I have often scratched my head pondering why people rub statues. You know what I am talking about: when people actually physically rub a precise part of a statue or a sculpture without any other reason other than that everyone else does it. “For good luck!” might be the easiest answer to this. Another, perhaps a little cynical explanation, might be how as humans we fall so easily for stories and would blindly follow anyone and anything with a convincing pitch. It doesn’t even have to be a great pitch. As long as a sizeable number of people believe something, that’s mostly the validation we need anyway.
The idea of ‘luck’ in the context of statue rubbing can encompass so many things: virality, love, fertility, peace, money and what have you. For those who are seriously concerned about boosting their chances in life, it can be a serious business. Whole travel itineraries are planned around it while for others, it might just be a fun thing to try. Worst case scenario, you so something fun on a holiday while the best-case scenario is that the legends are true and you might just get your heart’s desire.
Statues have always been infused with magical, religious and anthropomorphic meanings. The Greeks used to think certain statues could serve as repositories for divine power and magic. And probably rubbing statues for luck, is just a modern carrying-over of these old beliefs.
So well-spread is this practice that there are many a statue has been almost destroyed, assaulted or had to have barriers put around them, to be saved from the onslaught of statue rubbers.
I mean, I am not a statue-rubber but every now and then, even I think of the bull in Milan whose snout I didn’t stand and spin around. What if I missed my only chance of becoming a millionaire!
Some of the most famous rub-worthy statues are the mosaic bull at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele at Milan, whose testicles you are supposed to stand on and spin around for good luck and financial prospects, the statue of Juliet in Verona, whose bosoms are rubbed by millions of tourists for good luck, the statue of Kiskiralylany or The Little Princess in Budapest whose knees are touched by passing visitors for good luck etc. The list could go on and on encompassing every continent and country.
We humans seem to have a propensity of wanting to touch, kiss, caress and sometimes even preserve or cannibalise our Gods and magical and religious figures. (More on that coming up on this blog soon). A lot of statue-rubbing mythos are built around talismanic body-parts. It isn’t just that you can rub any part of the statue. There is often a specific body part associated with the rubbing mythos: whether it be the case of a nose, the snout of a pig or the innocent sword of a fighter. We still adhere properties of virility especially to our body parts that correspond to reproductive or sexual functions.
All fun and games aside, it makes me wonder if all of us aren’t, what does this say about us?
Here are 3 statues in Paris if you believe in the delightful arcane myth of rubbing statues for luck! They are also very good examples of the combination of myth-making as well as cultural fixation on body-parts of statues as sources of good luck, virility, intelligence or whatever.
Tombe de Victor Noir, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
By now, this tomb has become famous or infamous for virility. I found a couple of articles positioning it as the centre of existence for French women, who keep rubbing it for its powers of virility etc. But trust me, you would be hard-pressed to find a Parisian woman who would admit to visiting it to replenish their sexual energies or destinies. It’s as is usually the case, a form or myth-making.
Victor Noir was a French gentleman who lived a nondescript life in Paris and was killed in a duel in 1870. While alive, he was really not known for any Casanova-like exploits or even for being a fulfilling lover to anyone. Yet, in death, his tomb and his statue atop his tomb have been found a solid place for those seeking virility and fertility.
Judging by the mouth and crotch where the statue is remarkably tarnished, you can guess where the believer rub it. Legend has it that kissing the statue of Noir or rubbing its genitals would lead to finding true love within a year. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any statistics to confirm or deny this.
It is located in Cemetery Père Lachaise, which in my opinion is one of the most peaceful places to think and read in Paris. The avenues here are lined with tall trees and strewn around, are the graves of some of the most distinguished people in France and abroad. Among them are Mick Jagger, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and many many more.
Address: Cimetière Père Lachaise, 16 rue du repos, 92ème division, Avenue Transversale 2, 75020 Paris
Le Bust de Dalida
This statue is in in the heart of Montmartre, which technically, a village in itself. It is one of the most photographed places in the whole world, and it is easy to see why. Each turn on the road, each building, each commercial establishment can be a postcard photo in its own right. Coupled with the sweeping views of the city of Paris, along with the artistic influences of all the great painters and musicians who lived and worked here, it’s easy to be seduced by the arty, bohemian vibes of Montmartre.
In the heart of this oasis, lies the bust of French singer and performer, Dalida. For decades, she regaled audiences with her music and is today considered a French national icon. She made Montmartre her home in 1962 and after her tragic death by suicide in 1987, she is still buried there in the Montmartre Cemetery.
In a quaint corner of Montmartre, the city of Paris named a square after Dalida and erected her bronze bust. A slew of fans soon began visiting her statue to pay their homage to this great artist. It’s unclear when and why the ‘tradition’ of rubbing the bust of the statue started but once again, the visible tarnish on the statue indicates the onslaught of the statue rubbers.
Address: Place Dalida, Rue de l’Abreuvoir, 75018 Paris
Statue de Michel de Montaigne
Unlike the two statues above, this one involves higher education. This statue is located in a small square near the prestigious University of Sorbonne, in the Latin Quarters or Quartier Latin, of Paris. This was, and is still, the neighbourhood for the learned since it has many premier universities and schools in the same district. Hence the name derives from the time when the students and teachers in this neighbourhood used to speak Latin, which used to be the language of the elite.
Montaigne was one of the most important philosophers to emerge during the French Renaissance. Legend has it that rubbing the foot of statue of Michel de Montaigne, is supposed to bestow wisdom and good luck to be able to cope with university exams. Indeed it is not unheard to have similar legends of statue rubbing when it comes to other universities.
Address: 56 Rue des Écoles, 75005 Paris