Lanterns Of The Dead

Sep 20, 2017 0 comments

During the 12th century, people in the central and western parts of France erected small towers in their villages with windows at the top, in which lamps were placed like in a lighthouse, although none of them were near the sea. These structures are known as “Lanterns of the dead” and are thought to indicate the position of a cemetery. But this might not be true, considering that some of these towers are located nowhere near a cemetery.

The towers come in all shapes and sizes, but usually, they take the form of a column or a small turret with a conical cap and a cross at the top. A small entrance in the lower part gives access to the tower’s interior, so that a lamp could be raised by a pulley to the required height at dusk. One of the most perfect examples is located in the commune of Cellefrouin, where there is a series of eight attached semicircular shafts, raised on a pedestal, and crowned with a conical roof decorated with fir cones. The window through which the lamp shines out faces the main road.


Lanterns of the Dead. Photo credit (from left to right): Johann Jaritz, Benutzer:Griensteidl, Jebulon

The precise origin and purpose of these towers is debated among scholars. Some believe that they were originally called “Lanterns of the Moors” rather than “Lanterns of the Dead”, but because the French words for “moors” ( maures) and "dead" (morts) sounds so similar, somewhere along the line they got mixed up. This theory definitely holds water as careful mapping of the original locations of the lanterns indicate that they were located near ancient roads, particularly those associated with pilgrimages. So the “Lanterns of the Dead” could simply be guide lights for ancient travellers.

Scholars have also found evidences that connect the construction of these towers to the Crusade. For instance, the origin of the lantern in Sarlat-la-Canéda, in Southern France, is linked with the abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, who played a major role in the Second Crusade. It is said to have been built after a visit of the abbot in the city, in 1147, possibly by the Knights Templar.

Many of these “Lanterns of the Dead” scattered across the countryside have their own little mystery. Take as an example, the lanterns in Vergèze, southern France, which look like the chimneys of the Bakhchisaray Palace, the Palace of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea, located more than 3,000 km away. Indeed, the lantern’s other name is "Saracen chimney". “Saracen” is an ancient word meaning Muslims or Arabs, and Bakhchisaray Palace is a Muslim palace.

Lanterns of the Dead are not geographically restricted to within France, although this is where they occur in highest numbers. Lanterns of the Dead can also be found in England, Austria, Germany, and Poland.


Lantern of the Dead in Cellefrouin, France. Photo credit: Jack ma/Wikimedia


Lantern of the Dead in Ciron, France. Photo credit: Daniel Jolivet/Flickr


Lantern of the Dead in Antigny, Poitou-Charentes, France. Photo credit: Pays Montmorillonnais-Vien/Flickr


Inside the tower of the Lantern of the Dead in Saint-Genou, France. Photo credit: Daniel Jolivet/Flickr


Lantern of the Dead and ossuary in Lieding, Austria. Photo credit: Johann Jaritz/Wikimedia


Lantern of the Dead in Journet, Poitou-Charentes, France. Photo credit: Pays Montmorillonnais-Vien/Flickr


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