The commerce of Lucerne consists mainly in gimcrackery of the souvenir sort; the shops are packed with Alpine crystals, photographs of scenery, and wooden and ivory carvings. I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them. But they are libels upon him, every one of them. There is a subtle something about the majestic pathos of the original, which the copyist cannot get. Even the sun fails to get it; both the photographer and the carver give you a dying lion, and that is all. The shape is right, the attitude is right, the proportions are right, but that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world, is wanting.

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff--for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. How head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder; his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion--and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.

Martyrdom is the luckiest fate that can befall some people. Louis xvi did not die in his bed, consequently history is very gentle with him; she is charitable toward his failings, and she finds in him high virtues, which are not usually considered to be virtues when they are lodged in kings. She makes him out to be a person with a meek and modest spirit, the heart of a female saint, and a wrong head. None of these qualities are kingly but the last. Taken together they make a character, which would have fared harshly at the hands of history if its owner had had the ill luck to miss martyrdom.
Mark Twain, The Nest of the Cuckoo-clock A Tramp Abroad (1880)

Four years after the success of Innocents Abroad, Twain undertook a new journey; for his journeys have been largely the occasion of his books and from this adventure emerged A Tramp Abroad written as a humorous and cynical commentary on his walking trip through the Black Forest in Germany to the Alps. In this excerpt Twain is remarking upon his visit to a Swiss monument. Located in the heart of Europe, Switzerland is a banquet of beauty, with indigo blue waters that shine brightly against the verdant hills of the nearby mountains. High-speed trains whisk vacationers around at astonishing speeds, though many decide to take a trip by longboat on some of the country’s quiet waterways and easily reach its charming communities and modern metros. It is one of the world's most advanced industrialized nations, yet Lucerne remains a captivating medieval city. Located in north central Switzerland Lucerne, also called Luzern, is adjacent to lac des Quatre Cantons. It’s easy to understand why Lucerne belongs to the ten most recommended cities in the world with its magnificent settings of lake and mountains The town grew up around an 8th century monastery and has been a vital trade center since. Today the city enjoys a bustling tourist trade and thriving manufacturing plants for metals and chemicals.

And, like a dew-drop from the lion's mane
Troilus and Cressida. Act iii. Sc. 3.

Just northeast of Löwenplatz is one of the highlights of Luzern, the somber Lion Monument. Craved into the face of a sandstone cliff It is a monument to the Swiss Guard who perished during the French Revolution shielding the Tuileries.

The sanctuary is 6 meters high and 10 meters long. Carved into the face of the rock is a dying stone lion above a reflecting pool. An inscription etched in Latin above the memorial reads "Helvetiorum fidei ac virtuti -- "To the fidelity and bravery of the Swiss"; Underneath are the names of the 26 officers who fell protecting the Tuileries. Mark Twain described it as "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."

It's easy to be royal
If you're already leonine
- I just can't wait to be king

From the 15th to the 18th century the Swiss mercenaries were a highly respected fighting force among the European armies. The most famous of these were the Swiss guards in the French army hired by the Bourbon Kings for protection in 1516. On August 10, 1792, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and their children at the Tuileries Palace in Paris found themselves encircled by a violent horde of 30,000 French Revolutionaries. Demanding that the contingency of 900 Guards step aside the Swiss mercenaries, prepared to die for the French royal family they had been hired to protect, refused. As a result over 700 Guards lost their lives in the fight that followed.

Shortly before the crowd arrived at the palace gates the king and his family snuck out and ran away. No one told the Swiss Guard that they were protecting a vacant palace; their noble sacrifice was pointless. Within a year a decree by the French Legislative Assembly which suspended the king's powers King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were captured and executed by guillotine.

The French revolutionists attempted to bring to an end the Swiss troops. However in 1803 Napoleon I employed a number of Swiss regiments, which were practically wiped out in the Moscow campaign of 1812. Swiss Guards were hired for the Bourbon restoration, and countless were slaughtered in the July Revolution of 1830, after which they were abolished for good. In 1874 the constitution of the Swiss government constitution “forbade all military capitulations and recruitment of Swiss by foreign powers.” Finally by 1927 even volunteering in foreign armies was prohibited. Only one exception remains today and that is the Papal Swiss Guard of the Vatican. Established by Pope Julius II in 1505, the Guard remains as a personal sentinel of the pope. Enlisted from the Catholic provinces of central Switzerland, the Swiss Guard at the Vatican consists of 6 officers and 110 privates who are not allowed to marry. These papal guards of the Vatican in Rome wear colorful uniforms that, are by some accounts, designed by Michelangelo.

Courage…is the complexion of virtue.

It is the heroism of the Swiss Guard at the Tuileries Palace that was eventually commemorated in 1821 by the great sculpted lion outside one of the gates of Lucerne. Commissioned by one of the survivors in 1812, it was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770–1844) a principal neoclassicist; he created sculptures of mythological characters, including Hebe (1806), and monuments, such as the Lion of Lucerne (1819). Most of the work was done by a student from Constance, Lukas Ahorn (1789-1856). The original stucco model is on exhibit in the nearby Glacier Garden. During the early 1800’s many artists felt that neither reason nor neoclassical art could do justice to human reality. Much of the art was affected by the rational ideal of Neoclassicism and its use to symbolize moral and heroic links with the ancient past. The lion, always considered a symbol of courage and strength, served the artist to demonstrate a heartrending event, a struggle to the death. Added into the mix was the strong trend of nationalism sweeping Europe during the 1800’s. This gave rise to commissions for large monuments and the earliest one was the Lion of Lucerne and it was clearly meant to convey a sense of national identity.

There is no doubt that the monumental three dimensional relief is an allegorical reference to the noble courage of the Swiss Guards The large innocent creature is depicted, suffering pains of mortal wounding, alone and in silence, unable to articulate or express the depth of his anguish. The poignant expression on the lion's face rivets the eye. As the observer looks beyond the face they see that the dying beast is draped over his shield; his heart impaled with a broken lance. Cast aside is a shield with the Swiss state seal recognized throughout Europe as the insignia of the Thirteen Cantons of Switzerland. The Guards had no flag but they had a shield with a white cross "traversante" on a red field, and it came to be known in Switzerland as the "federal cross". A paw reaches forward in final allegiance protecting the French fleur de lis even as it dies, the motif of the Bourbon kings. Sometime during the 12th century a French monarch became the first to use the fleur de lis on his shield. It may have been Louis VI or, some sources say, Louis VII. Later on the kings of England would take on this emblem as a part of their coat of arms to call attention to their claims to the throne of France.

Since its creation this particular lion has earned a special place in many hearts. The German war memorial in Fuchsstadt, near Hammelburg, has a dying lion analogous to the well-known Lion of Lucerne. There is also the Lion of Atlanta. A civil war memorial unveiled in 1894 to pay tribute the approximately 3,000 Unknown Confederate Dead. The large marble replica of the Lion of Lucerne also portrays a dying lion lying on a furled Confederate flag.


Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Swiss Guard," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988. Swiss Guard

The Fleur-de-lis Symbol in Crests, Arms, and History:


Lion of Luzern:

The Lion of Luzern Monument: GRid=19456&pt=%20The%20Lion%20of%20Luzern%20Monument

Lucerne : The Lion Monument and around: e/guide/lucerne/lionmonument.html –

Oakland Cemetery:

Public domain text taken from Project Gutenberg's A Tramp Abroad, Part 4, by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) :

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