The History of Finials

finial_fleur_di_lisA finial is a terminal structure at the top of a spire, gable, gatepost, pinnacle or other point of relative height.  This height can also occur at the end of flagpoles and even curtain rods.  But are you aware that the concept of finials came from a unique type of architecture and culture?  They did and without them our buildings would simply consist of four walls and a roof.

Finials are just part of a building structure that was invented by Asian cultures around 711 A.D.  This type of style is referred to as a pagoda.  In this type of architecture a building of stone, brick or wood is built around a staircase.  There is always an odd number of floors and each eave is decorated with iron or copper accents and fancy woodwork.  A central finial is placed on the very top with small finials decorating the upturned corners of each eave.

From this point, pagodas begin to change with the influence of the Buddhist religion.  At this point, finials began to take the shape of an elongated lotus bud.  This bud represents several things depending on its shape.  A closed bud represents the potential for enlightenment while an open bud represents rebirth.

The Japanese designed roofs that were straight and topped them with a finial made of iron or copper.  Symbolism was still used and represented concepts from Buddhist history.  This included sacred wheel, the water flame, and nine rings stacked vertically to represent the Buddhist deities.  Ones topped by a sphere, such as the Avalon or Gawain finial, represent heaven and earth.

Finials not only add a decorative touch and symbolism to the architecture space but they also act as lightening rods.

Today, finials can be found beyond the roofline and can represent several things.

Finials are now on flagpoles.  While they are very decorative, the ball shaped finial prevents the flag from tangling up on the top and making lowering and putting up the flag easier.  They can also be found on furniture especially bedposts.  The use of the pineapple shape started with seafaring captains who used to impale fresh pineapples on top of porch railings.  This showed passersby that the man of the house was home and visits should be short.

In Colonial times, pineapples were served for dessert only when company came to visit.  This symbol of hospitality was so important that many bedposts were topped with this carved design.  In doing so, any guest was directed to stay in the bedroom that had the bed with the carved pineapple finials.  This was the ultimate show of respect and hospitality.

Another symbol that is used for finials is the fleur-di-Lis shape.  The term fleur-di-Lis can be translated into Flower of the Lily.  This symbol was used to represent the French Royalty.  King Louis VII was the first to use this symbol on his shield.  From this point on, English kings continued to use this symbol.

The Roman Catholic Church has also used this symbol to represent the Virgin Mary along with the Holy Trinity due to its three-petal design.  Today, this symbol can be found representing many different cities, such as Quebec, Canada and St. Louis, Missouri.

Nowadays, both the pineapple and the fleur-di-Lis finials can be found decorating bedposts, porch railings, the tops of lamps and even on the end of curtain rods along with other finial designs.  The only limit one has as far as finial design is their imagination and the story they want to tell.

If you are looking for finial inspiration, explore Outdora for some ideas.  They sell both classical designs, such as the Fleur-di-Lis finial and unusual shapes, such as the Guinevere finial.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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