November 19, 2019

(Don't!) Touch for Good Luck


(Don't!) Touch for Good Luck
We're not lion, this is a serious problem. Romanevgenev | Dreamstime.com

Most people visiting St. Petersburg make a point to walk across the famous Bank Bridge over Griboyedov Canal. It's the one adorned by four winged lion statues with gilded wings.

Last week, however, the pedestrian bridge was the location of a street sketch: people in ancient greek robes clashed with the "vandals" – a ragtag group in zombie makeup. Quite a strange sight for Russia's "cultural capital," but it was in fact organized by the city's culture department. Restorers keeping watch over the statues got simply fed up with the continuous flow of locals and tourists who want to get their hands on the winged lions. Literally.

The performance was called #толькобезрук (Hands Off) and set in the mythical ancient Petropolis, a city protected by winged lions. The vandals attempting to damage the statues were to be harshly punished by the ancient Greek goddess of retribution, Nemesis, the culture department warned in its announcement of the flashmob.

 

Why go to so much trouble? Apparently, it's very difficult to get people to stop touching the statues. For decades, an urban legend persisted that rubbing the lions brings good luck and possibly financial good fortune as well. So the statues have taken a beating: their gilding has worn off, while their insides have been filled with coins and paper notes. Following the most recent renovation – from 2017 to 2019 – it was only a few months before the goldleaf had become scratched and worn by the bridge's luck-seekers. 

"Often ,tour guides use these myths to make their tours more interesting," one restorer Yekaterina Makeyeva from the St. Petersburg museum of city sculpture told local website Moika78. "Imagine, a bus pulls up, 60 people exit and all of them start rubbing the golden statues."

The winged lions (sometimes called griffins) of the Bank Bridge / KGIOP committee

Needless to say, the lions on Bank Bridge are not the only statues suffering from excessive attention. In Moscow, the most famous such example is the German shepherd at the Revolution Square metro station. The dog (or, actually, four identical dogs sitting near border guards in the socialist sculptural ensemble at the 1938 station) may be even less lucky than the fantasy winged lions, as it gets rubbed right on its nose. And, after decades of rubbing, even bronze wears down. Moscow's Architecture Museum also attempted to launch an internet campaign #НеТриНос (Don't Rub the Nose), seeking to dissuade people from "turning the german shepherds into bulldogs." We asked the museum about this particular urban legend.

What do we know about the phenomenon of rubbing the dog's nose? How did this rite come to existence?

Before, this "tradition" only existed in small communities, among students for example. But with the influx of tourists, you see whole groups observing this ritual, touching of the dogs' noses. The results are well-known: their snouts have been polished to the point where only small holes remain where once there were noses.

Do you think it's realistic to try to change a tradition that has existed for decades?

We believe it is. Damaging an object under cultural protection (which the whole station is) is an offense punishable by a fine. So we should observe the law. But, at the same time, we should enlighten people. Because many people simply don't know the value of works of art and don't understand the importance of saving them for the future. For them, it's more important to "touch" it for luck, carrying out some pagan ritual while obeying a herd instinct.

The dog's nose has been reduced to two tiny breathing holes / Moscow Architecture Museum

Other observers say that the fact that some statues became an object of  love cannot be simply edited out of their history. "The fact that some beliefs grew up around these statues is an important part of their biography,"  said anthropologist Mikhail Maizuls. "And it is proof of how they function in the city. Of course, a monument should be protected from destruction. But a statue in the metro is not a museum object kept behind glass in a vacuum."

Although the Moscow Metro has promised to begin educating passengers with videos on screens inside trains, efforts have seemingly fallen flat so far. Muscovites continue to touch the nose for good luck.

You Might Also Like

17 Petersburg Places
  • September 01, 2017

17 Petersburg Places

Revolutions, including that Great October one, are not a popular topic in Russia today. Nonetheless, we take a photo feature look at how 1917 shaped Russia’s northern capital.
Who Invented the Ancient Slavic Gods, and Why?
  • March 15, 2017

Who Invented the Ancient Slavic Gods, and Why?

How it was that in the eighteenth century Russian mythology was trumped-up in the Western manner? Who wanted it? And where did we get Lel, Yarilo and Zimtserla? We explain everything you'd want to know about Russian fakelore.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955