The Lion of Lucerne

At a distance, the monument, a rock relief, reminded me of Petra; emerging from the stone, both composed of – and separate from – its source; real and fantastical. There was also a sense that I was discovering it, although surrounded by people taking selfies.

The subject is a fallen lion, spear thrust into his side, with only a shield for a pillow. The lion’s expression is almost unendurably anguished, a tangled but clear knot of emotion: sadness so ancient and deep it must be woe, an agony of confusion, a total resignation. There is such nobility to him, such beauty, the death seems an injustice that cannot be understood, only witnessed.

“He’s so sad,” I said through a throb in my throat, not really to anyone; I said it, trying to send the sadness back to the Lion, but it was a cord tying us, taut. I looked at the spear in His side as my father read aloud from his phone:

“The Lion of Lucerne [was] designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn in 1820–21 by Lukas Ahorn. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris…”

Even after hearing this, I couldn’t receive the monument as anything other than a tribute to Aslan, however chronologically incorrect and thoroughly disrespectful that may be. For those who haven’t met Aslan, he is a character in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, “the lion, the great Lion [who] isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” Aslan allows Himself to be slaughtered in exchange for the life of a traitor.

I wanted to walk away, I wanted to be alone with the Lion, but neither were possible. I could not contain the tears, so I collected them, one at a time, with my finger. “Nothing is black and white,” my father concluded next to me, putting away his phone. My eyes felt red. They were looking into the eyes of the Lion.

5 thoughts on “The Lion of Lucerne

  1. So beautiful. Both the statue, and your response. The rope imagery is especially well-chosen, considering Aslan was tied up before his death in the books. I remember the mice came later to chew the cords and cut his body loose, which has always made me start crying again at the exact moment when I had just barely managed to stop.

  2. Hi Ben,
    Thanks for this. I read up on the Lion of Lucerne after reading your post. It is quite a monument. Turns out Mark Twain was also captivated by it. If I had run into it lately I probably would have interpreted it as a reminder that nobility does not tend to survive in these harsh and cynical days, but your association with Aslan is the more hopeful one.

    Aslan is one of the few literary creations that rekindles my sense of possibility just by seeing a reference to his name. He is a reminder of so many things that seem so far away but that I wish were close at hand, so it is somehow appropriate that Aslan first makes an appearance in a story where it is always winter, never Christmas, at least in the beginning.

  3. “it was a cord tying us”. I like that. Art wrings that out of us. If you had just read a Wikipedia article about the historical event you might shake your head at the cruelty of it, but when confronted by great art we are moved into transcendent empathy — the piece becomes about them and us and more.

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