The ‘Fish’ Symbol in Christianity: The Vesica Piscis

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

The fish has always been a symbol of Christ and his followers. Saint Augustine would write that Jesus was “a fish who lives in the midst of the waters,” and Tertullian would write, “So many fishes bred in the water, and saved by one great fish.” (Similarly, Joshua, whose name is the same as ‘Jesus’ and means ‘savior’, was the son of Nun – a Hebrew word that means ‘fish’).

The letters that spell the Greek word for ‘fish’, (pronounced ichthys) are also the initials for the phrase “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”.

The word can still be found as an emblem in many examples of Christian art, where it is often written within a symbolic drawing of a fish known as the Vesica Piscis.

 vesica7

The Vesica Piscis is a geometrical symbol made from the interpenetration of two perfect circles, one representing the ‘Above’ and the other representing the ‘Below’. When the circles are drawn in a vertical alignment, their intersection, which has the basic form of a fish, is a symbol of Christ – a combination of human and divine. Taken internally, the figure symbolizes the Christ within, the human soul in the Threshold between Worlds – partly of the material world and partly of the divine.

 vesica1

On the other hand, when the circles are viewed in a horizontal alignment, their intersection can be seen as a vaginal symbol, representing the passageway into life. This symbol, surrounded by the crescents of the waxing and waning moon, now represents the Sacred Feminine, the Shechinah, the Divine Mother through whom the soul enters the material world – e.g., Mary. This form of the symbol can also be seen in various examples of religious art, including many depictions of the Madonna and Child surrounded by a vesica-shaped halo, and in constructions of sacred architecture, including the Gothic Cathedrals.

 vesica2

***

For more on the symbolism of western religion, you may enjoy my book
SYMBOLS, MEANING, AND THE SACRED QUEST:
Spiritual Awakening in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Stories