HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A trio of winged lions guards a building in Harrisburg.

Oddly enough, unlike other mythological beasts like griffins, manticores, chimeras, basilisks, hydras, or jackalopes, winged lions don’t seem to have a special name. They’re just winged lions, which makes them special enough. (Winged lions are often misidentified as griffins, or gryphons, if you will. A proper griffin, however, has the body of a lion, and the head and wings of an eagle.)

The winged lion is associated with St. Mark the Evangelist, author of the Gospel According to St. Mark. The Winged Lion is also associated with Venice, Italy, since Mark is the patron saint of the city.

According to Venetian tradition, St. Mark, during his travels in Europe, arrived at a lagoon in Venice. There, an angel appeared to him in the form of a winged lion and informed him Venice would be his final resting place. The remains of St. Mark are interred in the Basilica of St. Mark, located in Venice’s St. Mark Square (Piazza San Marco). That is where you can also see the Lion of Venice, a bronze statue perched on top of a marble column. (The winged lions also appear on the awards at the Venice Film Festival.)

Winged lions appear in a lot of medieval heraldry. (In fact, lions in general appear in heraldry more often than any other animal, symbolizing royalty, bravery, and strength.)

JFC Naples Emblem (NATO)

The heraldic tradition continues to this day; In 2004, NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples (JFC Naples) adopted a winged lion as its emblem. Its emblem uses one of the traditional depictions of the winged lion, holding a sword and book. (We won’t bother with the question of opposable thumbs…)

They also appear as statuary in all sorts of unusual and unexpected places, like the top of a building in Harrisburg.