By: Deacon Marques Silva
One of my favorite movies is Despicable Me. It could be that Agnes, one of the three orphan girls in the movie, is the spitting image of my niece Emma. There is this great scene in the movie when Gru wins Agnes a stuffed unicorn and she makes this hilarious face and exclaims, “It’s so flufffffyyyy!” Agnes loves unicorns and so does the Church…just for different reasons.
The unicorn is actually an ancient Christian symbol. Better yet, did you know that the unicorn is mentioned in the Douay-Rheims and even King James versions of Sacred Scripture?:
“Save me from the lion’ s mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns” (Psalms 22:22).
“And shall reduce them to pieces, as a calf of Libanus, and as the beloved son of unicorns” (Psalms 28:6).
“And the unicorns shall go down with them, and the bulls with the mighty: their land shall be soaked with blood, and their ground with the fat of fat ones” (Isaiah 34:7).
This mythical animal is an ancient symbol of chastity and Christ Himself. There is a medieval legend that says that the only way to capture a unicorn is to have a virgin sit in the forest. Only then would the unicorn come and lay at her feet with its head on her lap. This allowed the hunter to take the horn which was said to possess miraculous curative powers.
The early 1500s gives us a number of noteworthy art pieces that offer the virgin with the unicorn on her lap as a common subject. Many times these pieces depicted the Blessed Virgin Mary who brought forth Christ, the Horn of Salvation (Psalm 18:2; Luke 1:69). Among the pieces of art are Giorgione’s Lady with a Unicorn, c. 1500; Raphael’s Young Woman with Unicorn, c. 1506; and even a collection of six tapestries woven by Flanders: The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame à la licorne), c. 1500.
Secular society has made the unicorn a symbol of ancient magic and naïve virginity that is meant to be conquered rather than preserved. This beautiful and majestic symbol has become ‘my little pony.” Among tattoo art it is more of a symbol of lost immature innocence which has been triumphed by mature unchastity and intemperance. Society and culture is starving for mystery and symbols but cannot seem to tolerate virtue as something realistic. It tolerates even less those symbols that refers to Christ and Our Lady.
This needs to stop. We need to recapture our symbols and use them to teach our children the virtues and good art. Some profess realism and a need to keep a child’s mind grounded in fact. And yet, I have never met a child whose mind doesn’t wander off to imagine the fantastic and the mythical. That is how they learn and dream – and it is an important skill. Why bother with mythical creatures and fairy tales? Neil Gaiman said it best when he wrote an epigraph credited to Chesterton: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”