Everyday sources often provide inspiration for my blog. Yesterday, strolling down the main street in our local village after visiting the market, I noticed the wide variety of ornate door knockers (heurtoirs in French) in a short space. I returned today with my camera.
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Origins of door knockers
It’s believed that door knockers originated in Ancient Greece, where slaves were chained to a ring on the door and opened it when a visitor arrived. The simplest ones I saw were bars of metal that you lift and drop onto a metal back plate screwed to the door or simply onto the wooden door itself.
Metal rings, of different degrees of ornament, are also popular.
“Hand of Fatima” door knockers
These door knockers in the shape of a hand holding a ball are probably the most interesting. The hand emerges from a lacy cuff, often with a bracelet around it, and bears one – sometimes two – rings, although not always on the same finger. They are occasionally made of brass but more often of iron.
The hand and the number five figure significantly in Arabic, and also in Jewish, tradition, and are particularly associated with warding off the evil eye. Fatima Zahra was the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. Hence, the occupants of a house with a door knocker in that shape were protected against evil. Originally, they also showed that the occupants were of the Moslem faith.
I understand Hand of Fatima door knockers are found extensively in Spain, which was under Moorish occupation for centuries. Some of the Moorish cultural influences penetrated as far as southern France, which is probably why you find them here, too. However, those you see today are probably 19th-century reproductions. I would be interested to know how widespread they are further north in France.
Animals and figures
Lions’ heads figure extensively on door knockers and probably have a significant symbolic meaning. The winged lion was the symbol of St. John the Evangelist, and so could have had a protective function. Equally, the lion is a symbol of power and authority. I’m not really sure if the one above depicts a lion or a cat.
I also found one in the shape of a swan’s head and neck and another of a bare-breasted woman. The latter in the example below is no doubt a modern reproduction, has clearly been added later and doesn’t match the rapper beneath it. But I wonder if putting a sign like this above the rapper would once have signified the local maison close (brothel). If you have other ideas, please leave a comment below.
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