Apr 23, 2008

Famous Swords: Durendal

Roland was a legendary figure in medieval Europe. He was popular amongst minstrels who turned his life into an epic tale of the noble Christian killed by Islamic forces. In French Medieval literature, Roland was the chief official in Charlemagne’s court, and may have been Charlemagne’s nephew. According to Ludovico Ariosto's poem, Orlando Furioso, Roland’s unbreakable sword Durendal (enchanted by various Christian relics) once belonged to Hector of Troy, and was given to Roland by Maugris.

The sword is said to contain within its hilt a tooth of Saint Peter, blood of Saint Basil, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of holy clothing belonging to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In order to prevent it from being captured by the ambushing Saracens, Count Roland attempted to destroy the sword by beating it against rocks high in the mountains. Durendal proved indestructible, however, and he ended up cutting a narrow mountain pass in the Pyrenees now called La Brèche de Roland. When this attempt to destroy the sword failed, Roland hurled it into a poisoned stream.

Roland was later killed in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, in 778, when the Basques ambushed Charlemagne’s war party returning from victory in Spain. Local folklore claims Durendal still exists, preserved in Rocamadour, France.

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