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The Charadrius, Cock And Hen, Dove

( Originally Published 1913 )

IN the Vulgate and Septuagint versions of Deut. xiv. 18 the Jews were forbidden to eat the flesh of the charadrius among other birds. Liddell and Scott write of the charadrius as being a stone curlew, or thick-kneed bustard, -which is very greedy. The sight of it was supposed by the Greeks to cure the jaundice. In the Bestiaries this bird is drawn like a white thrush or plover, though in some cases it is represented as a huge bird with curly feathers, and long neck as in the mutilated Bestiary in the British Museum (Vit. D. 1).

The charadrius was thought to be found in the courts of kings. When the friends of a sick person wished to know whether he would recover or not, it was held to be the thing to go and fetch a charadrius, which would inform them of the prospects of the patient, by its actions. If the patient were about to die, the charadrius would turn away, but if, on the contrary, he were destined to live, the bird would gaze towards him, thus attracting the disease to itself. The charadrius would then fly up to the sun, where the poison of the disease would be burned by the heat. This bird had a great thigh-bone, the marrow of which was supposed to restore sight to the blind.

The symbolic interpretation refers to Jesus Christ, Whose soul was perfectly white and free from sin. He came down from heaven and turned His face from the Jews, but looked upon the Gentiles, and healed them of their spiritual diseases. Is the symbolism of the charadrius partly drawn from such Biblical passages as Ezek. vii. 22 and Ps. lxxx. 7 ?

The sick person is often represented crowned in the mediaeval MSS., in allusion to the idea that the charadrius is found in the courts of kings. In the sculpture at Aine (which looks rather like a raven pecking out the eyes of a dead man) the inscription, " Caladrius," shows what the interpretation must be.

The cock is treated incidentally in the Bestiaries. A twelfth century Anglo-Norman work of Philippe de Thaun, called Le Livre des Creatures, maintains that the lion is afraid of the white cock, because it chants the hours of service in honour of S. Peter. The white cock in this author signifies the man of holy life. Early writers say that the cock is significant of vigilance and liberality. It is significant of the latter, because it does not devour all it finds in the way of food, but calls for the hens to come and share. We see the cock accompanied by its mate carved on what was originally a perpendicular bench-end at Forrabury, Cornwall.

The clergy, says a media val poet, are not to keep all their learning to themselves, but imitating the cock, to distribute it to their congregation.

The cock is generally represented, however, in connection with S. Peter, who denied Our Lord before the cock crew twice (S. Mark xiv. 72'. Mrs. Jameson gives a picture which represents S. Peter's repentance, from a sarcophagus of the third century, where she understands the cock to be a general emblem of human weakness and repentance.

The most interesting examples that we know of are from S. Peter's Church, Rowlestone, Hereford, where almost every conceivable place on the south door and chancel arch capitals is occupied by carvings of cocks. In the chancel, too, there are two complete candelabra, made of iron, which are adorned with fleur-de-lys and cocks. These candelabra are twelfth century, and are believed to be unique.

In the same church on the south impost moulding of the chancel arch two figures are carved. One is an angel with nimbus and book, and the other a nimbed man holding in his hand a short cross and book. The peculiarity of these carvings is that they are set in upside down. Antiquaries have wondered whether this was a mistake or not. It is more probable, however, that (as was suggested to the writer by a most intelligent churchman of the place some years ago) here we have S. Peter, who was crucified upside down, and that the angel is put upside down too. For it would have seemed absurd to have carved on the same block of stone one figure on his head and another on his feet.

Similar figures are placed in a more natural position on the north capital opposite ; though here the angel has the short cross, and S. Peter holds a long cross in his bare right arm, and a book in his left hand.

The two figures do not both represent angels, though a cursory inspection would make us think so, for S. Peter's clothes are disposed rather like wings.

On a bench-end at Sefton, Lancs, the cock is represented on top of the pillar to which Our Lord would be bound with a rope for His scourging. A poppy head at Cumnor, Berks, shows a cock carved together with other emblems of the Passion.

An amusing device is carved in several places on Bishop Alcock's Chapel in Ely Cathedral. Two cocks, each with a claw on the ground, face one another, while a bishop's mitre and a circular object like a globe, are placed between them.

The globe is being grasped by each of the cocks with a claw. John Alcock was Bishop of Ely between 1486 and 1501.

The dove appears in the catacombs with a varying significance. Sometimes it represents the soul of the departed Christian. Similarly Mrs. Jameson remarks that in pictures of dying martyrs a dove is shown issuing from the mouth.

More frequently, when the dove bears an olive branch in its beak, it is connected with Noah and the ark, and its significance is as follows. Just as the dove could find no rest for the sole of her foot save in the ark, so the Christian soul can find no safety or peace outside the Church.

Sometimes the dove may mean merely a harmless Christian life, for Our Lord told us to be harmless as doves.

But very generally the dove signifies the Holy Spirit. This symbolism is derived from the fact that He came down on Jesus at His baptism in this form.

The baptism of Jesus Christ is by no means uncommon. Two good examples are at Adel, Yorks, and Shorne, Kent. The Adel " Baptism " is on a capital of the chancel arch, while the Shorne example is on a Perpendicular font. In the latter case the Dextra Dei, and the Dove with the cruciferous nimbus, are clearly seen. S. John is clad in what looks like a dalmatic. He stands in the water of Jordan, and pours the water on the head of Christ, Who seems to be kneeling in the water in an attitude of prayer:

Our Lord is often represented as a small beardless Boy in English representations of His baptism, just as He is represented in the very earliest Christian art.

The " Baptism " on Southfleet font, Kent, is of similar date and character. Here, how-ever, both S. John and Our Lord have the nimbus, and the former is clad in a camel-skin with the head and legs hanging down almost to the Baptist's feet. Mr. Francis Bond notes that S. John is similarly clad in a carving of the Baptism on a sarcophagus at the Lateran.

In many MSS. of all dates the Holy Trinity are symbolised by two nimbed man-like figures with a dove standing between them on an orb, which is held in the hands of the First and Second Persons.

Sometimes Three Figures like men are represented, with a dove on the shoulder or the head of the One in the centre.

This symbolism may possibly explain the meaning of the Bird which in Romilly Aliens' book is described as holding a circular disc or loaf between two Ecclesiastics. The same author illustrates rather similar Irish examples, from the cross at Nigg, and two of the crosses at Kells. On the cross of Saints Patrick and Columba at Kells the two human Figures are seated upon thrones facing one another, and the Bird or Dove flies down and holds the orb between them. Each of the Figures holds the orb in one hand and a pastoral staff in the other.

The usual method of representing the Trinity in the Middle Ages may be seen on the perpendicular font at Stalham, Norfolk. Our Lord hangs on the cross, with the Dove over His head, and God the Father sits crowned and throned behind. Similar representations to this are quite common.

Doves are seen drinking together from a vase on a sepulchral slab at Bishopstone, Sussex, and on the upper surface of some of the Tournai fonts in Hampshire, such as Winchester and East Meon.

This idea was no doubt derived from the Catacombs, where it is common enough. A travesty of the drinking doves is to be seen at Bridlington, Yorks, where a fox and a goose are drinking out of a vase.

On the font of Castle Frome two doves are facing one another. On the Winchester font there are three circles containing two doves each. In one the doves have their heads back to back, with a bunch of grapes suspended above ; in the central circle they are pecking at the bunch of grapes ; while in the third circle they are placed in a similar position to that which they occupy in the first, only the bunch of grapes has gone. Mr. C. H. Eden conjectures that these representations are types of the Holy Eucharist, which is often symbolised on fonts. The first circle contains the idea of Christians before reception of the Communion. The second contains the reception itself ; while the third symbolises after Communion.

The doves drinking from a vase may likewise be interpreted of the Holy Eucharist.

A roughly carved poppy head at Westwell, Kent, shows a dove just alighting to peck at small hunches of grapes.

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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