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The Peacock and Christian Contemplation

By Deacon Marques Silva

From antiquity, the peacock has been a consistent object of Christian symbolism and meditation. In the Old Testament, the peacock was a symbol of King Solomon’s wealth and prosperity (1 Kings 10:22).

Mystics have likewise found this beautiful bird as a rich source of meditation and Christian inspiration. “The ancients clearly saw in the intricate patterns of the peacock’s train the hand of the Divine Artist whose attention to detail revealed the Artist’s unmatched handiwork. Looking closer at the train, the eye shaped pattern in the feathers have also been a symbol of the Father’s all-seeing eye or omniscience.”

Like the eagle, when a peacock molts, the feathers that return are even more magnificent than the prior. This quickly became a natural symbol of the Resurrection. The hardness of the flesh also led some to believe that the peacock was impervious to decay. St. Augustine in his work, City of God (Book 21 Chapter 4), shares a story of how he kept a piece of a peacock that was served to him at dinner in order to run an experiment. Augustine had the flesh set aside for 30 days, inspecting each week, to discover that the flesh neither decayed nor emitted any putrid scents related to decay. In fact, a year later he shares that while the flesh had shriveled in size, it still emitted no odor or showed signs of normal decay – husbands, don’t try this at home!

At Christian grave sites the peacock was a frequent symbol. To this day, when investigating the catacombs, this ancient symbol is still preserved even though the mortal remains of our ancestors have wasted away.

This article has been reprinted here by permission of the author after original publication at Encourage and Teach, published by the Diocese of Arlington.

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