Birds in Medieval Manuscripts
In the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit is revealed to us in the form of a dove.
The wider Christian tradition, especially of the native peoples of these islands, associates a wide variety of birds with different characteristics. For example, the swan is associated with development, the duck with insight and the goose with harmony. The duck and the swan are also symbolic of Mary and St. Bride. Within the tradition of Christian art, birds are also symbolic of Christ in creation.
St. Augustine, in his confessions, writes :-
“ The words of your messengers have soared like winged things above the earth beneath the firmament of your Book, for this was the authority given to them and beneath it they were to take wing wherever their journey lay.”
Book XIII, Ch. 20.
The birds that are frequently painted in early (Celtic) illuminated manuscripts and medieval art are highly abstract. They are not drawn so that they look like any bird that you can see fluttering around the hedgerows. The Ten Commandments forbade making any likeness of anything in the Heavens, on the Earth, or in the waters. Although we cannot be certain, the abstract form of the birds is probably deliberate.
Click on the images below to take you to a page giving more information on how to draw the abstract bird forms.