The Great Hailstorm

One day when we found ourselves a day’s distance from Lyons (it was nearly two hours before sunset), we heard the crackling of thunder and noticed how very clear the sky was: I was a bow’s shot in front of my companions.

Lyons, France, an old engraving

After the thunder we heard such a tremendous, fearful noise reverberating in the skies that I was convinced it must be the Day of Judgement.

Hail clouds (Photo Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

I paused for a while, and there was a fall of hail, without a drop of water. The hail was bigger than pellets shot from a blow-pipe, and when it hit me was very painful: little by little its size increased, till it was like the bullets from a crossbow.  Realizing that my horse was terrified out of its wits, I turned round and galloped back furiously till I met up with my companions, who being frightened like me had taken shelter in a pinewood.

The hailstones grew to the size of large lemons. I sang a Miserere and while I was praying to God in this devout way a hailstone fell that was so large that it smashed a very thick branch from the pine under which I thought I was safe; another fall of stones crashed on to the head of my horse, which staggered as if to fall; and one of them struck me, though not directly or I would have been killed.

A large hailstone, about 6 cm (2.36 in) in diameter (public domain photo)

In the same way one of them fell on poor Lionardo Tedaldi who, as he was kneeling down like me, was forced on to his hands. At this, seeing that the branch could no longer protect me and that one must do something else as well as saying the Miserere, I hurriedly began to gather up my clothes over my head. For Lionardo, who was screaming for Jesus to rescue him, I said that Jesus would help him if he helped himself.  I found it more difficult looking after him than after myself.

The storm continued some while, and then stopped: we had all been given a pounding, but we remounted our horses as best we could and rode on towards our next stopping-place, showing each other the scratches and bruises we had received.

Then a mile in front we found a spectacle of ruin so much greater than our own misfortune that it defies description.

All the trees were stripped and smashed; all the animals around had been killed, as well as a good number of shepherds.  We saw a mass of stones which were so large that it was impossible to get both your hands around them.  So we reckoned that we had escaped lightly and realized that our calling on God and singing Misereres had afforded us better protection than we would have got from our own efforts. So, giving thanks to God, the next day we pushed on to Lyons…

From The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, translated by George Bull, Penguin Books Ltd., London,  1956,  p. 309


Cellini’s statue of Perseus, Piazza della Signoria, Florence (a public domain photo by Jrousso)

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6 Responses to The Great Hailstorm

  1. 100swallows says:

    Eva: Thanks. Remember that it’s a translation from Italian by someone (Benvenuto Cellini) with a prodigious story-telling ability.. Read all of his Autobiography.

  2. Eva says:

    This was so fascinating to read! I love your blog. The form of writing made this story seem so life like.

  3. hiit says:

    I love your blog, so interesting.

  4. Wow, fascinating, I really enjoyed this account….as I started reading, I thought it had happened to YOU…then I realized it was a historical account. I do believe it.

  5. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Ritesh–nice to hear from you again. Cellini is a notorious fibber and for a long time I doubted that his hailstones were really so big and that they killed “a good number of shepherds”. But I’ve seen some TV reports and heard about hailstorms as destructive and frightening as yours and now I believe. Let’s see if I can post here more often. Lately I’ve had less time than I used to for my blogs.

  6. Ritesh says:

    Good to see you back on this blog Swallows! Hope you’ll write more often. The description of the hailstorm sounded very scary and reminded me of a hailstorm I had witnessed (from the safe confines of my home) during my childhood here in India. A great many trees were uprooted and the windshields of a lot cars parked outside were crushed. It was horrific.

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