Weathervane, Weather Vane, Rooster, Wind

The thought that the weathercock typified, not merely clerical vigilance, as is often said, but the priestly office generally is curiously developed in a well-known Latin hymn,”Multi sunt Presbyteri,” etc., said to have been written before or in 1420. A translation is included in John Mason Neale’s Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences: Many are the Presbyters Lacking information Why the Cock on each church tow’r Meetly finds his station; Therefore I will now hereof Inform the cause and reason, If ye give me patient ears For just a little season. Cock, he is a marvelous Bird of God’s creating, Faithfully the Priestly life In his ways relating; Such a life because he must lead Who a parish tendeth, And his flock from jeopardy Evermore defendeth…

And so on, through fifteen stanzas, drawing almost every conceivable parallel between cleric and Chanticleer, even to the similarity between the cock’s bald pate and the tonsure! However, a number of different kinds of vane have been used on churches, and today the weathercock is hardly more prevalent in this situation than arrows, fishes, and such. In the Old World symbols of the various saints are located on churches committed to them; as in the case of the Key on St. Peter’s, Cornhill, and the Gridiron, on St. Lawrence’s, Jewry, both in London. Human figures also have been used. Banner-shaped vanes were once the exclusive prerogative of aristocratic castles and manors. In mediaeval France the form of this banner-vane denoted the owner’s position, and the lower orders of society were prohibited by law from using vanes of any kind.

Besides vanes artistic, symbolic and scientific, there are rough-and-ready apparatus for finding out how the wind blows. The dog-vane, used on shipboard, is typically a simple ribbon of bunting attached to a weather shroud. Sometimes it is composed of thin slips of cork, stuck round with feathers, and strung on a piece of twine; or it is a funnel-shaped contrivance, made of bunting, quite like the end cone of the aviator. All out-of-door folk, whether by land or sea, are familiar with the expedient of wetting a finger and holding it up to determine how the wind blows. The wet skin, when turned to the end, is, of course, cooled by evaporation. The smoke from chimneys is one of the very best of makeshift vanes. Sailors sometimes throw a piece of live coal to the sea and notice which way the steam slopes. The kingfisher is called”the natural weathercock,” and thereby hangs two tales. One, maybe true, is that, if the dead bird be properly suspended outdoors, its breast will always turn into the end. Another, obviously nonsensical, is that the exact same procedure will work indoors.

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