Signs and symbols: the deer
“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” Psalm 42:1
“He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.” Psalm 18:33
The Bible is full of imagery and references to animals are found throughout, both literally and metaphorically.
Deer and related animals such as gazelle, antelope and mountain goats are among the most frequently mentioned. Deer are a common feature of many of Peter’s paintings:
In Christianity, the deer represents many things. They are a symbol of forgiveness, piety and purity.
They also symbolise the joy of loving Christ. In the Song of Solomon, the Shulammite compares her beloved, Solomon, to a deer several times.
“Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.” Song of Solomon 2:8
The deer is also a symbol for Christ himself. In many of Peter’s paintings the deer is seen pierced by a spear or lance, a reference to Jesus’ side being pierced by the Roman soldier while he was on the cross.
St Eustace was said to have been converted when he had a vision of a stag with a Crucifix between its horns, and a voice commanding him to convert.
“Save yourself like a gazelle escaping from a hunter, like a bird fleeing from a net.” Proverbs 6:5