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Why motherhood and the stork?

When a small child asks where babies come from, many parents tend to simplify the answer and say that babies are brought from Paris by a stork, a classic tale that is repeated in countless children’s books and cartoons.

 

Luisa María González

 

With time, the child will learn that storks have nothing do with the matter, and Paris even less so, but when the time comes to having their own children, they will probably opt for the same answer as their parents, as seems to have been the case since the 19th century.

So why the stork and Paris? It is a question with varying answers. While there are numerous legends and fables that attempt to explain the origins of the story, they almost all agree on one thing: the stork has been considered the bringer of happiness and prosperity since the Romans, who viewed the bird as a sacred animal.

Additionally, the stork has always been admired as an exemplary mother figure for its tendency to be monogamous and spend almost two years carefully preparing the nest for the arrival of its offspring, as well as for its exceptional dedication to protecting them.

For said reasons, Western civilisation has related the stork with motherhood for several centuries, giving rise to the famous story. However, the part about Paris is rather controversial and there are various theories regarding this aspect.

The simplest version says that the stork comes from the capital of France because Paris is known as the city of love, an idea that dates back to the 20th century.

If we go a little further back in time, some legends tell of storks that nested at the house of a married couple who, after trying for years to have children, finally had a baby. As a result, a rumour spread around town that the baby had been brought by the storks.

Other versions are repetitions of the story about the married couple, but with the true original location named not as Paris, but as a region in the East of France called Alsace, on the border with Germany, an area that storks tend to favour on their migration routes.

Aside from the story about the married couple, there is another theory of German origin that puts the centre of the action in Strasbourg, currently the largest city of Alsace. It is known as the legend of Kindelesbrunnen – literally ‘the fountain of children’ in the Alsatian language – and tells of a lake below the Strasbourg cathedral (built between 1176 and 1439), where the souls of babies lay before coming into the world.

The guardian of the site was a gnome who sailed around in a small silver boat, gathering up the babies with golden pincers and trusting the storks to carry them to their families and place them in their cribs.

In summary, the history of the storks is more complicated than it may seem. As is the case with countless traditions, its origins are blurred among the details of the story itself and the local town customs.

In fact, in the oldest populations in the border area between France and Germany, this belief was accompanied by a tradition: when a young girl wanted to be mother, or a child wished to have siblings, they would leave sugar cubes in the window to attract the blessed visit of the storks. (Taken from the Orbe seminar). (PL)

(Translated by Lucy Daghorn – Email:  lucy.daghorn@gmail.com) – Photos: Pixabay

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