The medieval unicorn myth about a wild unicorn lured by a young maiden hides a religious message

Kirsty Kendall
The Unicorn in Captivity, one of the medieval Unicorn TapestriesThe Everett Collection/Canva

Envision knights wearing glossy armors, magnificent castles, mighty dragons, and beautiful maidens. Then, picture a magical unicorn drawn by a young maiden.

​Unicorns are a crucial part of medieval folklore, and they have a specific meaning in this historical era.

The medieval unicorn was a goat-like creature

The medieval unicorn was pictured as a wild animal living in a forest. It looked more like a one-horned goat than a horse.

To most of us, the unicorn of the Middle Ages might not appear as charming as the magical single-horned horse we are used to.

In the Middle Ages, the unicorn was a symbol of Christ

The unicorn in the Middle Ages was a spiritual symbol. The unicorn fable of the Middle Ages was affected by the unicorns in the Bible and the authors of Ancient Greece.

Physiologus, a Christian text published in Ancient Greece, was the foundation of the medieval unicorn belief. The wild unicorn permits itself to be taken captive only by a virgin; this fable is adopted from Physiologus.

When the maiden has actually trapped the unicorn, hunters take the unicorn to the King. The maiden represents Virgin Mary, while the unicorn symbolizes Christ.

The unicorn (Christ) is taken to the King, which signifies the resurrection; the King is God and the unicorn (Christ) is now incarnated.

This allegory repeats itself in medieval art.

The Unicorn Tapestries, or the Hunt of the Unicorn

The Unicorn Tapestries, or the Hunt of the Unicorn, is a series of seven tapestries from the late Middle Ages.

The tapestries represent the hunt of a unicorn. Now the tapestries are portrayed in the Cloisters museum in New York.

A virgin catches the unicorn. Then, the unicorn is killed and taken to the King. In the last tapestry, the unicorn is in captivity, and no longer dead.

Fooling a unicorn, and then killing it might not appear ethical. However, this is an ancient tale.

​And as I pointed out previously, in this myth the unicorn was translated as the symbol of Christ. It was really not about killing a unicorn. It represents events of the Bible.

The fable likewise had a pagan interpretation: The virgin and the unicorn are lovers. The virgin tames the unicorn (a male) and catches him by love.

The unicorn in the Middle Ages was an ancient symbol

In conclusion, this is what the medieval unicorn myth is all about:

• The medieval unicorn was depicted as a goat-like, one-horned animal

• The unicorn myth of the Middle Ages represents the unicorn as a forest-dwelling wild animal

• According to the medieval unicorn myth, only a virgin can tame the unicorn

• In the Middle Ages, the unicorn was an allegory of Christ

• The medieval myth is represented in the Unicorn Tapestries

• A pagan myth translates the Virgin and the unicorn as lovers

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MA in literature. A writer and unicorn lover. I write about unicorns, animals, home and living, and other intriguing topics.


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