Lion Monument

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Lion Monument
Lion Monument.jpg
Coordinates47°03′30″N 8°18′38″E / 47.05833°N 8.31056°E / 47.05833; 8.31056Coordinates: 47°03′30″N 8°18′38″E / 47.05833°N 8.31056°E / 47.05833; 8.31056
LocationLucerne, Switzerland
DesignerBertel Thorvaldsen
Completion date1821

The Lion Monument (German: Löwendenkmal), or the Lion of Lucerne, is a rock relief in Lucerne, Switzerland, designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn in 1820–21 by Lukas Ahorn. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. It is one of the most famous monuments in Switzerland, visited annually by about 1.4 million tourists.[1] In 2006, it was placed under Swiss monument protection.[2]

Mark Twain praised the sculpture of a mortally wounded lion as "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."[3]


From the early 17th century, a regiment of Swiss Guards had served as part of the Royal Household of France. On 6 October 1789, King Louis XVI had been forced to move with his family from the Palace of Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. In June 1791 he tried to flee to Montmédy near the frontier, where troops under royalist officers were concentrated. In the 1792 10th of August Insurrection, revolutionaries stormed the palace. Fighting broke out spontaneously after the Royal Family had been escorted from the Tuileries to take refuge with the Legislative Assembly. The Swiss Guards ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by superior numbers. A note written by the King half an hour after firing had commenced has survived, ordering the Swiss to retire and return to their barracks.[4] Delivered in the middle of the fighting, this was only acted on after their position had become untenable.[5]

Around 760 of the Swiss Guards defending the Tuileries were killed during the fighting[6] or massacred after surrender.[7] An estimated two hundred more died in prison of their wounds or were killed during the September Massacres that followed.[8] Apart from about a hundred Swiss who escaped from the Tuileries, the only survivors of the regiment were a 300 strong detachment which, with the King's authorization, had been sent to Normandy to escort grain convoys a few days before August 10.[9] The Swiss officers were mostly amongst those massacred, although Major Karl Josef von Bachmann — in command at the Tuileries — was formally tried and guillotined in September, still wearing his red uniform of the Guard. Two surviving Swiss officers achieved senior rank under Napoleon.[9]

Among the Swiss Guards in France who survived the insurrection and soldiers from disbanded Swiss line regiments, about 350 later joined the Revolutionary Armies of the French Republic, while others joined the counter-revolutionaries in the War in the Vendée. In 1817, the Swiss Federal Diet awarded 389 of the survivors with the commemorative medal Treue und Ehre (Loyalty and Honor).[10]


The Lion Monument in 2007

The initiative to create the monument was taken by Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen, an officer of the Guards who had been on leave in Lucerne at that time of the fight. He began collecting money in 1818. The monument was funded by a number of European Royal houses.[6] It was designed by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and hewn in 1820–21 by stonemason Lukas Ahorn, in a former sandstone quarry near Lucerne. At the time of its creation it also received criticism, as some were displeased that a monument was being built to Swiss citizens dying for a foreign monarchy, and a group of Swiss liberals even planned to saw off one of the lion's paws in protest.[6]

The monument is dedicated Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti ("To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss"). Carved into the cliff face, the monument measures ten metres in length and six metres in height. The dying lion is portrayed impaled by a spear, covering a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy; beside him is another shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland. The inscription below the sculpture lists the names of the officers and gives the approximate numbers of soldiers who died (DCCLX = 760), and survived (CCCL = 350).[11]

Mark Twain on the monument[edit]

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. His 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.

— Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880

References in literature[edit]

Lion Monument.

The monument is described by Thomas Carlyle in The French Revolution: A History (1837).[12]

In The Chalet School Does It Again (1955) Elinor Brent-Dyer describes the monument, its history and the associated chapel.

In Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers the Order of the Wounded Lion is the highest military decoration conferred, on par with the Victoria Cross.

In The Lions of Lucerne (2002) author Brad Thor describes the monument and the Swiss Guard it commemorates.

In her New Yorker tribute "My Buddy" (2017), Patti Smith reflects upon the death of Sam Shepard while standing in front of and addressing the monument.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lion Monument. "Lucerne Tourism". Lucerne Tourism. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  2. ^ "Löwendenkmal". Sehenswürdigkeiten von Luzern. 2015-06-08. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  3. ^ Mark Twain (1880). "Chapter XXVI: The Nest of the Cuckoo-Clock". A Tramp Abroad. Archived from the original on 2003-04-27. Retrieved 2008-08-08.
  4. ^ Philip Mansel, page 131, Pillars of Monarchy ISBN 0 7043 2424 5
  5. ^ M.J. Sydenham, page 111, The French Revolution, B.T. Batsford Ltd London 1965
  6. ^ a b c "Under French Rule (1798-1815)" (PDF). Discover Switzerland - Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  7. ^ M.J. Sydenham, page 111 "The French Revolution", B.T. Batsford, London 1965
  8. ^ Christopher J. Tozzi, page 80 "Nationalizing France's Army. Foreign, Black and Jewish Troops in the French Military, 1715-1831, ISBN 978-0-8139-3833-2
  9. ^ a b Jerome Bodin, page 259, "Les Suisses au Service de la France", ISBN 2-226-03334-3
  10. ^ Lion Monument in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  11. ^ "Lion Monument Inscriptions". Glacier Garden, Lucerne. Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2008-08-08.
  12. ^ Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution: A History, 498 (The Modern Library, New York, 2002).

External links[edit]