Sunday, August 17, 2014

History of Weathervanes

The humble weathervane, symbol of rooftops everywhere, has a convoluted history. While you might think this tradition was established by farmers looking to watch the winds, the original use of the weathervane actually dates back almost a thousand years!

The original structure of what we now know as a "weather vane" comes from the Old English fana, or "flag." The practice of measuring the winds using this device originally came from the Catholic Church in pre-9th century Europe. No one is sure who first began using the "rooster" design, but it caught on quickly: by the 10th century, a decree had been issued by the Church that every weathervane on every church building must be fashioned in the shape of a rooster.

The reason for this design is still unclear today. Some scholars claim that the rooster symbolizes the weather, but it is more likely that this was a symbol designed to remind worshippers of the betrayals of St. Peter. As the Bible story goes, Peter was prophesied to betray him by the third crow of the cock on the day of Jesus' crucifixion. As the tale goes, Jesus was right: by the third crow, Peter had disavowed Christ three times already. Establishing this symbol across Church rooftops was a powerful measure for reminding churchgoers to be faithful to Christ, and not betray him as Peter did.

The history of weathervanes is further complicated by the existence of other types of weathervanes previous to the Church standard. In particular the great Roman agora in Athens held a famous bronze weathervane shaped like a mer-man, or Triton. However, this building was intended as a demonstration of the sciences of the time, with other devices including a water-clock inside, so it may have been a decorative rather than a practical weathervane.

While weathervanes are a reliable form of measuring wind direction, they are best when coupled with other technologies, such as anomemeter or other wind-measuring device. On their own, of course, weathervanes are a time-tested and traditional weather analysis technique as well as an excellent ornamental decoration.


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