The almond in Christian iconography

The almond, known in latin as vesica piscis (meaning fish bladder), is an ogival-shaped symbol formed from the intersection of two circles with the same radius.

The almond has been an important element in Christian iconography since the Middle Ages. Its shape, similar to that of a fish, is used instead of Christ’s name: the greek word for fish, ichtys, was the most famous acronym for Jesus Christ. The almond was used in mosaics, frescos and manuscript miniatures, especially in romanic-gothic decorations. The romanic-gothic artists used it to highlight the holyness of the person it contained.

Why the almond?

In Christian symbology, the fruit of the almond tree is used to represent the mistery of Christ, who hides his divine nature in his human form.

Why is the almond so important in Christian iconography? Since it is the first tree to flower in the spring it symbolizes nature coming back to life. The almnod symbolizes rebirth and resurrection. The tree flowers under the Sign of Pisces, making the link between the shape of the almnod fruit and that of a fish even stronger.

The two circles represent two different dimension, the human and the spiritual ones, and the centre of the almnod represents the communication between the two. That is why Christ is usually depicted int eh centre of the almond, since he is the only mediator between the human and the divine, the Word who became human.

Bas-relief o f Christ in his glory – Atelier d’art de Bethléem

Christ in his Glory inside an almond.

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Myths and legeds linked to the almond

According to an ancient story, when a Christian met another person on the road, he would draw an arch in the ground. If the other person drew another arch, both people would known they were Christian. The fish was also used to mark some important places (including tombs) and to distinguish friends from enemies.

In the Bible, the early flowering of the almond tree is seen by the prophet Jeremiah, who was about to abandon his mission, as a sign of rebirth. In both Exodus and Ecclesiastes, the almond flowers represents life moving fast and the tree symbolizes new life.

In jewish, the word for almond tree (shaqued) and the word for watchman (shoqued) have the same root.

In greek mythology, the most interesting legend linked to the almond tre is that of the love between Phyllis and Acamas. Acamas left home to join the Trojan War, and Phyllis had to wait for him for more than 10 years. When the war ended, and Acamas still wasn’t back, Phyllis thought he was dead and let herself die. Athena, warrior goddess, pitying their love, turned Phyllis into an almond tree. When Acacmas finally returned and heard about this tragedy, he ran to the tree and hugged it. Phyllis felt this hug and a ton of white flowers started blooming. According to this legend, the yearly blooming of the amond flowers remind people of Acamas and Phyllis’ love.

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