Thursday, 6 April 2017

Here be Dragons!

Dragons occur in myths from all around the world.  Some are concerned with the creation of the universe e.g. the biblical account of creation.  The words serpent and dragon are often used interchangeably. In the Bible dragons (or Leviathan) represent evil or the devil e.g. in the Book of Revelation.

Dragons were usually aggressive solitary creatures, which lived in caves, marshes or lakes or on hilltops.  They ate livestock and people.

Saints who were also dragon slayers include St Michael, St George, St Carantoc, St Margaret, St Petroc and St Dubricius.  The parish church in Porlock is dedicated to St Dubricius.   In Somerset dragons were also slain by a bishop, a knight, a landowner, a woodman and local villagers.

Somerset has more dragon legends that most British counties.  The stories were handed down through the generations and some have undoubtedly been lost.  

Most of the legends involve people killing dragons:
  1. Norton Fitzwarren: a dragon lived on the Iron Age hillfort and was killed by a local man called Fulk Fitzwarin
  2. Carhampton: a Celtic saint named St Carantoc defeated a dragon which lived on the marshes.
  3. Bicknoller: there is a legend that a dying dragon will try and reach the sea, which is why there is a Dragon's Cross at Bilbrook.
  4. Shervage Wood: the Gurt Wurm or Great Worm was cut in half by a woodman from Stogumber.  One part ran to Bilbrook and the other to Kingston St Mary.
  5. Kingston St Mary: a dragon lived nearby and breathed out flames, which it used to cook its animal and human victims.  A villager rolled a large stone down a hill into its mouth and killed it.
  6. Churchstanton: a dragon was slain by a valiant knight.
  7. Castle Neroche: a dragon stole treasure from passing travellers but it was eventually drowned by local villagers.
  8. Aller: there are several versions of the story.  One is that John Aller killed a dragon with a spear.
  9. Dulcote: a dragon with the face of a woman was terrorising the area.  It was slain with a sacred sword from Glastonbury by Bishop Jocelyn of Wells. 
  10. Kilve: a dragon called Blue Ben went into the sea to cool off but got stuck in the mud and drowned when the tide came in.
There are physical representations of dragons still in existence in Somerset from the 8th or 9th centuries to the present day.  Many dragons are to be found on or in churches.  The reasons for this may be any or all of the following:
  1. To ward off evil spirits
  2. To illustrate local legends
  3. To illustrate the lives of the saints who were involved with dragons
  4. Purely decorative
  5. To represent the victory of Christianity over Paganism.
There are many different types of dragons:
  1. Dragon: this has four legs, wings and a long tail
  2. Wyvern: this has legs and wings but no arms
  3. Cockatrice or basilisk: - this has the head and legs of a cockerel with the tail of a dragon. Cockatrices were small, dangerous and lived in underground holes.
  4. Great Worm or Flying Serpent
  5. Amphisbaena: this has two heads
  6. Ouroboros: this is a dragon biting its own tail
  7. Multi-Headed Dragon
  8. Arachnidraco: this has the head of a dragon on an elongated neck, a body with 2 legs and a venomous stinging barb at the tip of its tail.
  9. Sea dragon/serpent
  10. Facie Humanusdraco: this has the face of a human (usually a woman) but the body of a dragon.
A dragon was adopted by Somerset County Council as its symbol in 1906.  It was officially registered in 1911 when a coat of arms was granted to the County Council.  Somerset County Council's dragon is a red dragon rampant holding an upright blue mace in its forelegs on a gold background.


 Wyvern Mosaic, Magdalen Lane, Taunton


Somerset County Cricket Ground, Taunton

 Flying dragon on a house in Watchet

Dragon on one of Wiveliscombe's "Totem Poles"

Taunton Library's dragon

Dragon slaying at East Stoke Church  
This is one of the earliest representations of a dragon slaying in Britain.  It is possibly Saxon but the identity of the dragon slayer is not clear.  It is thought that it is not St Michael, as he is always depicted with wings and it is too early to be St George.

Nettlebridge - dragon door hinges

Kingston St Mary Seat

Queen's College, Taunton

King's Arms, Staplegrove Road, Taunton

Dragon at Runnington

Runnington's only dragon?

Dragon on a shield at North Cadbury Church

Two headed dragon at Crowcombe Church

Dragon slaying at Hatch Beauchamp Church

Hatch Beauchamp - this dragon appears to be defecating!

Dragon Slaying, Hatch Beauchamp

Amphisbaena or two headed dragon on a bench end in East Brent Church
Many thanks to Hazel and Jacob for finding the bench and taking this photo for me.
 

 Dragons guarding County Hall in Taunton

 Traditional Somerset County Council Dragon

Modern Somerset County Council Dragon, Taunton Library
 
Green Dragon Pub, South Street, Wellington
Dragons on the entrance doors to St Barnabas Church, Queen Camel
 
Sea serpents on the font at St Barnabas Church, Queen Camel
 
Cockatrice
Bench end, St Michael's Church, North Cadbury

This may be dragons hatching from eggs or possibly just two snails!
Bench end, St Michael's Church, North Cadbury
 
St Margaret escaping from a dragon
Bench end, St Michael's Church, North Cadbury
 
Dragon Slaying on a Misericord, Wells Cathedral
 
St George killing a dragon
Bench end in St George's Church, Dunster
 
St George killing another dragon
Bench end in St George's Church, Dunster
 
Two amphisbaena dragons
Church of St Peter and St Paul, Churchstanton
This used to be a bench end but is now mounted on the front of the gallery

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