Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Peacock, a Medieval Symbol of Christ

If you’ve ever seen a peacock spread its tail feathers in a stunning display, you already know the splendor of this bird. If you were in a public place, you may have noticed the awe of the crowd that gathered. It’s not hard to understand how such a regal creature became a medieval symbol of Christ.
This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

The Peacock, a Medieval Symbol of Christ

The regal bird appeared in early Christian mosaics and paintings, often accompanied by the Tree of Life, beginning in the 3rd Century. The peacock adorned medieval manuscripts. It is found in decorative motifs on medieval churches and buildings. In the Middle Ages, the peacock was a Christian symbol of resurrection, renewal, and immortality. The birds decorated tombs and are found in Roman Catacombs where persecuted Christians sheltered. The imagery served as a comforting reminder of eternity in a perilous era. 
This fibula is one of a pair crafted in a workshop in northern France. The peacock likely reflects Roman or Byzantine influence, as it is not native to northern France. In early Christian art, the peacock was a symbol of immortality. Knowledge of the bird could have passed to northern France through the transmission of Christian iconography in textiles, books, and other portable objects. The fibula originally was one of a pair of brooches worn by women on either side of the chest. A second gold peacock fibula, plausibly the mate to Walters 57.570, belongs to the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest. Image courtesy of Walters Art Museum [Public domain].

How the Symbolism Came About

The connection with Jesus and His resurrection came about due to an ancient Greek belief that a peacock’s flesh did not decay after death. Another factor was that peacocks grow successively beautiful feathers after molting each year. The birds’ vibrant colors were said to come from the consumption of poisonous snakes. This reminded people of Christ’s becoming sin for our sakes. And the numerous eyes on the male’s tail feathers represented the all-seeing eye of God.

A Cherished Medieval Delicacy

In Roman times, peacock meat was consumed by the wealthiest members of society. During the Middle Ages, the peacock was also prized as a delicacy. In the 14th-century, King Richard’s Christmas feast included a peacock. After the bird was skinned and roasted, its skin with feathers attached was pulled back over it, making the cooked bird appear alive. The highest ranking lady would carry the roasted peacock in to the dining hall, and a knight carved the bird as a special honor.

A Reminder of God's Splendor

Next time you see a peacock, think of its medieval symbolism and how it points to the magnificence of God, revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. This multi-faceted storyteller writes in the historical fiction, romantic mystery, and medieval epic fantasy genres. Janalyn is a history enthusiast and romantic. These elements appear in everything she writes. 


  1. Thanks for the post! I never realized that peacocks were a symbol of Christianity. My father used to own two pair; the traditional ones and a white pair!

  2. We too had peacocks when I was growing up. My dad used to let us help feed them. I can recognize their distinctive cry anywhere! I can also imitate it! :-) I love it that Christianity has them as one of their symbols.