There’s an image that recurs again and again in Medieval manuscripts, but no one knows why. It is a picture of a knight in combat with a snail. This is no ordinary snail. It’s usually giant-sized, with antennae out, while the knight has his weapon raised as if to finish it off.
The majority of the images online are illustrations from Britain and France, for example in this gallery on the Guardian website.
However, last week I was in the city of Manresa in Central Catalunya (NE Spain). When I was visiting the fourteenth-century cathedral, I discovered an image of the knight vs snail in stone on a wall opposite the altar. Here it is, showing the knight with a Roman gladiator-type helmet, stabbing the snail with a sword in his right hand and a sickle in his left:
And another angle, which shows more of the shell:
Theories abound as to why this image was so popular. Personally, I suspect that it relates to a popular story or legend that has been lost. Perhaps one day someone will discover a fragment of manuscript that narrates the adventure of the knight and the giant snail. Alternatively, perhaps the contest featured in a popular ballad, which various troubadours sang but which nobody ever wrote down.
The cathedral of Manresa itself is a glorious building, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Spain. Its ribbed vault of flying buttresses stands on a hill above a river valley, where the power of the Medieval church can be felt for miles around.