Turicum, the Romans called Zurich. And they did not bother to fortify it, just to use it for tax purposes. Plus ca change. They set up a tax point upstream of Lake Zurich, and merrily taxed goods coming to and from Italy, and life was good for almost 500 years.
Until the Christians came.
A megalomaniac Roman emperor ordered an entire Roman legion of men, six thousand, six hundred and sixty six men, to worship him and make sacrifices to him.
They called them the Theban legion, and at Agaunum – Saint-Maurice to you – the whole lot of them said to the emperor Maximillian: don’t be daft. You’re not God.
So being a powerful man, Maximilian ordered decimation. Every tenth man was slain. And then they rounded them all up, and every tenth man was slain again, and so on, in an agony of fear, until there were none left.
A few fled. Amongst them, the soldier Felix and his sister, Regula. How she came to be dressed as a Roman soldier in a legion is never made quite clear, and thereby must surely hang a novel; but together, as the blades came closer, and the confusion mounted, they managed to slip away .
They fled from Agaunum all the way to Turicum, and it seemed as though Felix and his sister had left the madness behind. The air was clear and fresh and the stench of blood was fading from their nostrils, and they found a well by the side of the lake and gave thanks, choosing here to be baptised as Christians, far from the madding crowd.
Decimation. Of course, Romans count. And they realised grimly that two of the legion were missing. The bodies didn’t add up. Soldiers were dispatched swiftly through the night, following the trail of the young man and his sister and coming, all too soon, to Turicum.
The two were rounded up. They were tried and executed, their heads hacked from their bodies.
A lifeless body : the light and animation are suddenly absent. And the people of Turicum stood and watched the remains with great compassion, and inwardly cursed their Roman rulers.
When one of the hands moved, an observer put it down to death-twitches. they happened; he had seen executions before, though they never ceased to shake him to the core.
But his heart turned to stone in his body as the hand steadied itself, and what was so recently a young, vital woman began to pull herself to her feet.
Without her head.
Her brother was doing the same. the disjointed inelegance of death had given way to a rather ghastly order. What had been Felix was pulling itself to its feet, yet without the aid of his head.
In fact, the heads were the last to be considered. The two corpses bent down carefully to retrieve their heads, though how they located them we will never know; and they began to walk up the hill to a Christian burial site.
A grotesque little procession, it was, with the people of Zurich walking as if in a trance, unable to believe the evidence of their own eyes, as the two headless creatures took themselves off to be buried on consecrated ground. Once there, they lay obediently down.
And never moved again.
These days, they are saints; Felix, and Regula, and their servant Exuperantius. The story of what happened to their bones after their death in 286AD is strange in its own right, and must wait until another day.
Legend places the two headless creatures at the centre of Zurich folklore, and the Grossmunster- the great two-towered church by the river – is built on the site of their graves.
And in every picture you see of them, they are depicted headless.