MS M.890, fols. 11v–12r

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Fountains Abbey bestiary

England, probably North Yorkshire
ca. 1325–1350
227 x 152 mm

Gift of Alastair Bradley Martin, 1958

MS M.890, fols. 11v–12r
Page description: 

Left Page (Fol. 11v)
This half-nude siren—part maiden, part bird, and part fish—is shown singing. Sirens were thought to lull sailors to sleep with their sweet voices before tearing them to pieces with their talons.

Partridge: These scenes illustrate two beliefs about partridges conveyed in the bestiary: that it is a deceitful creature, which pillages the eggs of other birds and raises the chicks as its own; and that the males engage in homosexual practices, indicated here by showing the birds back to back.

According to the text, cranes travel in a military formation and work as a unit to protect one another at night, keeping watch in rotations. As illustrated here, these birds were thought to eat sand or gather small stones as ballast to counter strong winds.

Right Page (Fol. 12r)
The bestiary tells us that parrots are green birds from India with red neck-rings (visible in the drawing), a hard beak, and a skull so thick that you have to use an iron rod to teach it the language of men.

The caladrius is a pure white bird associated with God and found in the courts of kings. An invalid will die if the caladrius turns away from him, but if, as here, the bird looks directly at him, he will live: the bird will absorb his illness and take it to the sun to be burned, leaving the man healed.