A Small Stone Owl Meets the Wishes of a French Town
Among the urban metaphysics and a petrified magic, a mysterious figure plays a crucial role in the life of Dijon.
A city’s life depends on things like design, mobility and efficiency. But less tangible factors might be essential at some completely different level. Magic is one of them, especially when it’s intertwined with a sense of community identity and the possibility of realizing something that has moved all of us: our fondest wishes.
Discreet and watchful, on a corner of the church of Notre-Dame de Dijon is a small figure; a stone owl carved into the wall. No one knows how it got there or who was responsible for it. What is known is that it appeared during the construction of a chapel in the 16th century, three centuries after the cathedral itself was built.
Over time, the “owl of Dijon” has been established as a kind of talisman of the city. The generosity of the owl, in fulfilling the city’s wishes, has earned the owl a special place in the imagination of the people. Today, an icon of the city, the owl appears with the local football team, reproduced on countless souvenirs, and dozens of local businesses pay homage to it.
Beyond the implicit beauty of the object, and the poetry suggesting that the stone owl is the guardian of the city, the figure plays an active social role, serving as a sort of compass of the community’s identity. In the owl are represented the thousands of people who find a point of focus in the owl.
Many cosmogonies place birds on a border between two worlds, the material and the ethereal. Owls most certainly occupy a special place; they’re inhabitants of the night, vigilantes par excellence, and they’re associated with both darkness and wisdom. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that this is precisely the peculiar role the owl in Dijon fulfills. Still, it doesn’t explain how the owl got there, how it settled on the church, nor how it still shelters the deepest yearnings of the city’s inhabitants.
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