The symbolism of the eagle derived from the belief that the bird was capable of staring into the sun and that Christians similarly were able to gaze unflinchingly at the revelation of the divine word. Alternatively, the eagle was believed to be the bird that flew highest in the sky and was therefore closest to heaven, and symbolised the carrying of the word of God to the four corners of the world.
The eagle is the symbol used to depict John the Apostle, whose writing is said to most clearly witness the light and divinity of Christ. In art, John, as the presumed author of the Gospel, is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the height to which he rose in the first chapter of his gospel. The eagle came to represent the inspiration of the gospels.
The tradition of using eagle-shaped lecterns predates the Reformation. Medieval examples survive in a number of English churches, including the church of St Margaret in Kings Lynn and the parish church in Ottery St Mary. The Dunkeld Lectern is another notable Medieval eagle lectern.
The Eagle lectern is usually made of brass.
- Taylor, Richard (2003). How to Read a Church: A Guide to Images, Symbols and Meanings in Churches and Cathedrals. London: Rider & Co. ISBN 1-84413-053-3.
- Delderfield, Eric R. (1966). A Guide to Church Furniture. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.
- Ferguson, George (1966). Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press.
- "Animals in Church". Country Life Illustrated: 454. April 15, 1899.
It is related that an undergraduate, called upon to read the Lessons after a very late night, confided to his friends afterwards that "if it hadn't been for the duck" he would have fallen down — the duck in question was the brazen eagle supporting the lectern.
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