Unicorn Symbolism

by Andrea Elizabeth

Last Sunday was the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, and during Liturgy we chanted and sang this Antiphon, which has a surprising reference to a unicorn! (see The Lady and the Unicorn, A Mon Seul Desir tapestry in the header above)

Second Festal Antiphon

The mountains of Sion on the sides of the north / the city of the great King

Refrain: O Son of God Who wast transfigured on the mount, / save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia!

And He brought them unto the mountain of His sanctuary, / this mountain which His right hand had gained

Refrain: O Son of God Who wast transfigured on the mount, / save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia!

Mount Sion He loved / He built His sanctuary as that of a unicorn

Refrain: O Son of God Who wast transfigured on the mount, / save us who sing to Thee: Alleluia!

Fr. John A. Peck includes these quotes from the Fathers in his explanation:

Blessed Theodoret: “”He built His sanctuary like a unicorn” (v. 69). They say the unicorn is equipped with one horn, and the Law gave instruction for the adoring of one God; and so it was right for him to liken the one Temple, dedicated to the one God, to a unicorn”(Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Psalms, 73-150), trans. Robet C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001), p. 39).

St. Augustine: “Lastly there followeth, “and He builded like as of unicorns His sanctification” (ver. 70): or, as some interpreters have made thereof a new word, “His sanctifying.” The unicorns are rightly understood to be those, whose firm hope is uplifted unto that one thing, concerning which another Psalm saith, “One thing I have sought of the Lord, this I will require”” (NPNF1, p. 379).

Cassiodorus: “”Unicorns”” signifies those who posses a single hope in the most holy Trinity, towards which the consecrated hearts of the faithful are humbly raised, and they rely on the constancy of faith as the strongest of horns” (Cassiodorus: Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 2, trans. P. G. Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press,1991), p. 273).

Wikipedia says this: “In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin.”

 says this:

“The unicorn signifies Christ, who was made incarnate in Mary’s womb, was captured by the Jews, and was put to death. The unicorn’s fierce wildness shows the inability of hell to hold Christ. The single horn represents the unity of God and Christ. The small size of the unicorn is a symbol of Christ’s humility in becoming human.” link

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