Thursday, May 31, 2012

SYMBOLS (Continued)

Peggy Woods
The HERON was a symbol of Christ on the Mount of Olives.

Barry Moser

   The STORK, returning every spring, symbolized Christ in
 His Resurrection.

The CRANE represented renewal and Christ resurrected.

Malcolm Greensmith
 The SWALLOW, a harbinger of spring, also stands for the Resurrection.

The BLUEBIRD and BLUEJAY denote spiritual joy and contentedness.

Floy Zittin

Mark Kelso

 The PHEASANT denotes a spiritual seeker.


Floy Zittin
   The OWL is synonymous with wisdom and  virtue.

Kimberly Parsons (11th Grade, N.C.)

The RAVEN, noted for its intelligence, is emblematic of penance and the solitary lives of hermits and the monks of the desert, such as Sts. Benedict and Paul the Hermit (also fed by ravens).

St. Vincent- A.T. Ribot (1891)
 St. Vincent of Saragossa's body was protected by ravens from  other animals, after his martyrdom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


BIRDS have long been a symbol of the soul as they fly free of the earth-bound body seeking the heavens.
They represent a passage between the physical world and the spiritual.

The DOVE is the most depicted bird in religious art as it represents the Holy Spirit, and is usually seen in the Baptism of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In the Old Testament (especially in the Canticle of Canticles) it stood for purity and innocence.

In the story of Noah and the flood, it represented peace.
Many saints are depicted with the dove, such as Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila and the Benedictine Pope, Gregory the Great.

St. Gregory the Great

The PEACOCK was believed to be incorruptible, so represented immortality.

The EAGLE, reputed to have the power of looking directly at the sun, was a symbol of Christ gazing on the brightness of God the Father. St. John the Evangelist's symbol is the eagle.

Mike Beeman

 The SPARROW represents the love of God for even the "least" among us. Twelve sparrows can represent the twelve Apostles.

Early Christians, noting that the NIGHTINGALE sang with increasing joy as the dawn approached, made this bird the symbol of the holy joy of the righteous Christian soul, singing in the darkness of this world.

Nightingales- Tina Bone

Stephen Filarsky

 A white DUCK swimming with swans or other water birds often symbolized the spread of Christianity among the heathens.

V. Crivelli- Madonna & Child with goldfinch (detail)

The GOLDFINCH frequently appeared in pictures of the Christ Child.
It became associated with His Incarnation.

Because of its fondness for thistles and thorns it has also come to represent the Passion of the Lord.

One of my favorite bird artists, Floy Zittin

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


How many of you know that a MURDER of CROWS is what one calls a group of crows?
My Island 4-H group has been studying crows for their birding project this year. In years past they did a general study, such as migration, where birds eat, or habitat. This year they decided to study one species and after they learned what a group of crows is called they decided this would make a great "eye-catching" display for the county fair.

PBS did a documentary a few years ago entitled "A Murder of Crows". It was interesting to find that one of the foremost researchers in the world in the study of the corvoidae family (which includes ravens, jays and magpies) is at the University of Washington. The kids decided that they would set up their own scientific study and watch the crows each Friday and Saturday when they came to bird. When the study started in January we still had the pigs and the kids would watch as the crows came to eat any left over food after the pigs ate. Sometimes it was boring, sometimes fun. Several of the group want to be scientists or archaeologists so for these 11 and 12 year olds it was a study in patience and perseverance. They found that even a fun job takes work.

From the movie we learned that crows are as intelligent as dolphins, elephants, chimps, and pigs. They have 250 unique vocalizations with two distinct dialects: one for family and the other for community. They can recognize the faces of humans, memorize garbage routes, and know when traffic lights are red.

From their own study the kids learned that crows have a scout crow (even after the pigs were slaughtered one crow would wait and then go get the others), they can tell time, and the male would eat and then take food to the female on her nest.
They studied myths of Native Americans and found that in the 20th & 21st Centuries, crows feature more often in stories than ravens did in the past.

Studying birds shows the kids many aspects of nature and their connectedness to us.

 Like the larger raven, the symbolic crow is associated with the sun, longevity, beginnings, death, change, bad luck, prophecy, and Christian solitude.
 Chagall- Song of Songs

Christians consider the crow an emblem of the Virgin Mary. The words, "I am dark, but lovely...because the sun has tanned me," are believed to mean that the light or love of God has so shown upon her that she is burned and purified as if by a mighty sun or fire (Song 1:5-6).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


On Saturday my god-daughter and dear friend lost her husband Larry. Fortunately, it was a cancer that took him fast and while we all knew he would not be with us long, it is still a shock to all.
I suppose we are of an age where dear ones start to disappear from our lives, leaving only happy memories.

I have known Sandi and her sister Janet for over 20 years. We first met at a sheep fiber show, sitting next to one another on a  miserably hard bench. Someone came along and asked, are you all sisters, and I answered, yes, we are. That became the beginning of a great friendship. Their family is French and Czech and both women have the high cheek bones and beauty of the Slavs. Sandi and I have always resembled each other so it is easy to mistake us for blood sisters.

Janet came into the Church first, baptized here at OLR, followed by Sandi a few years later. After that Sandi and Larry's granddaughter, LaRen, and later grandson, Lucas, were baptized in our chapel.

Janet, Larry, Sandi, LaRen, MH, Shauna

Because Sandi was married, the marriage had to be blessed in the Church, which was done that same day. Many in the family came having a grand celebration with the Community sitting under the apple trees having a picnic.

Larry, who had been baptized a Catholic, but did not practice in his adult life, later said to me, well, I guess I may be next. I gave him a catechism, but we never followed through.The week before he died, Sandi called Father who came that Saturday to administer that last Rites. She said Larry was very happy and peaceful.

Some of my fondest memories of Larry are the annual trips over the mountains to the lovely village of Leavenworth to visit old friends of his and Sandi's. We would argue and laugh about politics and the state of affairs in the world. We women would try to drag him through a few stores which I am sure he enjoyed more then he let on. We would then stop for apples in the canyon on the return home, relishing the reds and golds of turning leaves.

I last saw Larry 10 days before he left us and I will always remember sitting on the porch, with Bella's face on his knee, and the warm sun bathing us all, after a very cold spring. He was cheerful, joking and laughing. Soon after he was in full Hospice care. In his last weeks he was surrounded by the care and love of his children and grandchildren. His passing to the Father is a loss to all who knew him, though he has gained a High Place.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


ST. BAVO (d. 654)  was a Belgian nobleman who spent a wild youth, noted for his selfishness. He was known to have sold his servants as slaves to local noble houses. He later married and was a widower. After hearing a sermon by St. Amand of Maastricht he converted and vowed to change his life.

He built an abbey on his estate, called St. Peter‘s in his day and St. Bavo’s today. He turned it over to St. Amand, and became a monk. He finally gave his estate to the house, his belongings to the poor, and lived as a recluse in a hollow tree and later a cell in the forest near the abbey.

 Because he is so often shown with a falcon, he is considered the patron saint of falconry.


ST. LUDGER (d.809) was the son of wealthy Frisian nobles. His brothers were St. Gerburgis and St. Hildegrin. He heard St. Boniface preach in 753, and was greatly moved. He studied at Utrecht, Netherlands under St. Gregory of Utrecht and later under Bl. Alcuin in England.

In 773 he returned to the Netherlands as a missionary. He later lived as a Benedictine monk at Monte Cassino, Italy from 785 to 787, but did not take vows. At the request of Charlemagne, he returned to Friesland as a missionary. It was a successful expedition, and he built a monastery in Werden, Germany to serve He built a monastery at Mimigernaford as the center of this missionary work, and became its abbot.

St. Ludger’s health failed in later years, but he never reduced his work load. No matter how busy or dangerous his outside life, he never neglected his time of prayer and meditation, it being a source of the strength to do everything else.

 He is considered the missionary to the Saxons. In art, St .Ludger is portrayed as a bishop with a swan or goose near him.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Sts. Benedict & Scholastica
The most famous of our saints is our founder ST. BENEDICT of NORCIA (d. 547).
He  was born to the Roman nobility and was the twin brother of St. Scholastica (mentioned in our previous blog). As a youth he studied in Rome, but was dismayed by the lack of discipline and the worldly attitude of his fellow students. He fled to the mountains near Subiaco (about 2 hours north of Rome), living as a hermit in a cave for three years where he was befriended by a raven who fed him. His discipline was such that an attempt was made on his life; some monks tried to poison him, but he gave the foul bread to his raven to dispose of.

 He returned to his cave, but continued to attract followers, eventually establishing twelve monasteries.

 He later founded the monastery at Monte Cassino, where he wrote the Rule of our Order. He had the ability to read consciences, the gift of prophesy, and could forestall attacks of the devil.

(Lu Bro) 

A summation of the Rule: “Pray and Work”  is balanced by attention to manual labor, intellectual pursuit and prayer.  He is one of the patrons of modern Europe.

 (One of my favorite images: statue at  St. Martin's Abbey, Lacey, WA)
The raven is a symbol for solitude. It also symbolizes filial gratitude and affection, wisdom, hope, longevity, death, and fertility.

Another great Benedictine saint, but not well known in America is ST. MEINRAD
(d. 861).  He is known as the Martyr of Hospitality.

He was a monk in the monastery at Bollingen (Switzerland) though he longed to become a hermit,  living a life of prayer, penance and meditation. In 828 having at last obtained his superiors' permission, he set off for the Dark Wood on the slopes of Mount Etzel.

Soon after settling in a solitary retreat he found a nest with two young ravens, which he gladly adopted and tamed, perhaps because the he had a statue of the Child Jesus holding a small bird in one hand. St. Meinrad spent seven years on this mountain, but as more and more pilgrims come to visit him, he fled from his tiny cell, taking his two friends, the ravens, with him.

Br. Martin Erspamer, OSB

 He went still farther into the depths of the Dark Wood until one day he found, in the midst of the lofty pine trees on a small table-land surrounded by hills on three sides, a bubbling spring giving forth sparkling, fresh mountain water. Here he built himself a little log hut and a chapel, in which he reverently placed his statue. His faithful ravens often perched on either side of a crucifix, watching the holy hermit as he worked and prayed.

He spent over 20 years alone and was never  harmed by the mountain bears or wolves or other wild animals who dwelt there. However, two hardened criminals, hearing that people made pilgrimages to the hermit, were tempted by the idea that he must have rich treasure hidden away in his lonely hermitage. And so one cold winter night they made their way through the deep snow to his retreat in the forest.

As the saint was  finishing his Mass he heard the shrill screams of warning of his faithful ravens. He went out and welcomed the two men with loving kindness and hospitality, setting before them some bread and wine. When they roughly demanded that he show them his hidden treasure he humbly led them into the little chapel, and pointing to the plain wooden statue above the altar, he said, "I have no other treasure."

In a mad rage the two robbers seized and brutally beat the saintly old hermit to death with a heavy club, while his two ravens flew wildly about, screaming and trying in vain to help their good friend by pecking at the murderers' heads.

The men dragged the saint's body away and were about to begin their search for the supposedly hidden treasure when they noticed a wondrous smell pervading the place. When they perceived that two candles standing by the hermit's bed had somehow just been lighted, without human hand, the two assassins fled in terror all the way to Zurich. But like the accusing finger of God, Meinrad's two ravens persistently followed and attacked the murderers until they were arrested and  confessed the crime.

On the place where he was martyred a church and shrine were built in his memory, which later became the famous and very beautiful Abbey of Einsiedeln. I was able to visit this marvelous monastery and the Black Madonna, when I lived in Germany over 40 years ago.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


 One of the interesting things in my search to know new saints and their relationship to birds is that many saints have no stories which connect them to birds, but are portrayed with birds by the artist for some reason or other - sometimes for reasons they never tell us- perhaps their "vision" as an artist just speaks to their mind or heart..

Of the two following Benedictine saints, the first is often portrayed with ravens while the later is rarely seen with a bird and that is usually a dove representing the Holy Spirit.

Ida (Ita) of Kirchberg (d. 1226) was born at Kirchberg Castle, Swabia, the daughter of Hartmann, Count of Kirchberg, and was married to Count Henry of  Toggenburg, Switzerland. Henry was abusive, especially when the couple had no children.

According to legend a raven stole Ida's wedding ring. The ring was found by a hunter in the nest of the bird. When her husband noticed the ring on the hand of the hunter, he accused Ida of infidelity. He killed the hunter and Ida fell in anger from the window of his castle. Because of  her innocence, Ida had been saved by God but in a miraculous way. The mistake was cleared up, but Ida wanted to dedicate her life to God. Her repentant husband agreed to her becoming a Benedictine nun at Fischingen Abbey where she died in the odor of sanctity.   She is also revered as the saint of runaway cattle.

ST. MECHTILDE of HELFTA (d. 1298)  was born to a pious, powerful Thuringian noble family and her older sister was a nun. Convent educated from age seven, Mechtilde became a nun at Rodersdorf, Switzerland. She moved to the Helfta monastery (Germany) in 1258 where her sister served as abbess. She was the teacher and choir director at the convent school at Helfta and later novice mistress for St. Gertrude the Great who wrote The Book of Special Grace about Mechtilde’s teachings. St. Mechtilde was initially terrified that the book might cause trouble, but Christ appeared to her in prayer and told her not to worry. She became a spiritual adviser to her sister nuns and the laity. She is one of the great mystics of the Benedictine Order.

While I could find no reference to birds, there is a very lovely statue at the Monastery of St. Mechtilde on the island of Malta, by the German artist Mark Glass.

The  figure shows St. Mechthilde reaching upward - as if she wants to follow birds in their flight. In her hands she holds a nightingale. She is barefoot, balancing on one leg and singing.   At her feet are an owl and a raven, birds of wisdom and mystery. The statue radiates energy and vitality.

The  Artist

Friday, May 18, 2012


ST. SCHOLASTICA was the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia. They were born to the Italian noblility. Their mother died in childbirth. St. Scholastica became a nun leading a community of women near Montecassino. She died in 543. 

She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate. One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples. They spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother, “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “What are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.” When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray.  As she raised her head from the table, there such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly, he began to complain. “May God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?”

 “Well, she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

 Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his Sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself. - from Dialogues by Pope Saint Gregory the Great

ST. HILEGARD of BINGEN (d.1179 at the age of 81) was officially declared a saint in May of this year by Pope Benedict XVI who has a great devotion to her, recognizing her widespread fame of holiness.

The process was established in the 18th century by Pope Benedict XIV. It takes place "when the Pope enjoins the Church as a whole to observe the veneration of a Servant of God not yet canonized by the insertion of her feast into the liturgical calendar of the universal Church, with Mass and the Divine Office.

An "equivalent canonization" usually occurs, as in the case of St. Hildegard, Sts. Bruno, Margaret of Scotland, Stephen of Hungary, and Wenceslaus, when veneration of the saint is already well established in Church traditions, but for various reasons the formal process of canonization has not been completed.
At a time when few women wrote, St.Hildegard produced major works of theology and visionary writings. When few women were respected, she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, and kings. She used her curative powers of natural objects for healing, and wrote treatises about natural history and the medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and stones. She is the first musical composer whose biography is known. She founded a vibrant monastery, where her musical plays were performed.

When I received her name at clothing, over 40 years ago, there was only one book written about her
(a novel) and none of her works had yet been translated. The first translation of her SCIVIAS (Visions) was done by our Mother Columba Hart.  At the same time the nuns at the Abbey of St.Hildegard in Germany were doing translations of her works (from the original Latin) into German.  Today all of her works have been translated, into many languages.

 In a 2010 series of audience talks about women’s contributions to the Church, Pope Benedict dedicated two talks to St Hildegard. He said she was a worthy role model for Catholics today because of “her love for Christ and his Church, which was suffering in her time, too, and was wounded also then by the sins of priests and lay people”. In addition, the Pope noted, modern Catholics can learn from her “love for creation, her medicine, her poetry and music that is being recreated today”.

Virginia Marie Romero

In her book PHYSICA she lists many birds and gives characteristics of each - not the kind you would find in a modern book on birds. Heron, swan, vulture, eagle, goose, duck, hawk, raven and crow, dove, parrot, owl, woodpecker, kingfisher, starling, swallow, finch, wren, kinglet, and blackbird are some of the birds mentioned. An example of her shrewd observation of the nature of a bird is the crow.

"They are not useful for medicine because a bird that is with a person by means of its cleverness is not much use to anyone as a remedy".  She also describes how the raven (a member of the same family as the crow)  can recognize faces of humans. Interesting to note  that my Island 4-H birding club is doing a study of crows this year. Much of the research done on this family is at the University of Washington in Seattle, esp. regards to human face recognition by these most intelligent of birds.