Seeing unicorns

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | July 20, 2015

Have you ever seen a unicorn?

"Unicorns" at the Door County Renaissance Faire in early July. (Patricia Kasten | The Comass)
“Unicorns” at the Door County Renaissance Faire in early July. (Patricia Kasten | The Comass)

Most of us haven’t. But, if you use your imagination and have a little help, you can see one now and then. Such was the case in Door County earlier this month. Each summer, in Carlsville, there is The Door County Renaissance Faire. Such fairs are held around the country each year to represent life in Tudor England. Vendors, dressed in period attire, offer medieval style wares; food vendors grill turkey legs (and hot dogs and hamburgers), sell ale and wine and present plays and comedy skits. (Yes, some fairs can be ribald, but, during the day, things at Carlsville were kept family-oriented). There are stilt walkers, fire eaters and jugglers. And, of course, jousts with knights on horses took place.

What does this have to do with the church?

Three things that I noticed for sure:

There was a labyrinth in the peaceful woods. While Greeks and Romans used labyrinths in their architecture, the labyrinth did become a popular addition to several famous European cathedrals not long after the start of the 11th century. The cathedrals of Reims, Calais and Notre Dame in Paris all used labyrinths. Since the appearance of labyrinths in cathedrals coincides with the Crusades, the common belief is that they were substitutes for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Some modern thinkers have theorized that prayers and devotions may have accompanied the perambulation of their intricate paths. (Here’s a link to a Lenten article I wrote in 2005 about labyrinths:

Second, at the start of each jousting match, the Queen or King of the Faire offered a prayer: “Dear Father, protect these warriors today from injury …. And let justice prevail.” Not high theology, but how many public, secular events have you attended where there was actual prayer? (It didn’t seem feigned, but sincere enough about justice, right and safety. And it was definitely a good idea to ask that no one got hurts — war horses and wooden lances can be dangerous.)

Third: the unicorns. In medieval times, unicorns were popular symbols of Christ and Mary. According to legend, the unicorn could only be captured when it rested in a virgin’s lap — which led many in the church to see a correlation between Christ and his Virgin Mother. Also, legends that the unicorn could purify water and dispel poison with its horn, reminded them of Christ’s purity and healing power.

At the Renaissance Faire, there were two “unicorns” — OK, ponies with ribbons and artificial horns. But if the light was just right and your imagination (and maybe your faith) was working, they were unicorns.

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