22 December 2012

Mommy, what's a cephalophore?

A cephalophore (from the Greek for "head-carrier") is a saint who is generally depicted carrying his or her own head; in art, this was usually meant to signify that the subject in question had been martyred by beheading. Handling the halo in this circumstance offers a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have the saint carrying the halo along with the head...

[A]n original, and perhaps the most famous cephalophore is Denis, patron saint of Paris, who, according to the Golden Legend, miraculously preached with his head in his hands while journeying the seven miles from Montmartre to his burying place. Although St Denis is the best known of the saintly head-carriers, there were many others; the folklorist Émile Nourry counted no less than 134 examples of cephalophory in French hagiographic literature alone...
In Dante's Divine Comedy (Canto 28) the poet meets the spectre of the troubadour Bertrand de Born in the eighth circle of the Inferno, carrying his severed head in his hand, slung by its hair, like a lantern; upon seeing Dante and Virgil, the head begins to speak...
Aristotle is at pains to discredit the stories of talking heads and to establish the physical impossibility, with the windpipe severed from the lung. "Moreover," he adds, "among the barbarians, where heads are chopped off with great rapidity, nothing of the kind has ever occurred."
Text and images from Wikipedia.


  1. I've only ever heard this word because of They Might Be Giants. :)

    Now I know!

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anWrcmKsYI8

  3. I saw a lot of these on the cathedrals in France a couple of years ago (my 1st trip to Europe). Didn't know what they were but suspected it had something to do with martyrdom.

    BTW, a couple of good ones can be seen at the 1:58 mark on this youtube video of the Cathedral of Amiens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xkl7j0s_is

    Definitely stick around to the 2:45 mark for the night time light show they do there.


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