épi de faîtage : finial

I wonder, where did the ‘épis de faîtage’ originate; those decorative ‘finials’ on roof tops, that I see on old houses hereabouts?

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These particular ones date to the late nineteenth century, when interlocking roof tiles crowned with decorative ‘épi de faîtage’ was quite the fashion.

But I’ve learned, that since the thirteenth century, a turned upside down clay pot was used to protect the wooden key post of a roof, and that it was quickly refined into a very decorative ornament full of symbolism and significance. Also, that a house owner could order an original design that he favoured, or one that informed onlookers of his status, wealth, politics or profession.

Yet if I look more closely, I see the finials resemblance to a ‘bouquet’, and then recognise it as the beribboned sheaf of wheat our ancestors placed on top of the wheat cart at Harvest, and then on their thatched roofs, believing it would ward off malevolent spirits, and attract good fortune and well being. The sheaf of wheat symbolised so many things for them; the roof over their head, the home, the family, their sustenance, and by its fatness, their wealth.

It pleases me that our house carries ‘épis de faîtage’ of its own. As in tradition they were made in three parts. Their base, as a ridge tile (faîtage) with a flattened top, on which the central pieces form the vase, and finally the crown or épi (ear of grain).

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