The salamander was the personal emblem of King Francis I of France (r. 1515-47) and the facade of the 16th century church of San Luigi dei Francesi (the French national church in Rome) sports two beautiful images of the creature.
In times past, it was believed that the salamander was immune to fire. This belief may have originated from a behaviour common to many species of salamander, the tendency to hibernate in and under rotting logs. When wood was brought indoors and put on the fire, the salamanders 'mysteriously' appeared from the flames.
Fire has a twofold power in that it can both support life and destroy it, and the motto of Francis I was: NUTRISCO E EXTINGO (I nourish and I extinguish).
The second inscription reads: ERIT CHRISTIANORUM LUMEN IN IGNE (It will be the light of the Christians in the fire).
The design of the facade of San Luigi dei Francesi has been attributed to the architect and sculptor, Giacomo della Porta (1532-1602).
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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