The Sword in the Stone – Part II: Horned and dangerous

Updated on 08/09/18

Last week I leafed through a couple illustrated versions of Orlando Furioso, not as great as the Doré one, though but still ok.  (See earlier post). I wanted to refresh my memory regarding the protagonists and conducted some cursory research.

Orlando or Roland was one of Uncle Charlemagne’s paladins (we’re speaking about 800ish). He travelled to the south of France, not to drink beers at the beach, but to beat up Saracens and some locals, which is a little frowned upon nowadays and rightly so.

Spoiler alert: he died.

“Roland’s own death was very near” – I found this 1900ish looking picture somewhere in the dark abyss of the net

Orlando or Roland also appears in Dante’s Divina Commedia (Canto XXXI of Hell or thereabouts).

In Ariosto’s very fictional tale Orlando goes completely mad after the woman he loves runs off with the Saracen Medoro (I summarise the story based on the Wikipedia page, not sure if this is correct. I had to read quite a few knight’s tales in the past but Orlando Furioso was not one of them. It’s now on my bucket list.)

Angelica and Medoro by G. Doré. Can’t blame Angelica. Medoro has really nice legs.

There are a few other knights in the tale such as Ruggiero, who rescues the chained heroine from a dragon and more trope fantasy stuff. There is also a badass female knight Bramante:

Better not mess with Bramante

Raging Roland, or – if you want – Ripped Roland

Back to the original Roland. No legendary hero is complete without some magical equipment. For Roland this was, besides his horn and his horse, an unbreakable sword called Durendal. I found two different versions of how and where he got it: either through Charlemagne or from the necromancer Maugis, who happens to be the inspiration for the name of this site.

According to legends or the internet (interchangeable), the sword Durendal ended up at Rocamadour (F), a French pilgrimage site. Three years ago we were a bit early for our holiday rental place  so we passed the few extra hours by visiting  the nearby town of Rocamadour. I took a couple pictures there and I dug them up as I wanted to see if I had accidentally photographed the sword. At the time I had no idea Durendal was supposed to be in that place so I didn’t specifically look for it. I scanned the pictures with some guidance from Wiki and guess what?

HAHAHA, found it! Unfortunately, it’s not the original sword but a fake. Who would have thought?

Anyway, the story is not finished.

Durendal was the sharpest sword in existence and unbreakable thanks to some magical accoutrements. The hilt of Durendal is said to have contained four relics (for other uses of relics, see  earlier Holy Blood post): a tooth of St. Peter, hair of St Denis, a piece of the dress of the mother of Jesus and last but not least, blood of Basil of Caesarea.

Theoretically, one could use the above recipe in order to create another magical sword. So I investigated where relics of all those people could theoretically be found today. St. Peter’s grave is in the basilica of the same name in Rome.  The tomb of Mary is in Jerusalem. Saint Denis was buried in Paris (close to where we stayed in Paris in May apparently. If I had known…). Basil’s head is in Greece, but there are other relics of him around, including a couple of his vertebrae, one of which allegedly -is kept in the same basilica as the Blood relic. Which is in Bruges.

Tip of the day: In case you want to create your own magical sword, at least you know now that the Italian job will be the easiest.

Good luck with that…

Orlando Furioso – A quick and messy affair in my sketch book




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