Eric Gill (1882‑1940)
Madonna and Child in Vesica
Wood engraving on paper
105 x 44 mm
Tate Britain, London
The vesica piscis or almond (mandorla) is a symbol of ogival shape which appears when two circles of the same radius, intersect in such a way that the centre of each circle lies on the circumference of the other.
It has two meanings in Christian iconography
First by referring to the fruit of the almond, and the seed in general, it is a symbol of Life
Second, as the intersection of two circles it represents the intersection of two worlds, the human and the divine. It is therefore only meet that Jesus the Divine Word made man, is shown as the mediator between the two realities
Unfortunately the cultists, the phony mystics and the New Ageists have attempted to hijack the symbolism
The similarity of the shape to "icthus", a fish is not perhaps without coincidence
As well as in religious painting the shape is also seem in architecture: for example, in a Gothic tympanum of a doorway.
Here we see the shape to full effect in a tenth century illustrated manuscript in The British Library in London:
Christ Enthroned Among the Choirs of Heaven
From The Aethelstan Psalter
Ink and pigments on vellum
F.21r, Cotton MS Galba A XVIII
The British Library, London
Here we see Christ seated on the heavenly Jerusalem and holding a cross, with the wound in his side and the Alpha and Omega at his shoulders.
He is borne in a mandorla, the pointed shape which indicates a 'view into heaven' and often implies vision of the Second Coming.
The ranks of the choirs of martyrs, confessors, and virgins, identified by labels, surround him
The almond is the first flower of spring and Pope Francis has on a number of occasions spoken of the image of the almond blossom.
On the Vigil of Pentecost 2013 he said:
"This experience of faith is important. We say we must seek God, go to him and ask forgiveness, but when we go, he is waiting for us, he is there first!
In Spanish we have a word that explains this well: primerear — the Lord always gets there before us, he gets there first, he is waiting for us! To find someone waiting for you is truly a great grace. You go to him as a sinner, but he is waiting to forgive you.
This is the experience that the Prophets of Israel describe, comparing the Lord to almond blossom, the first flower of spring (cf. Jer 1:11-12). Before any other flowers appear, he is there, waiting.
The Lord is waiting for us. Moreover, when we seek him, we discover that he is waiting to welcome us, to offer us his love. And this fills your heart with such wonder that you can hardly believe it, and this is how your faith grows — through encounter with a Person, through encounter with the Lord.
Some people will say, “No, I prefer to read about faith in books!” It is important to read about faith, but look, on its own this is not enough! What is important is our encounter with Jesus, our encounter with him, and this is what gives you faith because he is the one who gives it to you!"