The Aberdeen Bestiary

Folio 33v - the palm tree, continued.De cedro; Of cedars

Folio 34r - the cedar, continued.

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Commentary, Translation and Transcription

These sections are located below the image on each page, scroll down page and click on the tabs to view them. It is also possible to view the translation alongside the image by clicking the translation icon in the toolbar

It is not part of the project to provide a definitive edition of the text of the Bestiary, but to help readers by providing a transcription and translation of the text. Currently the following editorial conventions obtain:


  1. The original capitalisation is retained, but capitals have been added for personal and place names, excluding deus and diabolus.
  2. The original punctuation, including a point and inverted semi-colon (both serving as commas), and a point (serving as a full stop), is represented by comma, full stop and question-mark; a colon has been inserted before quotations.
  3. Suggested readings are in [ ].
  4. Variants from other Bestiary texts (eg Ashmole 1511 and Patrologia Latina 176) are added where they indicate a corruption, elucidate a meaning and replace excised text. They are represented as [A: PL:]


  1. Direct quotations from the Bible, where identified, are cited from the Authorised Version in ( ).
  2. Paraphrased quotations are identified where possible and indicated as: (see Job, 18:22).
  3. Suggested translations of corrupt words are in [ ].
  4. Capitalisation is sparing; additional punctuation has been used where necessary to give the sense. Paragraphs have been created to break up the text.



The palm tree. The cedar and the sparrows in its branches.


Two corrections in left margin: 'cum' [correcting ‘dum’) ; 'que'. Initials type 2.



The cedars of Lebanon and the sparrows who nest in them. The sparrows are preachers and heads of monasteries, their nests are convents and the cedars, planted by God, are the rich of the world.


A woman holding a dove stands in a vesica with six doves in its border. She wears a red tunic, a blue mantel and has a brown hood. The whole scene is surrounded by an exquisite frame.


At first sight this is the most enigmatic picture in the book. It appears to have no relation to the text about cedars. According to Morgan (1982, 64) the figure is the Virgin, according to Unterkircher (1986, 15) she is Eternal Wisdom surrounded by the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and according to Clark (1992, 70) she is Ecclesia (the Church) holding a sparrow representing the preacher described in the text. This image evolved through several stages in the Aviarium, gradually departing from a clear illustration of the text. (Clark, 1992, 32) 1. In the Heiligenkreuz Aviary (f. 135) the centre of the composition is a seated man identified in the rubric as Count Thibaut of Heilly, the founding patron of St.-Laurent-au-Bois, of which Hugh of Fouilloy's own house was a dependency (Clark, 1992, Fig. 7a). He is framed by a vesica of six sparrows sitting in their nests among the leaves of a cedar tree with a trunk descending the length of the picture. 2. In some examples the figure is an unnamed seated man (Clark, 1992, Figs.38a, 41: London, B.L.Sloane 278, f.12v; Bruges Episc. Sem. 89/54 p.45). Perhaps by this stage of transmission Count Thibaut was no longer a recognised person. 3. In most other aviaries (Clark, 1992, Figs. 7c, 7d: Lisbon Arq.Nac. Torre do Tombo 90, f21; Troyes, Bibl. Mun. 177, f142v) the figure is Christ, standing or seated, as mentioned in the text. In these two examples the branches of the tree have been replaced by a geometric frame and the birds are in roundels, not nests. 4. In the Bordeaux Aviary (Clark, 1992, Fig. 7e: Bordeaux, Bibl. Mun. 995, f67v) the living tree trunk has turned into a vertical column. Five strange birds in roundels are beside Christ in a vesica but the sixth bird descends vertically above Christ's head and clearly represents the Dove of the Holy Spirit. 5. In the Aberdeen group (which includes Ashmole 1511 and Oxford, Bod. Douce 151) the vestigal tree trunk of the Bordeaux Aviary has gone, only the vesica remains of the branch design, there are the usual six birds in the frame but the innovation is to introduce the standing woman holding the seventh bird. The white birds are now clearly depicted as doves, not sparrows. The previous examples show that the central figure was frequently liable to vary and that the notion of the dove had crept in with the Bordeaux Aviary. The unidentified woman in Aberdeen evolves in Oxford, Bodleian University College MS 120, p.36 (Clark, 1992, Fig.63) as a nun, perhaps indicating the patron's wishes. If the illustration is still tied to the text then the birds are sparrows, the central bird is the head of a monastery and the other fledglings are his disciples. If the birds' roundels are vestigal nests then they represent the convent buildings, in which case the central figure could be Ecclesia. However, the illustration may have evolved so far away from its original that it has acquired a meaning of its own. If the birds are understood as doves they are likely to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in which case the woman could be Eternal Wisdom. Clark (1992, 76) finally suggests that perhaps the painter had no idea of the meaning of his model. This is not likely, due to the exceptional wear on this page. There is a noticeable patch of dirt and wear above the figure, as though this page has often been referred to. It suggests that the book has been held upside down on this page, for a teacher to show students. (See , The patron of MS24). Editorial addition on right margin:non (Cedars of Lebanon which the Lord did not plant). 'non' is found in this cntext in Bruges, Episc. Sem. MS 89/54 (Clark, 1992, 158). One initial type 2, margins visible, Folio mark of two horizontal 'match sticks' in top right corner.