Recently we discussed the symbolism of the pelican as used in church art, textiles and architecture. Two other birds often seen in ecclesiastical usage are the phoenix and the peacock. The peacock is a symbol of immortality because it was once believed that the peacock’s flesh did not decay after death. Early Christian paintings and mosaics use peacock imagery. Peacock feathers are sometimes seen used as church decorations or in floral arrangements during the Easter season.
The peacock replaces his feathers annually; therefore the peacock is also a symbol of renewal. The early Christians praised the many “eyes” in its feathers as signs of the all-seeing God. The fabric swatch above showing a peacock motif is from a rose-violet cope from the 1950’s.
Early belief held that the Gates of Paradise are guarded by a pair of peacocks. Augustine refers to peacocks as a symbol of the resurrection.
In early Catholic art, literature and Catholic symbolism, the Phoenix is a symbol of Christ, representing his resurrection, immortality, and life-after-death. It has been an ancient and universal symbol of the sun and mystical rebirth in many cultures. The legendary red “fire bird” was believed to die in its self-made flames periodically (each hundred years, according to some sources) then rise again out of its own ashes. The phoenix is a popular motif for kneelers, as shown below in needlepoint.