Carved in stone, yet deceptively real. There he lies, the world-famous lion, his backstory and expressiveness at least as moving and powerful as the majestic animal itself. Yet what is it that makes the lion so special? A predator one would not expect to find in the Lake Lucerne Region? Not many of the annual 1.4 or so million visitors to the Lion Monument are conscious of the tragedy that underlies this imposing work. Let us travel back in time. Will you join us?
It is 10 August 1792 – truly a dark day for Switzerland, yet part of our history. On this day, some 1,000 Swiss Guards in Paris, seeking to protect the life of King Louis XVI, paid the ultimate price for their unconditional loyalty and untold bravery. What happened? On 10 August 1792, the revolutionaries stormed the residence defended by the Swiss, leading to the virtual annihilation of the Guard. The Lion Monument, a powerful memorial, pays homage to the selfless heroes of the Swiss Guard.
It just so happened that an officer of the Swiss Guard, Karl Pfyffer, was on leave at his home in Lucerne that fateful day. Pfyffer, who eventually returned to Lucerne after years of service abroad, took it upon himself to guide the destinies of Lucerne’s community of artists. Throughout this time, one thought never left him: the loss of his comrades-in-arms. He had long harboured the desire of erecting a monument worthy of the fallen. His heartfelt wish grew to become a serious vision, the realisation of which was to materialise many years later. Pfyffer suggested a rock face beneath the Wesemlin as a suitable location for the memorial. Fundraising initiated by Karl Pfyffer helped make the major project viable. The model of a larger-than-life lion, created by the Danish artist and most high-profile sculptor at the time, Bertel Thorvaldsen, became reality in little more than a year – a tour de force with global appeal!
Then as now, the Lion Monument is a must-see, one reason being that the blood-soaked drama of Paris must never be forgotten. But another reason is that the ten-by-six-metre work hewn out of sandstone leaves a lasting impression. Or, as the American writer Mark Twain put it: «The Lion of Lucerne (is) the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.»