The unicorn in myth and legend

Monday 19 January 2009

Whilst I was doing research for my Stitching Cards unicorn design I came across some interesting information about the way it has evolved over the centuries.

The unicorn is a mythical beast whose origins can be traced back to early pagan times. Drawings of the unicorn appear on many coats of arms created in Medieval Europe and it also appears in early religious tapestries. The unicorn was even used as a symbol of Christ.

unicornLegends describe the unicorn as a wild beast that can only be tamed by a virgin maiden. There are tales of how the unicorn was hunted by using a young girl as a lure. A book of medieval bestiary known as Physiologus, documents a complex allegory in which a unicorn is trapped by a maiden (representing the Virgin Mary). As soon as the unicorn sees her, it lays its head on her lap and falls asleep.

The modern image of the unicorn is that of a horse like creature with a single horn on its forehead. Through the ages the unicorn has been depicted as a hybrid animal with an antelope like horn, the head of a goat, the body of a deer and the tail of a lion. The early explorer Marco Polo claimed to have seen a unicorn but the beast he described sounds more like a rhinoceros

Over time the unicorn has grown into a wondrous beast with many virtues including nobility, selflessness and purity.

The illustration is from the Stitching Cards Unicorn pattern.

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