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Eucharistics doves

The dove, dedicated to Venus in the Antiquity, has become for Christians a virtuous bird, alluding to the purity of Christ. Symbol of peace in the Old Testament, it brings at the end of the Great Flood, an olive branch as a sign of appeasement of God’s wrath. Allegory of the Divine Breath in all its forms, it represents the Holy Ghost in the Gospels. During the baptism of Christ “(…), the skies opened, and he saw, the spirit of God descending onto him as a dove “ (Matthieu, III, 16).


 The seven gifts of the Ghost are depicted by seven doves. Frequently found in paleochristian art , doves are present in scupture and liturgical goldsmithery, in shape of objects like eucharistic doves.


Eucharistic Doves are portable tabernacles, containing consecrated hosts and suspended by small chains above the altar. For Christians, doves are a symbol of purity and virtue. In Gospels, it embodies the Holy Ghost. Limoges workshops manufactured many eucharistic doves, mixing stylisation and realisme in their embossed and enamelled decoration.

In the Middle Ages  the eucharistic vessel is first suspended above the altar. A practise to which is added in the XIII century that of the ciborium being deposited in a wall or other designed tabernacle. The hanging container thus protected against mice,  is a closed vase, a small niche or a dove, image of The Holy Spirit.


Like a number of other liturgical vessels, eucharistic doves were produced in large quantities in Limousin workshops and sold throughout Europe in XIII century. They are very similar in their structure and decoration although each one of them has its uniqueness. Doves often perched on a small disc harbouring their hidden feet; the circular base can also take the form of a “gemellion” (dove of Amiens) or that of a crenallated enclosure, symbol of New Jerusalem (specimen of Washington). Doves hang from small chains attached to their base. Did the Museum model have appendages arched in the shape of an antenna, as is the case for the New York model, or was it attached to a larger base with holes? The small chains could be attached to a suspended crown which was pierced with holes used to sew a cloth canopy, small tent resembling the biblical Tabernacle, used to veil the bird. The crown preserved in the Museum is decorated with angels busts and with eight small enamelled towers decorated with crosses.


The dove itself constitutes of many fitted copper plates. Here, the wings,  which are customarily attached to the body with rivets, move through an hinge situated at the end of the wing. On the back, an oval shaped cap closes the Eucharistic receptacle. This dorsal lid can be decorated with special patterns, on its external (HIS on the New York dove) or internal (blessing hand of God for the Washington and Copenhagen models). The belly, the head and the back are engraved in a pattern suggesting feathers. The wings, the tail and the base are enamelled in Champlevé with patterns of feathers and scrolls (for the base), plain or in several shades of colours. Each wing is crossed by a vertical banner decorated with gems whose mounts only are left.


Limousin doves, which mix realism (through the feathers) and stylisation, are difficult to date. The Museum dove appears to be one of the oldest preserved specimens, dating back to the years 1200, as is the one from Amiens which features two decorative banners with vermiculated patterns on the wings, and the “second generation” dating back to 1215-1235, characterized by the image of one single decorative banner on the wings and also by the absence of gems. Although they are less frequent, Eucharistic doves will endure till after the XIII Century and even after the Middle Ages.


(Source - Christine Descatoire (Curator - Museum of the Middle Ages)



This piece is unique in France through its style and in particular through the method used to decorate wings, on the single piece lid, with engraved feather-like patterns. This skill used to process feathers and birds wings is reminiscent of a tradition recorded in Normandy.

In the olden days, in Correze, another eucharistic dove was preserved in the Church of Laguenne, but it was issued from a different process. The Museum has a photography of that object which has unfortunately disappeared today.


This type of dove was used to keep the consacreted hosts, and was usually suspended, by means of small chains, above the main altar, either directly from the ceiling, or under a ciborium (small domed building, standing on colunms) or a peristerium…

Two types of eucharistic vessels were mostly in use in the first basilicas:  one shaped as a tower (symbole of strengh) and the other as a dove. Doves are inheritied from Antiquity where they were symbol of love. Later on, for Christians, doves became, not only the symbol of Divine Love, but also that of various moral virtues and of the Holy Spirit (in the latter, doves hang above the Baptisteries).


According to Anastasis’ writings, the most ordinary materials for this type of doves were gold, silver or egilded enamel copper. However, in certain cases, ivory, wood and wicker were used.


(Source- Labenche Museum of Brive)


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