WTF Fun Fact 13473 – The Greyhound Saint of Lyon

Have you heard of Guinefort, the greyhound saint of Lyon, France?

The Legend of Guinefort, the Greyhound Saint

Guinefort’s story begins in the 13th century, nestled in the noble family of a knight who lived in a castle near Lyon. The knight had a faithful greyhound named Guinefort, who was entrusted with the protection of the knight’s infant son.

As the story goes, one day, the knight returned to his castle to find his baby’s cradle overturned, with Guinefort standing nearby, blood smeared on his muzzle. Assuming the worst, the knight believed Guinefort had harmed his child. In a fit of rage and grief, he slew the greyhound before discovering his infant son alive beneath the cradle, next to the lifeless body of a viper.

Guinefort, it turned out, had defended the child, killing the snake and saving the baby’s life.

The knight was filled with remorse and buried Guinefort in a well, planting trees around it as a memorial.

An Unconventional Saint

The story of Guinefort’s bravery and loyalty spread among the local people. They began to view the dog as a protector of infants, venerating him as a saint despite his canine status. A cult formed around Guinefort, with rituals involving mothers bringing their infants to his grave to seek his protection.

In the centuries that followed, Guinefort’s reputation as a protector of children persisted. Mothers continued to visit the grave, offering prayers and leaving tokens in the hope of invoking his protection.

The Church’s Stand on the Greyhound Saint

However, the veneration of a dog as a saint did not sit well with the Church. In the 13th century, Inquisitor Stephen of Bourbon discovered the cult and was horrified. He ordered the destruction of Guinefort’s shrine and condemned the practice, declaring it as heresy.

Despite these attempts, the cult of Saint Guinefort survived quietly among the local populace, passed down through generations. Even today, tales of the greyhound saint are still told in the region, keeping the legend alive.

The Greyhound Saint’s Cultural Impact

Guinefort’s story is not just a tale of a loyal dog. It has deeper cultural implications, reflecting the medieval society’s fears, beliefs, and social practices. The legend of Guinefort demonstrates the power of folklore and the human tendency to seek protectors and intercessors in a world filled with danger and uncertainty.

There are still references to Guinefort in literature, film, and even video games. His tale continues to captivate, providing a unique perspective on faith, folklore, and our relationship with animals.

While the original shrine no longer exists, one can still find traces of Guinefort’s veneration in Lyon’s folklore and oral traditions. Visitors curious about this peculiar piece of history can still explore the region, soaking up the rich history and cultural landscape that fostered the legend of a canine saint.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The papacy, inquisition and Saint Guinefort the Holy Greyhound” — University of Reading

WTF Fun Fact 13140 – Champagne and NYE

Have you ever wondered why champagne became associated with New Year’s Eve? Sure, popping the bubbly does seem festive, but one doesn’t suggest the other’s presence…or does it? Champagne is difficult to make, and real champagne only comes from one small region in France (called Champagne). Thanks to the association of champagne and NYE, the production of the beverage actually shot up between 1800 and 1850 from 300,000 to 20 million bottles a year!

Why are champagne and NYE associated?

Sixteenth-century European aristocrats loved to pop the champagne. It didn’t hurt that their king Louis XIV loved it as well. Champagne was once part of religious rituals (but more on that in the next fun fact). Obviously, it became a secular celebratory mechanism.

Dom Perignon may have been a monk, but as the creator of the elite new bubbly drink all those centuries ago, we might also say he’s the father of parties. He made the bottles safer and the drink easier to produce, which also made them cheaper to create and sell.

By the 1700s, champagne could be marketed to those in the relative middle class because the price of creating it went down. And as you can imagine, people being able to afford things made them more popular. And champagne because associated with joy for all.

It’s all about the bubbles

Whether you’re drinking real champagne or sparkling wine from elsewhere in the world, that festive feeling you get from hearing the cork pop (although it’s not supposed to make a noise if you open it properly) is one that goes back centuries. The bubbles as well (although sometimes indicative of a dusty glass) feel celebratory. And so does New Year’s Eve.

As champagne production rose, exports rose. Champagne was a smashing success – even for ship christenings. This is just another way it became associated with joyous celebrations.

And if you’ve ever tried to pour a glass, chances are you’d had to struggle with those bubbles overflowing. Your cup runneth over, as they say – which is a toast to good luck and fortune for a reason. Champagne and NYE are a marketing match made in heaven.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Why everyone drinks champagne on New Year’s Eve” — Business Insider

WTF Fun Fact 12759 – The Bayeux Tapestry

No one knows the exact origins of the Bayeux Tapestry. Our best guess is that it was commissioned in the 1070s, even though the first written reference to it wasn’t until 1476.

Hundreds of years later, this famous piece of medieval art was described in a cathedral treasury as “a very long and narrow hanging on which are embroidered figures and inscriptions comprising a representation of the conquest of England.”

And that’s precisely what it is. And when they say “very long,” they mean it’s over 200 feet long. That’s a lot of embroidering.

The Bayeux Tapestry

Historians believe the tapestry was commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, who was the half-brother of William the Conqueror. Some say it was created in Kent, England even though it eventually made its way to Bayeux, which is in Normandy, France. That’s where you can still find it today (though there’s a painstakingly-made replica at the British Museum.)

Britannica (cited below) describes the scenes: “The story begins with a prelude to Harold’s visit to Bosham on his way to Normandy (1064?) and ends with the flight of Harold’s English forces from Hastings (October 1066); originally, the story may have been taken further, but the end of the strip has perished. Along the top and the bottom run decorative borders with figures of animals, scenes from the fables of Aesop and Phaedrus, scenes from husbandry and the chase, and occasionally scenes related to the main pictorial narrative.”

Tapestry as history

The tapestry is considered a historical document. And we should be glad it’s safe – it has escaped destruction many times. According to Britannica:

“When first referred to (1476), the tapestry was used once a year to decorate the nave of the cathedral in Bayeux, France. There it was “discovered” by the French antiquarian and scholar Bernard de Montfaucon, who published the earliest complete reproduction of it in 1730. Having twice narrowly escaped destruction during the French Revolution, it was exhibited in Paris at Napoleon’s wish in 1803–04 and thereafter was in civil custody at Bayeux, except in 1871 (during the Franco-German War) and from September 1939 to March 1945 (during World War II).”

The Bayeux Tapestry is also the first depiction of Halley’s comet as well, which we know appeared in 1066 during the Norman Conquest. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as William the Conqueror left for England, “a portent such as men had never seen before was seen in the heavens.”

It was considered bad luck at the time for the English King Harold II, who was defeated at the Battle of Hastings.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Bayeux Tapestry” — Britannica

WTF Fun Fact 12682 – France’s Water Cures

Want a prescription to spend 3 weeks at a spa as part of your free healthcare? Become a French citizen! (Ok, that’s no easy task for most of us.)

The New Yorker just published an article that made us long for a doctor’s visit that ended in a “spa cure.” They say:

Let’s say that you suffer from arthritis, arthritis, bronchitis, bursitis, colitis, diverticulitis, endometriosis, laryngitis, osteoporosis, rhinitis, sinusitis, tendonitis, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Raynaud’s disease, multiple sclerosis, angina, asthma, sciatica, kidney stones, sore throat, dizziness, spasms, migraines, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, back pain, earaches, vaginal dryness, menstrual cramps, itching, bloating, swelling, constipation, gout, obesity, gum disease, dry mouth, psoriasis, acne, eczema, frostbite, hives, rosacea, scarring, stretch marks, or varicose veins, or that you are depressed, trying to quit smoking, or simply dealing with a lot of stress. You also, crucially, live in France. You go see the doctor. She writes you a prescription for a thermal cure, indicating to which of the country’s hundred and thirteen accredited thermal spas you will be sent. Then you fill out a simple form and submit it, along with the prescription, to the national healthcare service. Your application is approved—it almost always is—and you’re off to take the waters.

Ok, first of all, we have a hard enough time getting our medical care approved by our insurance company, we’d love to see their response to a thermal spa receipt for a sore throat. (Seriously, we mean that – we want it on camera.)

Yes, yes, the tax money. Of course. This is not an economic fun fact, because none of that discussion is fun. This is about notions of health and well-being – and you can call them kooky or brilliant, but it’s hard to deny that it’s also fascinating that these treatments – which date all the way back to the ancient world – are still practiced (and paid for) as part of mainstream(ish) medicine. Frankly, it dovetails nicely with much of what we know about the effects of stress and poor mental health on our physical health.

And wait, there’s more:

“The French government introduced “social thermalism” for the masses in 1947, proclaiming that “every man, whatever his social condition, has a right to a thermal cure if the state of his health demands it.” The full cure, consisting of treatments that use mineral water, mud, and steam from naturally occurring hot springs, lasts twenty-one days—six days of treatments with Sundays off, over three consecutive weeks. In 2019, around six hundred thousand French people undertook cures, targeting specific pathologies and subsidized by the state at sixty-five percent. Around three million more visited thermal spas as paying customers.” –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Seeking a Cure in France’s Waters” — The New Yorker

WTF Fun Fact 12456 – Napoleon’s Bunny Battle

There are so many stories about Napoleon out there that it’s hard to tell which ones are true at this point. They’re like Einstein quotes – half of them are just made up!

But this was has a few different sources, and it’s too funny not to share since it is, technically, part of the historical record of the famous French emperor.

As the most trustworthy version of the story goes, in July 1807, France and Russia ended the war between their empires by signing the Treaties of Tilsit. That’s enough to put anyone in a celebratory mood, especially since it drew the countries into an alliance at the time that would render the rest of Europe largely at their mercy.

Looking for a way to keep the good times rolling for a few more days, Napolean invited the military higher-ups still present to a rabbit hunt (which is the kind of thing rulers did for fun back in those days). Napolean’s only mistake was entrusting the collection of the rabbits to his chief of staff, Alexandre Berthier.

No one knows quite how many rabbits Berthier collected (hundreds or up to 3000, by some accounts), but it was a lot. And if you know anything about rabbits, they’re a bit hard to catch in such enormous numbers in a short period of time. So Berthier’s men brought in cages and cages full of domesticated rabbits.

Now, this is already a mistake because domesticated rabbits will not take off running – when they see humans, they assume they are being fed. But when the boss tells you to bring him a bunch of rabbits, you have to find some way to make him happy, even if that means rounding up bunnies from local farmers.

The afternoon unfolded in much the way you might assume. As the cages were opened, the rabbits didn’t scurry away. In fact, they scurried towards Napoleon. Who knows, maybe he had a lot of lettuce in his teeth after lunch. Or, more likely, they hadn’t been fed in a while.

Whatever attracted the rabbits to the emperor must have been something special because hundreds of bunnies were said to have swarmed him relentlessly. I mean, you have to laugh, right?

Napoleon did laugh at first, or at least he took it in stride, probably thinking that a few shots fired in the air would set things straight. But that didn’t work either, and it is reported that more and more bunnies thought “swarm the emperor” was a fun new game they were all playing.

Things got trickier as the mass of bunnies started climbing his legs and up his jacket. The guy was genuinely at a loss, especially when trying to shoo them away with his riding crop didn’t work. His coachman cracked his whip, hoping the noise would scare them away, but no luck.

So what’s a man to do when nature shows him who’s boss? In this case, hop in the carriage and try to get the heck out of there.

Lucas Reilly, writing for the website Mental Floss, found a great quote from historian David Chandler, who described the next stage of the bunny attack:

“…with a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals, the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party and headed for the imperial coach.”

In the end, Napoleon retreated, fleeing to his carriage. It was no defeat at Waterloo, but it was probably just as unexpected. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “The Time Napoleon Was Attacked by Rabbits” — Mental Floss

WTF Fun Fact – Service a la Russe

WTF Fun Fact - Service a la Russe

Ordering and eating food in courses is called Russian service or Service a la Russe. It was introduced to France in 1810 by the Russian ambassador. Prior to this ‘French service’ was the typical with all food being placed on the table and diners serving themselves. – WTF Fun Facts