The medieval mind was fascinated with animals. During the Middle Ages, of nature was believed to have been created by God specifically for humans and therefore all creatures were considered to be lessons in morality and faith (BBC, 2010).
Bestiaries were manuscripts cataloging all of the natural and supernatural animals believed to interact with the earthly world. Lions, owls, gryphons, and unicorns roamed the Medieval world, providing tales of caution and highlighting paths to follow as a Christian. Beasts were thought to reveal God’s plan for mankind and bestiaries were used as guides to understanding what animal behavior revealed about how humans should behave.
Bestiaries were full of drawings and descriptions of not only common animals such as dogs, cats, fish, and birds but also of fantastical creatures born of the medieval imagination. While a browse through a medieval bestiary will reveal creatures unfamiliar with to the modern reader, the artistic depictions of extant animals may also baffle some. The drawing of animals, especially those from faraway lands, was not based on a visual reconstruction but rather based on artistic conventions of the time (Jeffs, 2017). With many of these drawings, something always seems a bit off about each of them.
Follow these pages to find examples from medieval manuscripts for a variety of animals.
List of Medieval Animals
Abderdeen University. (n.d). Folio 50r – the blackbird, continued. De bubone; Of the Owl. Retrieved from http://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/ms24/f50r
BBC Worldwide Ltd., Films for the Humanities & Sciences (Firm), & Films Media Group. (2010). Inside the Medieval Mind: Knowledge. New York, N.Y: Films Media Group.
Biggs, S. (2014a). The anatomy of a dragon [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/04/the-anatomy-of-a-dragon.html
Biggs, S. (2014b, June 14). Weird and wonderful creatures of the bestiary [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/06/weird-and-wonderful-creatures-of-the-bestiary.html
Eddy, N. (2012, November 7). Beavers on the run [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/11/beavers-on-the-run.html
Jeffs, A. (2017, August 10). Pouncing beasts [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2017/08/pouncing-beasts.html
Peverly, S. (n.d.). Beaty of the bestiaries [Blog post}. Retrieved from https://sarahpeverley.com/2015/11/17/beauty-of-the-bestiaries/
Royal project team. (2012, Feburary 9). The king of beasts [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/02/the-king-of-beasts.html