National Geographic : 1953 Feb
245 Al Taylor A Vezelayan Admires One of His Plump Rabbits Destined for the Table Most families in the hilltop town raise rabbits for food. The skins, sold to itinerant buyers, become children's coats, gloves, and slippers (page 234). With an epicure's eye, this retired farmer envisions the doe as a tasty stew to be washed down with a bottle of good red wine. Shrill porcine squeals rend the air as the pigs are lifted by the tail and one ear from the jalopies and carts into crates. Then there is bargaining by ruddy-faced men, and some of the piglets change hands and carts, shriek ing lustily. Vaulted Cellars Carved from Granite Many buildings in Vezelay date from the 12th century; a few have still earlier founda tions. In the vicinity of the basilica one observes numerous Romanesque door and window arches, usually blocked up, a few of which show Moorish influence in decoration. Unhappily many of the ancient facades have been mutilated by later modifications. The spacious cellars of these old houses are a special feature of Vezelayan construc tion. Dug from the granite escarpment, they have high and graceful vaulting supported by Romanesque columns. Such caves served a triple purpose in medieval times. Primarily they were store houses for food supplies and wine to carry through periods of siege. But they also held cisterns to trap precious rain water from the roofs, and they provided living quarters for many refugees. All the great cellars were interconnected underground. One of the best-known buildings in Vezelay is the Maison des Colombs, a very old house done over in the 15th century. It has a fine cellar, and its round-arched windows and door on the ground floor bear inscriptions in Old French and in Latin. The house is named for a family that owned it in the 15th century, Colombs (or Colum bus). Locally it is believed that these people may have been related to Christopher Colum bus, since their armorial bearings were similar. Farther up the street is the house where Louis VII of France resided during Eastertide of 1146. He is the king often credited by historians with first giving France its royal emblem, the fleur-de-lis. Louis, according to legend, chose for his armorial bearings the sword-shaped flowers of the little marsh irises that grow in masses of yellow and pale laven der by the edges of Burgundian streams. These flowers thereupon took the name of "fleur de Louis," in course of time slurred to fleur de lis. Though we sometimes read of the "lilies of France," they are really wild irises.