Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Ballineaspaig, Cork, Ireland


The Fleur-de-Lys a symbol of the Blessed Virgin, because of its derivation from the Madonna's Lily and also of the Holy Trinity. The Lily in Christian art is a symbol of chastity, innocence and purity.

The Keys and the Cross recall the teaching role given to Peter and the Church by Christ. The Keys are the symbol of the authority of the papacy and the Church's power to "bind and loose ".

Two birds on a basket reminiscent of the quails and manna with which God fed the Jews in the desert. This is a symbol of God's providence. Another interpretation is that the birds are turtledoves. Turtledoves are reputed to take only one mate to whom they are faithful for life. Turtledoves are a symbol of Christian fidelity.

The Star of the Sea, represents Our Lady, is an ancient title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. The title was used to emphasize Mary's role as a sign of hope and as a guiding star for Christians.

The Barque represents the Church. As those outside of Noah's Ark were destroyed, the ship became a perfect early symbol of the Church with its associations with "the barque of Peter, the Fisherman." In the same vein, the main part of a church's interior, the place where the people worship, is called a "nave," from the Latin "navis" -- ship. It is the nature of a ship that it is always on a journey, it has a destination and a purpose. It will traverse many dangerous waters and pass through many trials but with Jesus (our Compass) we will arrive upon the Eternal Shore. A good crew will be faithful to their Captain, no matter how difficult and life threatening the paths through the waters may be, they will never abandon the ship – and neither must we for she is our Mother.

The Host and Chalice reminds us of the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of a Christian. The usual symbol for the Holy Eucharist is a chalice, with a host rising out of it. This reminds us of the final meal of Jesus with his disciples the night before he died and reminds us in particular of the Mass and he said "Do this in memory of me."

The Pelican is a symbol of Redemption. According to legend, in a time of famine a mother pelican would draw blood from her own chest and give the blood to her chicks. Thus the pelican symbol in Christianity, symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as well as the Eucharist.

Loaves over a fish. This directly recalls the feeding of the people with loaves and fishes. From earliest Christian times, these were also used as a symbol of Christ's presence in the Eucharist.

The Fish is one of the earliest symbols of Christ. The first letters of five words in Greek (Jesus – Christ – God's – Son – Saviour) IKTHUS is the Greek word for a fish. (Later on only three of these were used IHS.) So the bread over the fish is an expression of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Communion. The Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, expressed this truth in a very beautiful way:

"O Christ, this is what you have done for us.
In a crumb of bread the whole mystery is".

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