E. P. (Edward Payson) Evans.

Animal symbolism in ecclesiastical architecture online

. (page 1 of 24)
Online LibraryE. P. (Edward Payson) EvansAnimal symbolism in ecclesiastical architecture → online text (page 1 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook









By E. p. EVANS


* J *



Ail Tights te served






Impulse given to the study of natural history by Alexander
the Great — Scientific spirit fostered by Aristotle — Lack
of this spirit among the Romans — Alexandria as a centre
of learning under the Ptolemies— The Christian theory of
the relation of the Book of Revelation to the Book of
Nature — The patristic conception of the visible creation
as an image of the invisible world and a mirror of spiritual
truth — Animals as religious emblems in Oriental, and
especially in Buddhistic, literatiure — Mineralogical sym-
bolism — Magical and medical properties and religious
significance of precious stones — Legends of Solomon's
wisdom, and his method of building the Temple — Cere-
mony of blessing jewels — Speculations of Justinus Kerner
and Schubert concerning the occult affinities of the mineral
kingdom to man — The typology of precious stones accord-
ing to the Pltysiologus — Spiritual meaning of the diamond,
the pearl, and the Indian stone — Terrobuli in Christian
symbolism and architecture p.zi



Plastic and pictorial representations of animals in Christian
art — Literary sources of these representations — Clavis of


vi Contents

St. Melito — Epistle of Barnabas — The Physiologus com-
piled by an Alexandrian Greek — The Hexahemera of the
Fathers — Adam as the author of a natural history —
Popular character of the Physiologus — Origen as an
exegetist — Roger Bacon's views of the place of animals
in Scripture — Expositions and amplifications of the Phy-
siologus by Epiphanius, St. Isidore, Petrus Damiani, and
others — Anastasius Sinaita's Anagogical Contejnplations
— Latin poem on beasts and their mystical meaning by
Theobald of Plaisance, and the English paraphrase —
The Physiologus translated into Latin, Ethiopic, Arabic,
Armenian, Syriac, Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic, and all the
principal modern languages of Europe — Brief descrip-
tions of these versions — Prudentius' poems Hamartigenia
and Psychomachia — The phcenix a symbol of solar
worship used to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the
Resurrection — French bestiaries : Philippe de Thaun's
Le Livre des Criatures^ Peter of Picardy's prose version
of the Physiologus^ and Le Bestiaire Divin of William, a
priest of Normandy — Encyclopaedias of natural history
based on the Physiologus : Thomas de Cantimpr^'s
Liber de Naturis Rerunt, the Speculum Naturale of
Vincent de Beauvais, Liber de Proprietatibus Rencm of
Bartholomseus Anglicus, Hortus Deliciarum of Herrade
de Landsberg, and other compilations — The church
- edifice an emblem of the human soul — Symbolism of the
raven and the dove — Albertus Magnus' criticism of the
Physiologus p. 52



The three characteristics of the lion— Representations of the
lion as a symbol of the Resurrection in architecture —
Beasts often have a twofold signification — The lion and
bear as types of Satan— Diabolification of the dog —

Contents vii

Strange misconception of the canine character — Lions as
pedestals — Metaphorical use of the lion in poetry — The
lizard in architecture — Artistic delineations of the unicorn
as a type of Christ's Incarnation — Auricular conception of
Christ as the Logos — Supposed anti-toxical virtue of the
unicorn's horn and that of the African viper — The unicorn
in legend and poetry — Characteristics of the elephant —
Symbol of the fall of man — Julius Caesar's queer account
of the elk — Elephants embroidered on chasubles — Four
characteristics of the serpent — Artistic and poetic uses
of its fabled attributes — The eagle as a symbol of
spiritual aspiration and baptismal regeneration — Allu-
sions to it by Dante and other poets — The fish in sacred
iconology — Significance of the whale in ecclesiastical
architecture — Symbolism of the remora and serra — Im-
portance of the phoenix and the pelican as emblems of
Christian doctrine — Their prominent place in Church
architecture — Import of the fabulous exploits of the otter
and the ichneumon — Panther and dragon typical of
Christ and Belial — Healing power of the " heavenly
panther" — Lesson of self-renunciation taught by the
beaver — Characteristic of the hyena — Symbolism of the
salamander — The partridge a type of the devil — Ex-
amples of the charadrius in art — Mystical meaning of the
crow, turtle-dove, ousel, merl, fulica, and hoopoe — Curious
statement of Luther concerning swallows — Why God
feeds the young ravens — Peculiarities of the wolf — The
Physiologies condemned as heretical — Freely used by
Gregory the Great in his scriptural exposition — Virtues
and vices portrayed as women mounted on various
animals — Disputatious scholastics satirized — Tetramorph
— Gospel mills — The ark of the covenant as the triumphal
chariot of the Cross — Cock and clergy — Origin of the
basilisk and its significance — Its prominence in religious
symbology and sacred architecture — Cautious scepticism
of Albertus Magnus — The Physiologus from a psycho-
logical point of view, as illustrating the credulity of the

viii Contents

Fathers of the Church — Why "the hart panteth after the
water-brooks " — Story of the antelope — Barnacle geese —
" Credo quia absurdum " — Modern counterparts of early
Christian apologists and exegetists p.Zo



Excess of animal symbolism in sacred edifices of the
eleventh and twelfth centuries — Earnest but fruitless
protest of St. Bernard — Image-worship authorized and en-
joined by the Council held at Nice in 787 — Images not to
be inventions of artists, but to be fashioned according to
ecclesiastical traditions and ecclesiological prescriptions —
Views of St. Nilus — Paintings and sculptures for the
instruction of the ignorant — Gautier de Coinsi renews the
protest against "wild cats and lions" in the house of
God — Angelus Rumpler makes the same complaint —
Warnings by the Councils of Milan and Bordeaux — In-
troductions of episodes from the beast-epos with satirical
tendencies — Secular guilds supplant religious orders as
architects — Caricature of sacred rites — Fox preaching
to geese in St. Martin's Church in Leicester — Sculptures
in Strasburg Minster — Reliefs of the wolfs novitiate in
Freiburg Minster — Poem by Marie de France — Sam-
son and the lion — Provost's cushion in St. Michael's
at Pforzheim — Burlesque of Calvin in St. Sernin at
Toulouse — Luther satirized in St. Victor's Church at
Xanten — Foolscap paper — Origin and character of the
Papstesel — Monstrosities as portents — Bishop-fish — The
Papal Ass in religious polemics — The Monk-calf of
Freiburg and its interpretation — Miniatures illustrating
the " Woes of France " — The fox of the Physiologus and
of the beast-epos — Reliefs of the wiles of the fox and the
woes of drunkenness in St. Fiacre — Execution of the cat
in the cathedral at Tarragona — Significance of the crane
extracting a bone from the fox's throat in Autun Cathe-

Contents ix

dral — Burrowing foxes types of devils in Worcester
Cathedral — Scenes from the Reynardine and other poems
in the church of the Templars, St. Denis, Amiens Cathe-
dral, Sherborne Minster, and other sacred edifices, but
most fully represented in Bristol Cathedral and Beverly
Minster — Heraldic rebuses and canting devices — Satire
on the election of a pope in Lincoln Cathedral — Mendi-
cant friars caricatured as foxes in Ely, Gloucester,
Winchester, and other cathedrals — Odo of Sherington's
opinion of these orders — Similar delineations in the
churches and cloisters of continental Europe : Kempen,
Emmerick, Calcar, and Cleves— The Lay of Aristotle
and Vergil's affair of gallantry — The Vision of Piers
Plowman — Animals as musicians — Grotesques, bur-
lesques, and riddles — Funeral banquet at the burial of the
fox at Marienhafen— The frog as a symbol of regenera-
tion — Carvings of individual fancies and conceits and
illustrations of proverbs — Episodes from the Roman de
Renart— Many oi these sculptures, especially in Northern
France and the Netherlands, destroyed by iconoclasts
and revolutionists A ^78



Universality of the symbolism of the cross — Cruciform
phenomena in nature— The sign of the cross in the Old
Testament, and its prefigurative significance— Wonder-
working power of the cross in Jewish history— Its
presence in the Garden of Eden and in the Hebrew
alphabet — The cosmos has the form of a cross — Influence
of the doctrine of the Trinity upon art — Trinitarian
suggestions in the material creation — Mystic meanings
in sacred architecture — Symbolism of bells and signifi-
cance of orientation — Superstitious regard for the points
of the compass — Transition from christolatry to hagiolatry

X Contents

— Subtilities of ecclesiology — Meagreness of Hebrew
mythology — Exercise of the mythopoeic faculty by the
Rabbis — Early Christian opposition to the theatre —
Theatrical rites and indecent amusements in churches
and cloisters — Feast of Fools, etc. — Analogy between the
anatomy of the ass and the architecture of a cathedral
— Jewish and Christian reverence for the ass — Feast of
the Ass — Symbolism swallowed up in buffoonery — Traffic
in holy relics — Satirized in Heywood's play of The Four
P.P. — Anatomical peculiarities of saints — Queer freaks
in sacred osteology — Specimens of relics in Catholic
churches — Miraculous power of self-multiplication —
— Choice collection of Frederic the Wise — Anti-Semitic
sculptures in Christian churches — Coarse relief ridiculing
the Jews at Wittenberg, and its interpretation by Luther
— Similar carvings in other cities — Decrees of John the
Good and Frederic the Hohenstaufe concerning usury
— Classical myths in Christian art — Orpheus a prototype
of Christ — Bacchus and the Lord's vineyard — Greek
comic poets adored as Christian saints — I sis as the
Virgin Mary — Crude symbolism of early Christian art —
Influence of Pagan antiquity — The peacock as a Christian
emblem — Moralization of the myth of Argus and lo —
Sirens and centaurs in architecture — The Sigurd Saga
— Weighing of souls — Recording angels and devils —
Woman as an emissary of Satan — The devil in Christian
art— Dance of death — Oldest representation of it — Its
democratic character and popularity — Manuscripts with
miniatures — Holbein's drawings — Sensational sermons
of Honor^ de Sainte Marie — Modern delineations of the
theme by Rethel, Seitz, Liihrig, and others ... p. 246


INDEX P' 351



Central Section of a Window in the Cathedral of

Bourges ... ... ... ... ... Frontispiece

Terrobuli. {Bestiary) 50

Sculpture on Arch of Doorway of old Norman Church

at Alne, Yorkshire ... ... ... ... 5o> 5^

Lion howling over Whelps. {Relief in Mtinich) ... 82

Lion howling over Whelps. {Relief in Strasbiirg) ... 84

Capture of the Unicom. {Bestiary) 95

Hunting the Unicom. {Old German Engraving) ... 97

Annunciation. {Parish CJmrch of Eltenberg) ... loo

Eagle renewing its Youth. {Bestiary) 117

Eaglets gazing at the Sun. {Cathedral of Lyons) ... 118

Whale and Mariners. {Psalter of Isabella of France) 124

Pelican. {Bestiary) ... 128

Phoenix. {Bestiary) 129

Otter (Water-snake) and Crocodile (Sea-monster).

{Psalter of Isabella of France) 133

Panther and Dragon. {Bestiary) 135

Beaver. {Bestiary) 138

Hyena. {Bestiary) 142

Partridge and her FosterHngs. {Bestiary) 144

Charadrius. {Bestiary) ... ... ... ... ... 146

Turtle-doves. {Psalter of Isabella of France) 1 48

Raven. {Bestiary) 150

Wolf {Bestiary) 151

The Gospel and the Law. {Hortus Deliciarnni) ... 155

Beasts of the Apocalypse. {Saint-Nizier of Troyes)... 157

Gospel-Mill. {Abbey of Ve'selai in Burgundy) ... 159

Cock calling Hens. {Psalter of Isabella of France) ... 162

Liberality and Avarice. {Manuscript in M^isee de Cluny) 163

Fighting the Basilisk. {Abbey of Vezelai in Burgundy) 165
Sphinx subduing the Basilisk. {Abbey of Vezelai in

Burgundy) 168

xii List of Illustrations

Hart and Dragon. {Bestiary) 172

Antelope. {Bestiary) 173

Antelope on the Euphrates. {Psalter of Isabella of
France) ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 174

Barnacle Geese. {Bestiary) 175

Burial of the Fox. {Strasburg Minster) 189

Novitiate of the Wolf. {Freiburg Minster) 190

Sea-Bishop. {Gessner's Fischbuch) 198

Papal Ass. {CatJtedral of Como) 201

Wiles of the Fox. {Bestiary) 205

Execution of the Cat. {Cathedral of Tarragona in
Spain) ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 207

Artifices of the Fox in ensnaring Fowls. {St. Fiacre,

near Le Faouet) ... 208

Flaying the Fox. {St. Fiacre, near Le Faouet) ... 209

Cock and Hen drawing Fox to Execution. {St.
Ursin, near Bruges) ... ... ... ... ... 213

The " Lay of Aristotle." {Church of Saint-Jean in

Lyons) 228

Carvings on Stalls in the Parish Church of Kempen
(Rhineland) : Threshing Eggs — Looking through an
Egg — Feeling of a Hen — Hatching Eggs — Weeping
over a fallen Basket of Eggs — Eel-pot — Crane and
Fox dining — Fox preaching to Fowls — Dogs fighting
for a Bone — Fox swimming after Ducks — Ass with
Rosary — Casting Daisies before Swine — Ass playing
the Lyre — Pig playing the Bagpipe — Reynard as
Confessor eating the Kite his Confessant — Bear
eating Honey — Belling the Cat — Shearing Swine 239-242
Jolly Friar and Tinker. {Minorite Cloister in Cleves) 244
Satire on the Jews. {Parish Church of Wittenberg) ... 290
5atire on the Jews. {Tower of Bridge in Frankfort) 295
Pyramus and Thisbe. {Cathedral of Bale) ... 304,305

Peacocks. {Psalter of Isabella of France) 311

Myth of Argus. {Bestiary) 314

Sirens. {Psalter of Isabella of France) 314

Siren presenting a Fish to a Man. {Church at Cunault-
sur-Loire) ... ... ... ... ... ... 316

Siegfried (Sigurd) Saga. {C( thedral of Freising, near

Mu7iich). Four views of the pillar in the crypt 322-325
Sigurd Saga. {Church of Hyllestad in Norway) 326, 327
Weighing Souls. {Cathedral of Bourges) 329



One of the most charming passages in the idyls
of Theocritus is that in which Eros complains to
Aphrodite of the bees that stung his hand as he
was stealing honey from their hive, and expresses
his astonishment that such very small creatures could
cause so severe pain. Thereupon the Cyprian god-
dess laughingly replies : " Thou too art like the bee,
for although a tiny child, yet how terrible are the
wounds thou dost inflict." This witty retort and
pat allusion to the pangs produced by the arrows
from Cupid's quiver greatly pleased the fancy of
the elder Lucas Cranach, who depicted the scene
in no less than five different paintings, the most
celebrated of which is now in the Royal Museum
of Berlin. The same conceit was embodied, at a
still earlier period, in one of the poems of Anacreon,
who, however, represents Eros as having been stung
while plucking a rose in which a bee was sleeping.
A Spanish poet of the seventeenth century. Estevan

Animal Symbolism

Manuel de Villegas, famous in Old Castile as the
translator and imitator of Anacreon, gives in Las
Eroticas a vivid description of a duel between Amor
and a bee, the two ravishers of hearts and flowers.
The combat ended with the painful wounding of
the god and the death of the insect, and thus
ravaged hearts and pillaged flowers were both
avenged. In a madrigal of the Roman " Arcadian,"
Felice Zappi, Cupids swarm like bees round the
head of the loved one, clinging to her hair, nestling
in her bosom, gathering honey from her lips, and
waving their torches out of her eyes. In his charm-
ing lyric Die Biene, Lessing gives a didactic turn
to Anacreon's poem already referred to, and makes
Amor learn a lesson of strategy from his misfor-
tune : henceforth he was wont to lurk in roses and
violets, and, when a maiden came to pluck them,
" flew forth as a bee and stung." A kiss is also
personified as a bee, which extracts honey from the
lips, and, at the same time, pierces the heart with
its sting.

Curiously enough this simple, sensuous, and
suggestive imagery, which plays such a prominent
part in Greek, and especially in Oriental, erotics, is
wholly foreign to those of the Germanic and
Slavonic races ; it is not native to the poetry of
these nations, and blooms in their literature only
as an exotic. For the delineation of the tender
passion they preferred a symbolism drawn from
the vegetable kingdom, and the real or fictitious
qualities of fruits and flowers ; the apple, the

In Ecclesiastical Architecture 3

peach, the fig, the rose, the lily, the narcissus,
the anemone, the violet, and the pink are used to
illustrate the attractions of female beauty and the
attributes of connubial love. Into Germany, whose
pagan tribes seem to have been acquainted with
bees, chiefly if not exclusively in their wild state,
the art of rearing these insects was introduced with
Christianity, and carried on for the most part by
the various monastic orders. There was hardly a
cloister without its hive, which not only supplied
honey and wax for culinary and cultic purposes,
but also served as an example to the friars of an
ideal life of communistic industry and cenobitic
chastity. The superiors of the convents were fond
of emphasizing this analogy in their exhortations to
the recluses under their charge, and of enforcing it
in their religious poetry. Peter of Capua calls the
risen and ascended Saviour "apis setherea"; the
saints famous for good works are compared to bees ;
eloquent Fathers of the Church and expounders of
the faith — Chrysostom, Ambrose, Isidore of Spain,
and Bernard of Clairvaux — are said to have lips
flowing with honey {inelliflwis) ; and the virgin
queen of the hive is, in the hymns of mediaeval
mariolaters, a favourite type of the Virgin Queen
of Heaven. But notwithstanding the frequency of
these allusions in Christian literature, and the
consecration of honey and wax to ritual purposes,
the bee figures rarely in Christian art. It is found
occasionally carved on tombs in the catacombs as
a symbol of immortality ; in this case, however, it

Animal Symbolism

does not express a specifically Christian conception,
but is a survival of paganism. In ancient times
honey was supposed to be an effective antiseptic,
and it was customary to smear with it the bodies
of the dead in order to preserve them from putre-
faction. Alexander the Great is said to have been
thus embalmed, and the same usage formed an
integral part of the Mithras-cult, and can be traced
still farther back to the solar worship of the
Assyrians and Babylonians. Under the Roman
empire the mysteries of the Mithras-cult became
widely diffused throughout Western Europe ;
Christian churches were erected over altars dedi-
cated to the old Persian sun-god, as in S. Clemente
at Rome, and the gilded bull's head and three
hundred golden bees, discovered at Tournay in
1653, in the tomb of the Merovingian king,
Childeric III., had their origin in the same system
of worship. These bees, which decorated the royal
mantle of the living monarch, and embellished his
shroud after death, were invested with a traditional
sacredness in France as emblems of sovereignty, and
therefore adopted by the first Napoleon, in order to
give a seeming shimmer of ancient lustre to an
upstart dynasty.

Christ, as we have seen, was called the " jethereal
bee," and it is an interesting coincidence that
Vishnu, incarnate in the form of Krishna, should
be represented with a blue bee hovering over his
head as a symbol of the aether. It is not probable
that this similarity is to be explained on the theory

In Ecclesiastical Architecture 5

of an historical transmission of ideas, or that there
is any genetic connection between these conceptions,
except so far as they might grow naturally and
independently out of the solar character of both
religions. There is no doubt, however, that the
Orient is the chief source of our symbolisms, which
in migrating westward have undergone such a
variety of transformations and adaptations as in
many cases greatly to obscure their original signifi-
cance. In the BriJiat-Katha-Sarit-Sdgara (" Great
Ocean of the Rivers of Stories ") of Somadeva, there
is the tale of a traveller, who fell asleep on a forest
tree, and when he awoke saw a tiger lying in wait
for him below, and an enormous serpent coiled
above his head and ready to spring upon him.
At the same time he discovered on a branch by his
side some drops of honey from a swarm of bees in
the hollow trunk, and in the enjoyment of its
sweetness forgot all about the perils by which he
was surrounded. Long before the age of Soma-
deva this allegory of human life was current in
India, whence it passed into the legendary litera-
ture of Europe, subject to the modifications of an
Occidental environment (for example in Jacobus
de Voragine's Legenda Ajirea, and the Barlaain
tind Josaphat of Rudolf von Ems), and is the theme
of an elaborate bas-relief on the south door of the
baptistery of Parma, where we see a man sitting
on the limb of a tree eagerly eating the honey that
trickles from the leaves ; at the foot of the tree is
a dragon, and gnawing at its roots are two mice,

Animal Symbolism

white and black, symbols of day and night, the
chief divisions of all-devouring time, which ulti-
mately cause every tree of life to fall. M. Henri
Gaidoz has shown by strongly presumptive, if not
wholly conclusive, evidence, that the Virgin of the
Seven Swords is a Christian appropriation and
adaptation of the Babylonian-Assyrian war-goddess
Istar, who is represented on ancient monuments
with seven darts in her shoulders, so arranged as to
form with their shafts a halo encircling her head.
Pictures of this goddess, brought by mediaeval
Italian merchants from the East, were supposed to
refer to the Virgin Mary, and to the fulfilment of
the prophecy of Simeon that a sword should pierce
through her soul ; and it was not until the fifteenth
century that it was slightly modified to suit the
Gospel record, and received a permanent place in
Christian iconography. The existence of a revered
image of the Holy Virgin in remote regions of the
East was easily accounted for by the clergy, like
many other startling resemblances in religious rites
and symbols, as the marvellous and quite miraculous
results of the mythical mission of the apostle

Indeed, nothing was more common in the middle
ages than this Christianization of pagan deities.
Thus the eagle as an emblem of Jupiter caused the
son of Kronos and sovereign of Olympus to be
mistaken for John the Evangelist ; Poseidon and
Pallas were regarded as Adam and Eve ; Hercules
with his club passed for Samson with the jawbone

In Ecclesiastical Architecture 7

of an ass ; and representations of Venus were
ingeniously construed into those of the Virgin
Mary. Under the influence of the Renaissance
the newly-awakened aesthetic sense proved strong
enough to overrule the scruples of religious senti-
ment, and the monuments of classical antiquity
became models for imitation in the productions of
Christian art. We have a striking example of this
tendency in a marble relief of the Assumption of
the Virgin, which belonged originally to Saint-
Jacques-la-Boucherie, and is now in the abbatial
church of Saint- Denis. Her graceful figure is
almost wholly nude, and resembles Venus rising
from the sea rather than the Virgin Mary ascend-
ing into heaven ; she folds her hands in the
attitude of prayer, and stands with one foot on a
cloud and the other on the head of a cherub, while
four pagan genii as angels accompany her, playing
on musical instruments.

It was in the Orient, too, that mythical and

Online LibraryE. P. (Edward Payson) EvansAnimal symbolism in ecclesiastical architecture → online text (page 1 of 24)