Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Eagle symbol of Saint John the Evangelist.

Brass Eagle Lectern in Greyfriars Church Edinburgh.

Photo by Beth Maxwell Boyle 2005

An eagle lectern is a lectern in the shape of an eagle. They are very common in Christian churches and cathedrals. The eagle is the symbol used to depict John the Apostle, whose writing most clearly witnesses the light and divinity of Christ. In art, John, as the presumed author of the Gospel, is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the height he rose in the first chapter of his gospel.

The tradition of using eagle-shaped lecterns predates the Reformation. Medieval examples survive in a number of English churches, including the church of St Margaret in Kings Lynn, and the church of St Mary in Ottery St Mary.

The apostle most favored by the Celtic Church was John. It angered Rome who favored Paul and Peter. Eventually it lead to a major crackdown at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The roots of Celtic Christianity reach deep into the mysticism of St John the evangelist in the New Testament, and the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. According to Celtic tradition, when St John leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper, he heard the heartbeat of God. Therefore, St John became a symbol of listening for the life of God in ourselves, and in all creation.

Carved lectern from St. Nicolas Church in High Bradfield in South Yorkshire, England.

photo by Beth Maxwell Boyle 2007

Eagle lectern Dunfermline Abbey Kirk

Photo by Beth Maxwell Boyle 2005


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