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Chapter 2

Throughout the ages, dating back to the 2nd century, documents called Bestiaries were collected and compiled. Bestiaries were an interesting mix of fact and fable, weaving new, scientific evidence with long-standing legend. Every animal, alive or imaged, found its way into the Bestiaries. One of the most popular Bestiaries was called the Physiologus. It was translated into many languages and was read throughout the known world.

Christianity, eager to show that creation proved the existence of God, began adding commentary to the Bestiaries, showing how these “facts” revealed parts of God’s nature. These living lessons would become illustrations in many sermons, making their imagery well known to the masses. Even some early church fathers like Augustine, Ambrose and Gregory the Great used illustrations from the Bestiaries.

Artisans, whose imaginations were ignited by the illustrations, would set to work translating these animals into art. Decorations based on the Bestiaries have been found as early as the 2nd century catacombs in Rome. From the catacombs, the animals would begin to appear in the mosaic art of the early churches. When the churches grew larger and more elaborate, the artists translated the illustrations into stonework and stained glass windows. While the Bestiaries would eventually be condemned by


Pope Gelasius (492 A.D.), the stories and images were just too popular to set aside. They would continue to be used throughout the middle ages before gradually falling into disuse.

ADDER (Asp) – The Bestiaries tell us that the adder is a serpent (a kind of dragon in some accounts) with a deadly bite. It is said when charmers try to entice the adder out of its cave, it will put one ear to the ground and plug its other ear with its tail so as to not hear the incantation. This story is symbolic of a sinner who stops up his ears when the truth is spoken. In some architecture, the adder is depicted under the feet of Jesus.

ANT – 1. The ant symbolizes the church through its cooperative work ethic and focus on community. 2. The Bestiaries tell us that the ant stores grain for the winter. When doing so, the ant makes sure to break the grain in two so that it will not germinate and thus become useless as food. This symbolizes proper Bible interpretation. Just as the ant splits the grain, so too do scholars need to separate the literal meaning from the spiritual meanings. 3. According to the Bestiaries, during harvest time, the ant climbs the grain stocks and separates the wheat from the barley, taking only the wheat. He rejects barley because it is the food for cattle. This is symbolic of Christians refusing to follow after heresy.

ANTELOPE – 1. The Bestiaries tell us that the antelope is a wild animal that can never be caught. Its

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© 2016 By Doug Gray. All Rights Reserved.