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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(as a Christian symbol). The birds represented in the earliest Christian art are generally distinguished by their species. (See DOVE); (See EAGLE); (See PHOENIX), etc. This is not only the case in the early sarcophagi and frescos of the catacombs, but it is specially remarkable in the first Gothic works of the Lombard churches in the north of Italy. But in the very earliest tombs birds assignable to no particular species are introduced, apparently with symbolic purpose. They occur so often on tombs, with or without the palm-branch, that they may clearly be taken as images of the released soul seeking its home in heaven. Aringhi take the lightness and aerial nature of the bird as a symbol of the aspiration of faithful spirits (see also Psalm 123:6, of the released soul). Bede looks on the bird also as a sign of the resurrection. Caged birds are occasionally found in paintings or other representations. They are supposed to represent the human soul in the prison of the flesh, or they may be emblems of the imprisonment of a martyr. Martigny describes a mosaic in the tribune of Sta. Maria in Transtevere, in Rome, where one of these cages is placed near the prophet Jeremiah, with inscription "Christ the Loid was taken in our sins;" and another by Isaiah, with the words "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son" — referring thus to the passion and incarnation of our Lord.
The symbolism of the cross by a bird's outspread wings is Tertullian's. Herzog conjectures that the pictures or carvings of birds with flowers and fruits combined are symbolic of Paradise. In early Gallic Christian MSS. nondescript birds are found almost everywhere, generally in pairs onl each side of the monogram of Christ, and almost always with the letters A no, which appear more frequently in the ancient documents of Christian France. Pairs of drinking birds, peacocks, and also of conventional shape, are still to be seen among the most ancient fragments of Byzantine domestic sculpture in Venice. They may be carried back to the 11th or 12th century, perhaps; at all events, they are clearly decorative repetitions of the bird-symbols in the catacombs and earlier monuments.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Bird (Symbol)'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​b/bird-symbol.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.