Medieval Surgery – Amuse Bouche #38 (Dennis Aubrey)


A couple of weeks ago, PJ and I had the pleasure to photograph the fine reconstructed Romanesque cathedral in the Pyrénéan town of Lescar where the royal family of Navarre was buried for some time. The reason we were excited to come, however, was the presence of the Romanesque mosaics in the apse that were rediscovered in the 19th century. The remaining fragments are in almost perfect condition.

One of the two panels is of particular interest – a hunter with a bow clearly has an artificial leg! It appears that this represents a Moorish soldier from Al-Andalus who lost his leg in the battles against the encroaching Christians during the Reconquista. After he was fitted with his artificial leg, he fought again against the Christians and was captured by Gui de Lons, who subsequently became the bishop of Lescar and founded the cathedral there. He served as a slave and later became a friend to the Bishop, who immortalized him in this mosaic in the apse.

Mosaic, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, Lescar (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The donkey following the hunter has a purpose in the composition – not only is it following the hunter-master, but as shown in the next photograph, actually hauls the hunted prey, in this case a resisting wolf.

Lescar wolf

Mosaic detail, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, Lescar (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We have since discovered that the nearby church of Saint Aventin has a capital depicting one of the Saracen captors of Saint Aventin who also has the exact same leg prosthesis. This is certainly a subject for further investigation.

This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

2 responses to “Medieval Surgery – Amuse Bouche #38 (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Buenas tardes. La curiosa ortopedia de “pata de palo” además de las dos que citáis, la vemos también en un capitel de Abbaye aux Dames de Saintes, donde parece que el personaje lisiado, junto a otro, están condenados a picar piedra, además en una pintura de Sant Joan de Boí, en la que se está (al parecer) masturbándo, en la Catedral de Jaca, en un capitel del pórtico situado al Este y en dos ocasiones en la portada de la iglesia de San Pedro de Etxano, en Navarra. En mi opinión era una ortopedia que no conocía los cristianos de aquella época y la ponían a árabes o pecadores como representación del mal, salvo en Etxano que es un caso aparte y excepcional: http://www.romanicoennavarra.info/echano.htm

    • Great information, Ander. I am translating for our English-language readers:

      Good afternoon. The curious orthopedic of “paw of wood” in addition to the two that you quote, we also see it in a capital of Abbaye aux Dames de Saintes, where it seems that the disabled person, next to another, are condemned to chop stone, also in a painting Of Sant Joan de Boí, in which he is (apparently) masturbating, in the Cathedral of Jaca, in a capital of the portico located to the East and twice in the cover of the church of San Pedro de Etxano, in Navarre. In my opinion it was an orthopedics that did not know the Christians of that time and put it to Arabs or sinners as a representation of evil, except in Etxano which is a separate and exceptional case: http://www.romanicoennavarra.info/echano.htm

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