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Bible Dictionaries

1910 New Catholic Dictionary

Birds in Symbolism

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In the Old Testament and the New Testament symbolic references to birds occur, and these were multiplied in medieval literature and art.

  • The dove was an early type of purity, as in Canticle of Canticles, 5,6; of peace, as in the story of the Deluge; of simplicity and innocence, as in Matthew 10. In early Christian art it typified the Holy Ghost; and after, as the soul, it is sometimes seen flying from the mouth of the dead.
  • The eagle, reputed to have the power of looking directly at the sun, is a symbol of Christ gazing undaunted on the brightness of God the Father, and of Saint John absorbed in contemplating the highest truth. The eagle was also a type of Baptism, from the legend that a dying eagle could renew its youth by plunging three times into a spring of pure water (Psalms 102).
  • The pelican, feeding her young with the blood of her breast, symbolizes Christ the Redeemer; "nostro pelicano" as Dante calls Him.
  • The phoenix, said to rise rejuvenated from its own ashes, is the type of resurrection and eternity.
  • The peacock, believed incorruptible, represents immortality, and in later art, pride.
  • The cock is the emblem of Saint Peter the Apostle, and sometimes of vigilance.
  • The vulture represents greed.
  • The raven may symbolize the Jews, or occasionally confession and penance.

As emblems of the saints, birds in general are associated in art with

  • Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Blessed Joseph Anchieta
  • Saint Valentine of Rome

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Bibliography Information
Entry for 'Birds in Symbolism'. 1910 New Catholic Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ncd/b/birds-in-symbolism.html. 1910.

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