THE JAÉN DRAGON
EL LAGARTO DE JAÉN
(THE LIZARD OF JAÉN)
The figures of snakes, dragons and other iconic reptiles are found throughout Iberian culture.
One such icon comes to us from Jaén, a city in south-central Spain. The name Jaén is most likely derived from the Roman city Villa Gaiena, which the Arabs called Yayyan.
The dragon as animal totem in the city of Jaén appears in the first Christians representations, and a predominant icon can be seen in front of the church of the Magdalena, the oldest temple from the 11th century, which was built on an ancient mosque, next to an ancient spring, channeled by Romans and then used by Arabs and Christians alike.
The legend of Lagarto de la Malena (the Magdalena Lizard), has uncertain origins that surely connects with traditions shared with cultures from many different places.
According to written references from Jaén in 1628: In a cave next to the Magdalena spring, there lived a Great Serpent or Dragon. This was not a city guardian like the Dragon of Sevilla. This beast frightened the people, and ate local town folk and animals who came to the spring for water. No one was willing to battle the creature until a prisoner on death row bargained for his release in exchange for killing the beast. He requested a horse, a bag of warm bread and a sack of gunpowder, and under the cover of darkness he created a trail of bread leading from the Dragon’s cave to the town square. The dragon awoke to find the tasty offering, and followed the trail as the prisoner (soon to be hero) fled on horseback. Upon reaching the square of San Ildefonso, the dragon found not only another loaf of bread, but a sack of gunpowder which he devoured before it ignited… exploding the monster into flaming bits.
According to scholars Alfredo Cazabán and Juan Eslava Galán, the Church of San Ildefonso exhibited for many years the giant reptile skin, that was later painted with a portrait of Saint Christopher with the baby Jesus on his shoulders. The painting has since been destroyed, but a similar work still hangs in the church.
Could the original have been painted on the skin of the Jaén Dragon?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!