Saturday, 1 December 2007

St Andrew's Egg

The Feast of St Andrew, yesterday, gives an opportunity to dwell upon one of the more curious features of his Chapel here at Westminster Cathedral. Above the chandelier that hangs in the middle of the vault can be seen an ostrich egg.

I noted similar eggs in the lamps hanging at the Orthodox shrine in the Basilica of the nativity in Bethlehem, during my recent pilgrimage. As a motif, the ostrich egg regularly occurs in western art - as in the Montefeltro Pala, by Piero della Franceso, below.

There seem to be several explanations for this, the most plausible being that the egg was seen as a sign of resurrection. Cold and stone like on the outside, nevertheless from it emerges new life, just as Christ emerged from the tomb. There was also a medieval belief that ostriches did not sit on their eggs to hatch them, but rather stood gazing at them, and the heat from their eyes brought forth the life within them. This was construed as an image of God's unswerving care for us, and as an admonition for us to fix our eyes upon God.

For the feast day yesterday, morning Masses were celebrated in St Andrew's chapel - a good excuse (if any were needed) to include a picture of the stunning golden vault, patterned to resemble fish scales. The egg can be seen at the top of the photograph.

1 comment:

Fr Ray Blake said...

In the Piero della Franceso, I think it is supposed to be a huge "pearl of great price", rather than an ostrich egg.