The Graoully, symbol of Metz

The life of Saint Clément
Imprint of Saint Clement’s knees

Local churches have always, but particularly in the Middle Ages, wanted to show that their foundations date back to apostolic times, where the arrival of a first bishop was a direct disciple of the apostles sent to evangelise the city.

For this reason Saint Clément is known as the "First bishop of Metz".

According to legend, Saint Clement, disciple of Saint Pierre, would have arrived in Metz in the 1st century, accompanied by two disciples, Celeste and Felix. According to critics, the arrival of Saint Clement only dates back to the end of the 3rd century, thus backing up allegations that Saint Clement was a disciple of Saint Pierre.

Beyond a primitive oratory dedicated to Saint Pierre in the ruins of the large amphitheatre, there is nothing more to prove his presence. However it is still possible to bring together elements of different tales recounted in the Gesta episcorporum mettensium (Acts of Saint Clement) by Paul Diacre.

The "Cross of Saint Clement", situated on the hills between Ancy and Gorze, shows the arrival of the Saint in Metz. This cross indicates the location of Saint Clement's first prayer over the town that he will evangelise. It is also where Saint Clement carried out his first miracle: it is said that the outline of his knees is imprinted in the stone at the foot of the cross.

Presumed appearance of Metz at the time of the legend of St. Clement.

Saint Clement’s second miracle, which allowed him to enter Metz, took place on a hunting day. Saint Clement's presence prevented the dogs of Orius, King of Metz, from hunting down a stag who took refuge near him. The king, informed of this, decided to take a look at the strange phenomenon himself; for the second time, after having been released, the stag returned once again to hide from the dogs under Saint Clement’s knees. The King was then convinced of Clement's sacredness and chose to invite him into the city.

At this time, Metz's amphitheatre was the lair of a huge snake called Graoully. Saint Clement promised his help if the inhabitants abandoned pagan gods for Christianity. They accepted. After celebrating mass, Saint Clement went to the amphitheatre and set the town free from the horrible Graoully, thus converting all inhabitants.

Only King Orius did not convert. However, when his daughter died, he once again asked for the help of Saint Clement who resuscitated her, leading to the conversion of the King and his entire family.

Saint Clement ‘s meeting with the Graoully
The Graoully

The Graoully is shown as a fearsome dragon, vanquished by the sacred powers of Metz’s first bishop. Legend says that the amphitheatre in Metz is the lair of a great number of serpents, whose breath infested the area so much that nobody dared leave or enter the town.

Following the conversion of the inhabitants, Saint Clement helped the town. After mass, he went to the amphitheatre with only his stole and prayers. As he entered, the snakes lunged on the intruder intending to eat him.

But Saint Clement stopped them only by making the sign of the cross. The snakes became less scary and Saint Clement chose the biggest, who was later named Graoully, and led him to the edge of the Seille, ordering him to cross with his fellow creatures, so that they would disappear into deserted places, unable to harm humans and animals.

Saint Clement and the Graoully

Authors from Metz tend to present the legend of the Graoully as the symbol of Christianity’s victory over paganism, represented by the harmful dragon.

It is thought that the name Graoully comes from the French term "grouiller" (to be swarming) since the dragon lived, according to legend, with the snakes swarming in the ruins of the amphitheatres. However, the name Graoully has multiple roots and refers to many things.
The radical Graul is similar to the German "gräulich", an adjective for a dark object, similar to horrifying, a significant meaning since Metz has always been a roman-speaking town. Then there is the word "graula", common in the 14th century as the word for crow, a black bird thought of as a bad omen. Or even the word "graulus", meaning "hideous shape", from the words "gravelure" (smut) and "graveleux" (smutty).

The Graoully in the imagination of the people
Procession of the Graoully

The Graoully quickly became a symbol of the town of Metz and although it is frightening, it can be seen in numerous demonstrations.

In the 11th century, during the processions of Saint Marc and the Rogations, the mayor and the upholders of the law for Woippy, a village dependant on the chapter of Metz cathedral, carried three banners; one of these banners showed the head of a dragon. During the following century, the effigy of the monster was reproduced on the banner itself. On the first and second days of the Rogations, this banner preceded over the two others. But on the third day, it gave way to them and was held behind. Later, the banner was replaced by a large effigy of the Graoully.

Rabelais describes the effigy in the Quart-Livre: "It was a monstrous, hideous effigy, terrifying for small children, with eyes bigger than the stomach, and a head bigger than the rest of the body, with horrific, wide jaws and lots of teeth with which a cord was used to make terrible clashing noises as if the dragon of Saint Clement was actually in Metz."

In the 18th century, the Graoully was presented in the form of a canvas figure, full of hay and twelve feet high. The teeth no longer moved, and the tongue had a pointed end. Every baker who passed by the procession gave it a small loaf of white bread. This bread was meant for the person carrying the dragon, originally the mayor of Woippy. Later, the mayor was replaced by a poor man, glad of the good fortune. At the end of the procession, a young girl put a cake decorated with ribbons and flowers into the dragon's sting.

In their History of Metz, the Benedictines state that on the last day of Rogations, children whipped the monster in the courtyard of the abbey of Saint Arnould, the last stage of the procession. After 1786, the children threw stones at it at the end of its journey, in front of the Palace of the Government (today Palace of Justice).

But this procession became rather troublesome and had to be stopped at the end of the 18th century.

The Graoully in art and literature
Auguste Migette's painting of Saint Clément and the Graoully

The Graoully is mentioned in many works, in painting, music, and literature.
Rabelais, having stayed in Metz, remembered the "ample, wide and terrifying jaws" of the animal, as he described in his Quart Livre. While not well known amongst the public, the Quart livre is of great historical value.

Three centuries later, Verlaine was no less frightened by the "cardboard monster" as a child. As for Victor Hugo, he says, on the subject of the dragon of Metz and its fellow creatures in Troyes and Tarascon, that "all these creations draw in their own way from this profound tone in which it seems that Antiquity has temporarily returned".

A painter, art teacher and theatre decorator, Auguste Migette (1802-1884) was a curious and eclectic artist.

Passionate about local history and architecture, he left his works and manuscripts to the town of Metz. He created many drawings and sketches showing ancient monuments as well as monumental paintings representing the most significant moments in local history.

An enthusiast of medieval history, Migette was interested in the representation of major events in Metz’s history, and he created a drawing dating from 1864, showing Saint Clement, the first bishop of Metz, near the ruins of the amphitheatre. This highly-regarded composition of the departure of the saint and the snake from the amphitheatre is certainly one of the artist’s most famous works.

The Graoully today
The Graoully in the crypt of Metz cathedral

Now one of the town’s main symbols, the Graoully has been used throughout history. Until the 19th century its effigy, in the shape of a dragon, was carried through the town before being whipped by children. Today we can see it represented in the crypt in Metz cathedral.

A semi-permanent sculpture of the Graoully is hung in mid-air on rue Taison, near the cathedral. This road gets its name from the Graoully, who has long frightened generations of children. The inhabitants do not dare to go into the road at night for fear of meeting the dragon and say "Quiet, quiet, the Graoully is passing by!"

Blazon of the FC Metz

The Graoully is also shown on the coat of arms for the Football Club in Metz. It was only after the war that the coat of arms used the emblems of a dark red dragon on white background and a white cross of Lorraine on a dark red background.

European Institute of Cultural Routes