Viking weather-vane practices in medieval France
By Susanne Lindgren and Jehuda Neumann
Förmännen, Vol. 78 (1983)
This paper discusses the apparent influence and, even, spread of Viking weather-vane practices to countries outside the Scandinavian area. Churches, not only in Normandy but even in distant parts of France gilded their weather cocks, a custom unknown in countries removed from direct Viking influence, e.g. Italy. The status-symbol value of the weather-vane also spread to medieval France: only members of the signeurial class were allowed to flaunt weather-vanes on their castles and lodgings.
The antiquarian and archaeological literature on Viking weather vanes and consideration of the Icelandic Sagas lead to the following three principal conclusions:
- The vanes were highly ornamented
- As a rule, the vanes were gold-coated
- The vanes were a kind of status symbol
As to the latter, the Sagas indicate that only larger warships were permitted to flaunt vanes. Moreover the observation that the Grimsta vane was found in a grave which differed from the others about it by the size of the mound, and by the oval of stones around it, suggests that the grave was that of an important personage and that the vane was buried with him on account of his superior standing, i.e., this observation too implies that the weather vane was a sort of a status symbol.
In view of the fact that the Vikings conquered territories in the British Isles, Ireland and France and actually settled some of these areas, the following questions arise: Did the Vikings preserve their weather-vane practices in their new countries? Did these practices influence the nations among which they settled? Did they influence the nations which resided in territories adjacent to those they colonized?