Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Medieval Christian Symbolism Part IV by Mary McCall

Welcome back to History Undressed, guest author, Mary McCall with Part IV of her Medieval Christian Symbolism series. To read the previous posts, click on the links: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Medieval Christian Symbolism: Part IV
by Mary McCall

Welcome to more about Christian Symbolism in history. My current work in progress involves a good deal of symbolism related to early Christian Lore and Arthurian legend. One thing I’ve had to watch is my use of symbols, because it’s so easy to get carried away. Symbols are only as effective as the knowledge of the person who beholds them, and what there meaning can change over time. For this reason, if using a symbol for historic meaning, be sure your reader has enough information to understand it’s meaning, or like Icarus, they won’t have a clew to follow.

One of my favorites: The Egg: the egg is a wonderful symbol of fertility, birth and rebirth, as an apparently lifeless object out of which comes forth life. Thus, it is a symbol of Christ's Resurrection and is seen most often at Easter. In 2006, a necropolis under the Vatican revealed an infant who'd been buried holding an egg to symbolize his parents' hope in his resurrection, because of Christ's Resurrection.

Legend has it that St. Mary Magdalen went to Rome and met with the Emperor Tiberius to tell him about the Resurrection of Jesus. She held out an egg to him as a symbol of this, and he scoffed, saying that a man could no more rise from the dead than that egg that she held could turn scarlet. The egg turned deep red in her hands, and this is the origin of Easter eggs, as well as the reason why Mary Magdalen is often portrayed holding a scarlet egg.

Another level of symbolism is that the egg represents the Creation, the elements, and the world itself, with the shell representing the firmament, the vault of the sky where the fiery stars lie; the thin membrane symbolizing air; the white symbolizing the waters; and the yolk representing earth.

Alpha-Omega: Alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, became a symbol for Christ due to His being called "the First and the Last." The roots of symbolizing these attributes of God go back to the Old Testament where, in Exodus 34:6, God is said to be "full of Goodness and Truth." The Hebrew spelling of the word "Truth" consists of the 3 letters "Aleph," "Mem," and "Thaw" -- and because "Aleph" and "Thaw" are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the ancients saw mystical relevance in God's being referred to as "Truth." At any rate, the Greek Alpha and Omega as a symbol for Christ has been found in the Catacombs, Christian signet rings, post-Constantine coins, and the frescoes and mosaics of ancient churches.

IHS: dating from the 8th c., this is an abbreviation for "IHESUS," the way Christ's Name was spelled in the Middle Ages (despite popular belief, the monogram stands neither for "Iesus Hominum Salvator" --"Jesus Saviour of Men" -- nor for "In His Service.") Popularized by St. Bernardine of Siena, the monogram was later used by St. Ignatius of Loyola as a symbol for the Jesuit Order.

5-point Star: the Star of Bethlehem; the 5 Wounds of Christ. This symbol inverted, such that a single point is at the bottom and two points are at the top, is a Satanic symbol indicating a goat's head.

Triqueta: This geometrical shape is often used to express the Trinity. Comprising three interlocking arcs, the whole symbol signifies eternity while the whole triangle-like overall shape at the center represents the Trinity and its eternal intangibility.

Torch of Truth: Symbol of the Dominican Order, often shown being carried in the mouth of a little black and white dog. It originates in a dream St. Dominic's mother had when she was pregnant with the Saint: she dreamed of her child as a little black and white dog illuminating the world by carrying a torch in his mouth. Founded by St. Dominic, the Order is known as the "Order of Preachers;" the colors of its habit are white and black.

The Symbology of Numbers

1
the Undivided Oneness of God
2
the two natures of Christ; both the Divine and the material
3
the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, the three Magi and their gifts
4
the Evangelists and their Gospels; the elements, humors and material world; North, South, East, and West; the four seasons
5
the Five Wounds; the senses
6
the days of creation; creation fallen; imperfection
7
covenant, oath; perfection; the day God rested (the Sabbath being the sign of the Covenant with Adam); the seven colors the rainbow (a sign of the Covenant made with Noe); the seven Sacraments (the Covenant sign made with the Church); the Gifts of the Holy Ghost; the virtues and vices
8
the visible world, made in seven days, with the invisible kingdom of grace following; regeneration
9
man's imperfection; the choirs of Angels
10
the Commandments; the Plagues of Egypt
12
the tribes of Israel; the Apostles; the signs of the Zodiac; the hours of the day and the hours of the night; the penetration of matter with spirit (3 X 4)
13
betrayal; Judas
33
the number of years of Jesus's human life
40
testing and trial; the years of the Deluge; the years of wandering in the desert in Exodus; the days Moses spent on Mt. Sinai; Christ's days in the desert
666
the number of the Beast. (Also 616 in some later manuscripts, a number rejected by St. Irenaeas as a scribal error).
1000
the milennium -- the Church Age

Until next time, happy reading and writing!
*~*~*~*~*

Mary McCall is a Golden Heart finalist, bestselling author of historical romance. She puts the fun back in historical romance! Visit Mary at http://www.marymccall.net/, or her blog at http://marymccall.wordpress.com/
Just released! HIGHLAND PROMISE

Ordered by King Alexander to wed an Englishwoman, Laird Brendan Sutherland heads to England to wed the sister of his best friend's wife. Having no use for love, he intends to beget a few heirs and forget the lass.

After being falsely accused of the Sin of Eve when she was twelve, Lady Faith of Hawkhurst hides her beauty beneath a hideous disguise, becoming a hag in public. She believes she must enter a convent and live a life of penance or suffer perpetual damnation.

Learning her brother intends to ambush an approaching Highland party, Faith intercepts Brendan and his men to ask their aid in reaching the convent. Brendan quickly sees through her disguise and agrees to take her with him. After a court scandal, King Henry orders them to wed. As they return to the Highlands with a killer on their trail, Brendan discovers he can't remain aloof from the woman destined to restore his faith in love.

1 comment:

Grace Elliot said...

Fascinating post - I love this sort of thing.
I hadnt heard the story of Mary Magdalene and the scarlet egg before - but now I have.
Thank you.
Grace x