Friday, May 15, 2009


I received a phone call from a parish in Cleveland recently wanting to know about some symbolism displayed on the high altar. They were putting together a guide to the symbolism in the parish and wanted to make sure they understood what the particular symbolism meant. Since I had the chance to look it up I now share it with you.

The symbol in question is the peacock. The context was needed because like the number 6 depending on how it is used it can have a negative meaning or a positive one. (Six can mean evil – incompleteness since on the 7th day God rested or it can mean completeness since technically the work was done – there was just some resting to do.) So the peacock can imply vanity and pride because of the way it can display itself and “strut its stuff.” But in the right context it can also imply immortality. Once again the Church baptized ancient legend and used it for the glory of God and education of His people. It was once thought that the flesh of the bird never decomposed reminding us of the eternal life we have in Christ.

The symbolic statement in question involved two peacocks drinking out of a chalice. Understanding the above legend we can easily apply the Scripture passage from John in which Christ says, “He who eat my body and drinks my blood has eternal life.” A similar symbol might be the peacocks drinking out of a fountain – Jesus the Well Spring of Life – or even in scenes of the Nativity though I’ve rarely – quite rarely witnessed that.

The design of the feathers can look like they have eyes on them so it can also represent the "all seeing Church." Sometimes ancient depictions of God in other religions show God with many eyes. It is not that they necessarily think that God has that many eyes but that was their way of saying God sees all in much the same way we might have one giant eye representing God's perfect vision of everything.

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