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The Ox, Pig, Panther, Salamander

( Originally Published 1913 )

WE have remarked before that the ox and the ass are generally represented together on pictures and carvings of the Nativity and of the Adoration of the Magi.

The ox, or rather the winged calf, is a symbol of S. Luke the Evangelist, because the calf was a sacrificial animal, and S. Luke deals especially with the side of Christ's life and work which proclaims His Priesthood—the Priesthood of Him Who was at the same time the Perfect Sacrifice. Such, for instance, is the meaning that S. Jerome gives to the calf. The man (S. Matthew), the lion (S. Mark), the calf (S. Luke), and the eagle (S. John) are generally represented together.

This symbolism begins rather uncommonly on monuments of the fourth century. The eagle and the man are placed uppermost as on the Norman west door of Rochester Cathedral, where they support Our Lord in glory, and on the south door of Quenington Church, Glos, where they attend the Coronation of the Virgin. On the Norman tympanum of Elkstone, G los, the Agnus Dei takes that place, to the right of the glorified Saviour, which would naturally be taken by S. Matthew ; while the symbol of the latter is tucked away into the bottom corner. On this tympanum the Evangelists have inscribed scrolls.

The Aston tympanum, to which we have already alluded in connection with the Agnus, presents some difficulty. Mr. C. Keyser thinks that the beasts which rest with their paws on the aureole surrounding the sacred symbol are an ox and a griffin. It is possible that the griffin-like animal is the eagle of S. John, while the ox represents S. Luke. Such at least seems to be the view taken by Mr. Romilly Allen. It is difficult, however, to decide what animals are carved on the extreme edge of the tympanum. They are not likely to be other symbols of the Evangelists, but they seem rather like a lion hunting a griffin on each side. The symbol-ism of this would be the power of good to destroy evil.

Carvings of the domestic pig are not so common as we should expect from our accustomedity with it. When we have a pig-like animal represented it is probably a wild boar.

On the tympana at Parwich and Hognaston it appears with other animals as subdued by the power of the Christian religion. It can be told by its twisted tail, and in these cases it has not tusks as a wild boar has.

The domestic pig is to be found on the lead font of late twelfth century date at Brookland, Kent; perhaps the most remarkable lead font we have. Round the font, which is made of ten sheets of lead soldered together, are two tiers of arcading, the top tier containing the signs of the Zodiac, the bottom the occupations of the months of the year. Those from March to October are repeated twice. For November we have the Sagittarius, or Sagittarius, as it is probably inscribed, and for December we have Capricornus.

The occupations of these two months are somewhat amusing. In November the man is shown knocking down acorns for his pig, but, alas, in December that same pig has to be killed with an axe for the Christmas festivities. The occupations of the months on this font were no doubt copied from the calendars at the beginning of the MSS. of the Psalter.

The panther is very commonly described in the Bestiaries. Curiously enough, ancient authors took its derivation to be from the Greek word (all), because it was thought to have all manner of characteristics, and to be decked with all manner of colours.

It was symbolic of Jesus Christ the Saviour of all. According to the old stories, the panther is of a tame and gentle disposition, being loved by all creatures except the dragon. Three days after eating a little food (of an aromatic description probably) it emits a sweet smell from its mouth, which is attractive to all beasts. Other animals are even healed of their diseases by the panther's breath. The dragon is afraid of the smell, as it nearly kills him. There is a good representation of the panther in a fourteenth-century Bestiary in the British Museum—all manner of beasts are drawn coming to him, while below there is an illustration of two dragons hiding their heads in the holes of the earth.

The panther's sweet breath is to remind men of the sweet influence of Jesus Christ, Who is to draw all men unto Him, and deliver them from the power of the dragon.

As the panther retires to its lair and sleeps for three days after food, it was naturally a type of Our Lord's sojourn in Paradise.

Of Him the Psalmist spoke : " O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat, yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth." The dragon is symbolic of the devil.

The various colours of the panther were held to signify the various attributes of God. For Hos. v. 14, which the Authorised Version renders, " I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah," the Septuagint gives : " I am as a panther to Ephraim, and as a lion to the house of Judah.." With this possible exception, the panther is not mentioned in the Bible.

On the Norman door at Aine there is a beast inscribed " Panthera," towards which a winged dragon is looking, instead of flying away as usual.

In a book on the Tournai fonts by Mr. Cecil H. Eden it has erroneously been stated that a salamander is carved on the marble font at Winchester. The animal which has been taken for a salamander is really a lion.

The salamander in the Hereford mappa mundi is more like a lizard with two wings and two legs, and curious spots down its back.

The inscription there is," Salamandra dracon venenosa," a poisonous serpent or dragon.

With such a description we may well be surprised that the symbolism of the salamander is sometimes good, yet so it is

A Latin Bestiary (c. 1200 ) in one of the showcases of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, dilates on its supposed fire-resisting properties, for it was thought that it could pass through fire unharmed. Another point from the same Bestiary is that it infects fruits with poison when it touches them, so that all who eat the fruit die.

In Slo. 3524, British Museum, the salamander is up a tree infecting the fruit. Two people are near ; one is eating the fruit and the other succumbing to the effects.

According to Mr. E. P. Evans, the salamander is a small frog-like reptile which can secrete poisonous fluid enough to extinguish a coal. We have heard of no certain architectural example of the salamander, though Mr. Francis Bond mentions several fonts which are reported to have the salamander on them. It is quite possible that the mutilated lizard on the font at Loswithiel was intended for one.

This little reptile was considered to be a type of the righteous man who is not consumed by the fires of temptation.

Two texts are quoted in this connection, viz., Heb. xi. 34, where the author is writing about the heroes of faith who " quenched the violence of fire," and also God's words in Is. xliii. 2 : " When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee ; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned ; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."

It is curious to note to what perverse use medieval writers put the words of the Bible.

Symbolism of Animals & Birds In English Architecture:
Sources Of Animal Symbolism

The Ape, Ass, Beaver, Bear, Boar, Camel, Dog, Elephant

The Fox, The Goat, The Hart And Antelope, The Hyena

The Hedgehog, The Lamb, The Lion

The Ox, Pig, Panther, Salamander

The Sheep, Tiger, Whale And Fish, Wolf

The Charadrius, Cock And Hen, Dove

The Eagle, Goose, Peacock, Pelican, Raven

The Basilisk Or Cockatrice And Centaur

The Dragon Or Serpent

Read More Articles About: Symbolism of Animals & Birds In English Architecture

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