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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Symbols and Sources

I am not suggesting that the Germanic eagle, the Reichsadler, a powerful icon that came to be adopted by many states and nations in its single and double-head forms, originated through observation of the local raptors hanging in the blue over Montfort, and whose plaintive bleat carries across the forest and ruins in the mid-morning. It is generally believed that the origin of this symbol lies in the Roman eagle standard that was adopted by the Holy Roman emperors, and that in the thirteenth century Frederick II granted its use to the Teutonic knights, and that may perhaps be true. Certainly, it appears in its earliest medieval representations around that time, as do some other symbols that then began to appear of European heraldry, and it is interesting to note the Montfort connection to three of them.

Along with the eagle, a beautiful rendering of which appears incised on a stone found in the adjacent basement vault to the one we are at present excavating (pictured above), there is the fleur-de-lis. This emblem, which is also present in the Hospitaller refectory in Acre, is found at Montfort in two different versions incised on other parts of the same stone pictured above, and it also appears painted on a rib-stone that had once supported the castellan's apartments on the uppermost storey of building above us. Although there are legends that take it back to the time of the fifth to early sixth century Frankish king, Clovis or to Charlemagne, the fleur-de-lis is often referred to as having been adopted as a national symbol by Louis VII (1154-1180). It is certainly interesting to note that the two flowers identified as possible sources of its design both grow in the vicinity of Montfort. One is the Madonna Lily, Lilium candidum, (Hebrew: שושן צחור, Arabic: لسوسن الأبيض). Its best-known natural location in Israel is at Montfort Castle. The other flower is the Iris. The Vartan's Iris, Iris vartanii (Hebrew: אירוס הסרגל, Arabic: السوسن الفارتاني), a common variant of this family, grows in the western Galilee, including in the vicinity of the castle.

I wrote a while ago about the cornflower, Wilhelm I's "Kaiserblume", which became a symbol of the Second German Reich and later of the Nazi party and more recent extreme right parties. It too appears at Montfort in perhaps one of its earliest renditions and in a highly prominent position decorating the keystone of the first bay of the Gothic Great Hall. This beautiful blue flower in its regional variety, the Syrian cornflower-thistle or knapweed, Centaurea cyanoides (Hebrew: דרדר כחול, Arabic: القنطريون الكحلي), grows along the stream below the castle.

As I say, I am not suggesting that the use of these as symbols originated here at Montfort. I am merely pointing to the presence of both their sources in the natural setting of the fortress and their symbolic use in decoration in the castle. I will leave speculation to my readers.

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