Images of Medieval Art and Architecture

France: Vézelay
Benedictine Abbey Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine

Nave: Historiated Capital 
The Basilisk


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Subject Matter

On the front face of the capital, a basilisk, at left, faces two grotesque creatures on the other side of the capital
The basilisk is a fabulous creature with the head and wings of a rooster and the body of the serpent. It has a large head with a prominent beak and comb. At right, a humanoid figure stands behind a grasshopper-like creature. The human-like figure has a round head and holding a vase-like object (a crystal ball?) in front of him with both hands. (for protection? See below) The creature below him has scales like a fish, wings, lion-like feet, a mustache and horns.

The basilisk was described by many ancient authorities, including Pliny the Elder (Natural History, Book 8, 33) and Lucan (Pharsalia) Early accounts associated it with kings and described as a small, highly poisonous snake which can be killed by a weasel. This has led modern scholars to guess that this might be a description of a king cobra (which can be killed by a mongoose) The basilisk is described by many medieval authorities including Albertus Magnus and Isidore of Seville ( Etymologies, Book 12, 4:6-9) In the Middle Age, the legend was elaborated . The basilisk was thought to be hatched from a cock's egg by a toad, who incubates it for 7 years. The Basilisk's glance turns to stone all those who are not protected by a mirror or a crystal ball.

Location within Floorplan Placement in Elevation

Salet: Number 74 

North side of nave. 
North wall 

Related Material

Click here to see other Vézelay capitals showing miscellaneous subject matter

See also North capital of north door of narthex


Salet, p. 187. 

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Created by J. Vadnal, October, 1998