25 June 2013

Paw prints in tiles

Among the photos taken at the "chained library" of Zutphen is the one embedded above (cropped for emphasis), depicting the prints of animals in the floor tiles.  Local folklore calls these "The Devil's Footprints":
In the floor under the reading desks we can see tracks made by the Devil. According to a poem by the 19th century poet A.C.W. Staring, the Devil caught the monk Jaromir eating a chicken in the ‘Librije’ during Lent! The Devil punished Jaromir by locking him up in the ‘Librije’ for one night.
Reader Gelvan Tullibole 3rd offers an alternative interpretation:
We have seen footprints in clay roof tiles in Central France. At first we had visions of a cat or dog running over the wet tiles but no. Animal footprints were added to every firing to protect it from shattering or not cooking properly. These tiles are considered lucky and it is unlucky not to have at least one in the roof. 
I would bet the "intentional" and "lucky" aspects of the French interpretation were devised by the local potters eager to sell their wares but unable to keep small mammals out of the clayworks.


  1. Sounds a lot like humility blocks, which are panels of patchwork quilts intentionally made "wrong" (upside down, colors reversed, etc.). The notion is that only God can make something entirely perfect. Allegedly, this is an Amish tradition, but sources conflict. More likely, this is a way for the crafters to acknowledge the inevitable mistake and turn it into a positive element, just like your clay tile makers.

  2. There is a lovely example of a brick from a pre-American outpost in Oregon, and the brick was actually from ancient Rome. A kitty stepped on it before the brick was fired. http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2013/02/northwest_news_brick_dating_to.html

  3. Ah, this is a better link. http://www.nwcn.com/home/?fId=193431981&fPath=/news/local&fDomain=10202

  4. The church of St Nicholas in Leicester has a lovely example of an imprinted Roman tile. It was incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon fabric of the nave when it was constructed in the 9th Century (although the church may have an even earlier foundation date as suggested by excavations carried out by Kathleen Kenyon in the 1940's). This earliest phase of construction re-used a lot of Roman material from the old bathhouse, also known as the Jewry wall, which is next door. The tile in question has a paw print on it and is visible high on the left as one enters through the door. It was clearly placed there with the intention of being seen. There are, however, no local folk tales that I know of which suggest a fanciful explanation. Unfortunately I do have a photo of it to hand.

    1. *I do NOT have a photo of it to hand.

  5. Terra cotta tile floors I've seen in So. Cal. homes often have one or more tiles with paw prints. Results of a Goggle search indicate that they also are sometimes artificially made for "good luck."


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