded a number of amazing facts about symbols used on top of the Church towers in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.
1. Mostly the Roosters on top of church towers are in Estonia and Latvia
According the publication by Institute of Geography, University of Tartu "Formation of Cultural traits in Estonia resulting from Historical Administrative Division", - within the Baltic States the roosters on the top of churches are mostly in Estonia, partly - in Latvia and not a single one in Lithuania. Matthias Johann Eisen (1926) who has inspected the meaning of cock on top of church towers claimed, it is the prevailing tower symbol on Estonian Lutheran churches. However, the towers of more recent rural churches feature a cross as a substitute for a cockerel. According to Eisen (1926) the Lutheran churches in Russia never have a rooster a top the church tower.
2. Some Church Roosters are in the size of a horse
The roosters sitting on the spires of Riga Old City churches are one of the symbols of Riga. Yet the rooster of Riga Cathedral is not just a symbol, it also serves as a weathercock, always facing the wind. The sculpture, weighing 86 kilograms, is about 0.5 meters tall and about 1.3 meters wide. Engraved in its crest is the rooster’s story. The old Cathedral rooster is displayed at the Cathedral’s cloister. (the photo of Riga Cathedral Rooster)
3. St. Peter’s Church in Riga had a total of seven Roosters on the top
Starting from the 15th century up to 1941, there had been a total of six wind vanes – roosters. The first rooster was bent by a storm, the second was blown down from the steeple, the third was removed because the storm had damaged it, the fourth rooster fell down in the church yard during a storm, the fifth one collapsed, while the sixth rooster had been repaired, but came down when the tower collapsed. In 1970, a new the seventh rooster was erected, it was renovated and gilded for the 800th anniversary of the church.
4. Originally Roosters were used to be the Weathervanes
Originally, people tied strings or cloth to the tops of buildings so that they could see which way the wind was blowing. Later, banners became a popular ornament, and that’s where we get the “vane” in weathervane; an Old English word that meant “banner” or “flag.”
One of the earliest examples of an actual weathervane — not simply a piece of cloth or a banner — was atop the Tower of the Winds, First Century B.C. octagonal tower in Athens, Greece that was topped by a bronze wind vane in the shape of Triton, the sea god. This vane was designed so that Triton, who was holding a rod in his hand, would turn so that the rod pointed in the direction of the blowing wind.
Before too long, weathervanes, like the one atop the Tower of the Winds, spread throughout Europe, featuring prominently on top of towers and church steeples. They had a variety of different adornments — often a cross or an image of a patron saint, if the weathervane was on a church or cathedral — but they all served the same purpose, which was to turn and point in the direction of the wind.
5. Rooster became known to Christians as the symbol of St. Peter
To understand how the rooster took over as the favorite weathervane topper, it is important to tell the story of St. Peter after the Last Supper. In the biblical passages describing these events, it was said that Peter would deny Jesus three times “before the rooster crowed.” Because of this, the rooster became known to Christians as the symbol of St. Peter.
Sometime between 590 and 604 A.D., Pope Gregory I took this a step farther, declaring that the rooster, emblem of St. Peter, was the most suitable symbol for Christianity. It is thought that this declaration led to the first roosters appearing on top of weathervanes.
6. The morning star on the top of church instead of a Rooster or Cross
According the publication by Institute of Geography, University of Tartu "Formation of Cultural traits in Estonia resulting from Historical Administrative Division", The Kanepi church (1810) in South Estonia features an exceptional tower with the Morning Star on the top (Võrumaa…, 1926).
7. The Rooster Becomes Law
In the 9th century, Pope Nicholas made the rooster official. His decree was that all churches must display the rooster on their steeples or domes as a symbol of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus. In accordance with the decree, churches started using weathervanes with the rooster.
8. French declares a rooster as the symbol of France
I asked a French friend why this symbol is so pervasive on French churches. After a little hesitation, he brightened and said “because a rooster is the symbol of France!” Which is true – you’ll also see roosters perched on top of war memorials, town gates, and old coins in France.
9. The Oldest Weathervane in the World is in Italy
One of the most famous weathervanes in the world also happens to be the oldest weathervane in existence. This would be the Gallo di Ramperto, which is currently housed in Brescia, Italy’s Museo di Santa Giulia. This copper rooster dates back to between 820 and 830 A.D. It once sat atop the San Faustino Church bell tower in Brescia.
10. A Weathervane is used to be a Compass too
The components of a weathervane are the vane, the mast, and the directionals, which display the four points of the compass — North, South, East and West. The vane usually resembles an arrow shape (with the rooster on top), which rotates freely and points in the direction the wind is coming from while the directionals remain stationary. So if the rooster and arrow are pointing north, that means the winds are coming from the north, and would be referred to as “a North wind.”
Publication is made within the research of the Project “Informal Adults’ Education for Cultural Tourism Promotion between the Baltic and Nordic Countries”. Project number NPAD-2017/10048