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Re: Medieval Bestiaries

Greetings good gentles!

Since I did a lot of research on medieval bestiaries this past summer
at Hill Monastic Manuscript Library in Minnesota (they have the
largest collection of microfilmed manuscripts in the country), I feel
somewhat compelled to add my own two cents to the discussion.

Dafydd is right when he says that bestiaries generally served as
allegories to illustrate God's plan at work in the world. Many of the
qualities of certain animals were said to reflect Christ-like virtues
or aspects of the devil. The lion, for example, was a Christ symbol
because of the belief that lion cubs were born dead, and after three
days, the father breathed on them and they came to life. There are
lots of other examples like this in various different manuscripts.

However, I find it curious that there are also many animals that are
not described as having any particular religious aspects. The
barnacle goose (which was mentioned in the original post as a goose
that was sometimes born from a barnacle) was actually thought to be
an animal that grew in pods on driftwood and overhanging trees. In
all my research I never did find any religious references to this
animal-- but I did find a manuscript whose author claimed to have
seen a barnacle goose with his own eyes! It's still really hard to
explain why many fantastical animals were included in bestiaries but
without religious aspects.

For art history buffs, the illustrations in bestiaries are pretty far
out. I've seen a lot of different styles, some more realistic than
others-- elephants, for example, are drawn in ways that vary widely
according to different manuscripts. Some look like horses with
trumpets on their faces. It looks pretty humorous to us, but I guess
for a person who had never seen an elephant, it's a pretty fair

Anyway, did not mean to ramble on so long. I just thought I'd show
off some of my acquired knowledge... :) (That's what we medieval-
studies majors do, ya know...)

Yours in Service,
Muireann ni Riordain