FROM THE ROOSTER TO THE SOUL… A SHORT STORY OF AN ASIAN BIRD BECOMING DIVINE POULTRY*.
Before being Gaulish, it was a Bankiva. 5000 years ago, this pretty, brightly colored pheasant flew and nested in the heart of the Tonkin forests. Appreciated for its taste, this wild and small Bankiva rooster was hunted and then confined for breeding purposes. Through genetic crossings, it became the big rooster we know today, the king of our farmyards, with just enough momentum to land unceremoniously on the backs of unsuspecting hens, fertilizing them by surprise and with cloacal involvement.
The use of the rooster as a symbol of the greatness of France is based on a misunderstanding. It revolves around the double meaning of the Roman term “gallus,” which simultaneously meant “rooster” and “Gaul.” When Gaul, from the Pyrenees to the Rhine, was conquered by Caesar’s armies between 57 and 51 BC, the Gauls and their famous “sacred fury” were compared to valiant roosters standing on their spurs, coincidentally sharing the same name. The trick was played, and the feathered gallus, with a puffed-out neck, became the emblem of the warrior Gauls advancing in tight phalanxes to the sound of the fearsome carnyx.
In 850, Pope Leo IV crowned Emperor Louis II, son of Lothair. It was this same pope who recommended the installation of a rooster-shaped weathervane on the steeple of every Christian church. By announcing the dawn with its crowing, this terrestrial bird symbolized, for the Church in those distant times, the transition “from darkness to light,” the victory of good over evil, and ultimately, the resurrection of Christ. Perched on the steeple of its village, this dominant rooster also embodies the clergy watching over its flock.
Thus, thanks to God, this non-flying bird has reached dizzying heights on the steeples of the old Catholic world, extending well beyond the patriotic context, even though it remains the emblem of France in the eyes of the world, especially during international sports competitions.
Note du traducteur : *In translating the title “DU COQ À L’ÂME … PETITE HISTOIRE D’UN OISEAU D’ASIE DEVENU DIVINE VOLAILLE” to “FROM THE ROOSTER TO THE SOUL… A SHORT STORY OF AN ASIAN BIRD BECOMING DIVINE POULTRY,” I encountered a delightful linguistic challenge that warrants acknowledgment.
The original French title plays on the common expression “passer du coq à l’âne,” meaning “to jump from one subject to another” or “to change the topic abruptly.” The clever twist here is the homophony between “âne” (donkey) and “âme” (soul). This linguistic playfulness adds depth to the title, as “passer du coq à l’âme” takes on a spiritual connotation, linking the transition from rooster to soul.
Moreover, the soul’s connection to religion, and consequently, to churches dominated by roosters atop their steeples, adds an intriguing layer. This title not only narrates the transformation of an Asian bird but also cleverly hints at a journey from the mundane to the divine.
Translating such linguistic nuances is an intricate task, and while I strive to convey the essence, the intricacies of the original may elude a direct translation. I hope this note provides insight into the linguistic play at the heart of the title, emphasizing the richness lost in translation.
Copper Steeple Rooster – 19th Century – Languedoc-Roussillon – [MP050]
This rooster is composed of two soldered copper shells, the whole mounted on a hollow axis. Its wide tail, in plume form, offers a perfect grip to the wind, giving it the role of a weather vane. For the Catholic Church, the rooster symbolizes the bird announcing the rising day, sounding the call of souls to Christian life. Facing the wind no matter what, it is believed to have the power to chase away demons. That’s why it was chosen by the papacy in the 9th century to be placed on the top of the steeple of every parish in Western Europe.
The oldest known church steeple rooster, also called the Ramperto rooster, is located in Brescia in Northwestern Italy. It was crafted between the years 820 and 830 of the Christian Era from a sheet of copper covered with gold and silver.
Some church steeple roosters contain relics, like the one on Notre-Dame de Paris, which, lowered during renovations, revealed the presence of bones inside. The one we present here dates from the 19th century. Its stylized lines give generous curves to its comb and wattles. Its large plume in the form of a sickle was designed for perfect rotation with the changing winds. This copper church steeple rooster is in perfect condition and is a very rare piece, now available for close observation.
Dimensions: Height: 67 cm, Length: 63 cm, Wingspan: 30 cm
You can read Katia Schaal’s article: “The Critical Fortune of a Gold Coin: Jules-Clément Chaplain’s Gaulish Rooster in the Press (1895-1914)” published in the Cahiers de l’École du Louvre- 16/2021- Cahier n°16 at this address:
To learn more about the Bankiva rooster or golden rooster:
To learn more about the role of the church steeple rooster weathervane:
To learn more about the first weathervane rooster, the Ramperto rooster of Brescia in Italy:
Pour en savoir plus sur le coq, emblème de La France :