birds

New Catholic Dictionary illustration of a pelican feeding her young with blood from her breastArticle

In the Old Testament and the New Testament symbolic references to birds occur, and these were multiplied in medieval literature and art.

  • The dove was an early type of purity, as in Canticle of Canticles, 5 and 6; of peace, as in the story of the Deluge; of simplicity and innocence, as in Matthew 10. In early Christian art it typified the Holy Ghost; and after, as the soul, it is sometimes seen flying from the mouth of the dead.
  • The eagle, reputed to have the power of looking directly at the sun, is a symbol of Christ gazing undaunted on the brightness of God the Father, and of Saint John absorbed in contemplating the highest truth. The eagle was also a type of Baptism, from the legend that a dying eagle could renew its youth by plunging three times into a spring of pure water (Psalm 102).
  • The pelican, feeding her young with the blood of her breast, symbolizes Christ the Redeemer; “nostro pelicano” as Dante calls Him.
  • The phoenix, said to rise rejuvenated from its own ashes, is the type of resurrection and eternity.
  • The peacock, believed incorruptible, represents immortality, and in later art, pride.
  • The cock is the emblem of Saint Peter the Apostle, and sometimes of vigilance.
  • The vulture represents greed.

Profiled saints associated in general with birds

Additional Information

MLA Citation

  • “birds”. Emblems of the Faith. CatholicSaints.Info. 18 August 2010. Web. 26 February 2017. <http://catholicsaints.info/birds/>