Portrait of the blackbird in a roundel. It is painted brown either in ignorance of the text or because it is a female bird.

Portrait of the blackbird in a roundel. It is painted brown either in ignorance of the text or because it is a female bird.

Text Translation:

Of the blackbird. Isidore says of the blackbird: ‘The blackbird in ancient times was called medula, because it sang rhythmically.’ Others say that it was called merula, because it flew on its own, mera volans, so to speak. Although it is black wherever it is found, there is a white species in Achaia. The blackbird is small but black. It represents those tainted by the blackness of sin. The blackbird both moves and charms itself by the sweetness of its own voice. It represents those who are tempted by the suggestion of carnal pleasures. In fact, the blessed Gregory refers to this in his book of Dialogues, when he recounts how the blackbird came on the wing to the blessed Benedict and how after the departure of the bird, he was tempted with the fire of lust.

Gregory says: One day when the blessed Benedict was alone, the tempter appeared. For a small, black bird, commonly called a blackbird, began to fly around his head and to come up close to his face in a cheeky fashion, so that Benedict could have taken it in his hand if the saint had wanted to hold it. But he made the sign of the cross and the bird flew away. Such a temptation of the flesh as followed the departure of the bird, the saint had never experienced. For the evil spirit now brought before his inner eye the image of a woman whom Benedict had once seen. And the mind of the servant of God burned with such fire at the sight of her, that the flame of his love could scarcely contain itself in his breast and, overcome by desire, he now almost resolved to quit the wilderness. When suddenly, touched by the grace of heaven, he recovered himself, and seeing thick bushes of nettles and thorns growing nearby, he stripped off the garment he was wearing and threw himself naked amid the pricking thorns and stinging nettles. And having rolled in them, he emerged with his body covered in wounds, and through these wounds to his skin he discharged from his body the wound to his soul, because he transformed his desire into pain.

Yikes. Seriously, not a selling point for christianity. Blackbirds are among my favourite birds, and I can quite honestly say that not one of them has made me be overcome with horniness.

The blackbird in flight, therefore, represents enticement, tempting you to desire. If you want, therefore, to reject the desire symbolised by the blackbird, you must follow the example of the blessed Benedict and turn instead to the correction of discipline and thus rid yourself of pleasures of the mind by inflicting pain on your flesh. In the regions of Achaia, according to Isidore, there are white blackbirds. A white blackbird represents purity of will. But by Achaia we understand the industrious sister. There are two sisters, Rachel and Leah, namely the active and the contemplative life. Leah we take to be the industrious one. The active life teaches us to devote ourselves to works of charity, to teach men who lack discernment, to have the purity of chastity, to work with our own hands. This is Achaia, the active life. In Achaia, therefore, like the white blackbirds, live those who live chastely the active life.

Folio 49v – the stork, continued. De [merula]; Of the blackbird.


  1. Ice Swimmer says

    I’ve never had to make a sign of the cross to make blackbirds flee, just trying approach them, into prime photographic range is enough.

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