Of Fairy-Tales and Unicorns

I was delighted last week when the children produced a drawing of a stain glass window featuring unicorns. It took me straight back to a wonderful series of medieval tapestries in Stirling Castle in Scotland where the story of the hunt and capture of the unicorn reveals the story of God coming to us in Christ.

The tapestry depicts the stage of the hunt where the hunters spy the unicorn dipping its horn in a stream to purify the water for the other nearby animals, like Christ redeeming humanity by taking on the sin of the world.

The unicorn has been an evocative symbol in many ancient cultures and times; so much so, that it is impossible to trace where the legends originated. It is an example of how the enchantment of a powerful symbol can be greater than any singular interpretation of its meaning. For those weaving this tapestry hundreds of years ago, the deeper legend of the unicorn whose wildness and purity was such that it could only be captured by a young maiden spoke to the story of the incarnation where the wildness and holiness of God could only be contained in a virgin’s womb. The later tapestries show the entrapment and killing of the unicorn before the resurrection tapestry where the unicorn rises again, this time tied to a pomegranate tree, the symbol of life and fecund creativity.

It is wonderful for the children to remind us of both the playfulness and the power of the unicorn to capture our imaginations. Too often we in the church take ourselves far too seriously and opt for rules over enchantment, doctrine over story. Maybe we need to remember the laughter and tears that accompany the biggest and best stories of all. Maybe we need the children to remind us of the power of myth and begin to recognise that we do indeed live in an enchanted world, held lovingly in a story far more beautiful and enduring than any we could dream up alone.

Grace and peace,

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