Turtledove
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Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France - Histoires merveilleuses du bestiaire Copyright 2004 Copyright 2004 Bibliothèque Nationale de France Manuscript description Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1951, Folio 26r


 

Turtledove

Latin name: Turtur

Other names: Torte, Tortorele, Tortre, Tourterelle, Turteltaube, Turterele, Turtre

A bird that always remains faithful to its mate

 

 
General Attributes

The turtledove has only one mate, to which it is always faithful; if that mate should die, it will never take another, and will thereafter never sit on anything green. Turtledoves always sit in the desert, but sometimes come to the gardens of the poor and to laborer's fields to gather seeds. In winter when they moult they live in hollow trees. They love solitude. To protect its young from wolves, the turtledove spreads squill leaves over its nest, which it builds in soft and delightful places.


Allegory/Moral

The turtledove signifies the holy church, which remained faithful to Christ after his death. The Aberdeen Bestiary interprets the turtledove's refusal to take a second mate differently: "Learn, you women, how great is the grace of widowhood, when it is proclaimed even among the birds."


Sources (chronological order)

Augustine [5th century CE] (City of God, Book 16, chapter 24): Turtledoves seclude themselves from the busy conversation of men.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:60): The turtledove is a modest bird that always stays in solitary places or on the tops of mountains.

Guillaume le Clerc [13th century CE] (Bestiaire): Now I must tell you of another bird which is courteous and beautiful, and which loves much and is much loved. This is the turtle-dove. The male and the female are always together in mountain or in desert, and if perchance the female loses her companion never more will she cease to mourn for him, never more will she sit upon green branch or leaf. Nothing in the world can induce her to take another mate, but she ever remains loyal to her husband. When I consider the faithfulness of this bird, I wonder at the fickleness of man and woman. Many husbands and wives there are who do not love as the turtle-dove; but if the man bury his wife, before he has eaten two meals he desires to have another woman in his arms. The turtle-dove does not so, but remains patient and faithful to her companion, waiting if haply he might return. (Bestiaries and Lapidaries (London, 1896) Kuhns translation)


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