colored pencil and watercolor
12” x 12" 2009

“Beatitude, in my opinion, is a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want.”
–St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 A.D.)

The Sermon on the Mount is both the beginning and the summation of Jesus’ teachings. It opens with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), a step-by-step path to virtue that also describes what the world will be like when goodness and generosity prevail over evil and selfishness.

These drawings are my personal meditation on the meaning of the eight Beatitudes. Using traditional Christian iconography as a starting point, I created images of birds and plants symbolically and visually appropriate to each Beatitude.


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

To be poor in spirit is to recognize that one cannot achieve salvation by one's own merits. Just as the poor must depend on the wealthy to sustain them in this world, so must all depend on the generosity of God to be saved and thereby gain the kingdom of heaven.
The skylark represents the humility of the poor in spirit. It lives quietly in the fields and only sings its joyous song when it is flying high in the sky. Similarly, the pea is a humble plant but it strives to grow toward heaven. The butchers broom plant, which grows in barren and forsaken places, symbolizes poverty. The cornflower, because of its deep blue color, has often been used in art to signify heaven.


Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Those who mourn over the evil in the world and whose sorrow over their own sinfulness leads them to repentance are blessed with the comfort of forgiveness and salvation by the grace of God.
The plaintive cry of the mourning dove gave it its name and makes it an apt representative of sorrow. Other symbols of mourning and sorrow are the weeping willow and violets, which are said to be the first flowers to grow on a new grave. The bright red anemone, a symbol of grief since ancient times, came to be associated with the drops of blood Christ shed at his crucifixion. The thistle plant represents earthly sin and sorrow: when Adam and Eve were cursed for their sinfulness, God said: “cursed is the ground. . . thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth.” (Gen. 3:17-18). The goldfinch feeding on the thistle is often seen in medieval paintings of the Christ child as a representative of the souls he came to save. The broom plant signifies repentance, for according to the herbalists; although it has a bitter taste it provides healing.


Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
The meek are not powerless, but rather, their strengths and desires are under control and submitted to the will of God. They believe that although the wicked seem to possess the world at present, ultimately those who persist in goodness will overcome.
The small, tenacious sparrows represent the meek. The ox-eye daisy and horsetail plant stand in for the ox and the horse. The Greek word for meek (praus) referred to domesticated animals such as the horse or ox that were strong but well disciplined. The grapes and other fruits represent the richness of the land that the meek will inherit.


Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
The only desire whose fulfillment lasts is the yearning for virtue and righteousness. If those who are dissatisfied with the world as it is strive to provide justice and charity for all, they will receive the satisfaction of a more fair and generous world.
The hard-working woodpecker that persistently pursues insects under the tree's bark has been likened to the virtuous person combating the forces of evil. The plantain plant, because it is a weed that can survive on even the most well-trodden path, is a symbol of the many righteous who seek the path of Christ. The cedar of Lebanon tree is associated with the righteous in Psalm 92: “The righteous. . . .shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” The wild strawberry is a traditional symbol of virtue. Because the pine cone holds a sweet fruit within that can only be opened by fire, it, too, represents virtue. The coneflower signifies justice. The hart, represented here by the stag-horn beetle and the deer tongue plant is an allegory of the human soul longing for heaven.


Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Mercy is the greatest charity. All seek to share in another's good fortune; those ruled by charity are willing to share in another's misfortune. Those who practice mercy are truly blessed for they have achieved the highest virtue.
Legend says that the robin tried to relieve Christ's suffering on the cross by plucking the thorns from the crown of thorns on his head. Christ's blood stained its breast red forever. The terebinth tree represents mercy because it spreads its branches protectively over mankind. Lemon balm, with its soothing properties, red roses, the pomegranate fruit, and crocuses are all traditional symbols of mercy.


Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
The pure of heart of are those who have simple and sincere good intentions toward their neighbors. Their virtuous actions make the will of God visible.
The snowy owl represents purity with its white color as well as the wisdom to see God. The snowdrop flower also indicates purity. The chamomile herb is used for its cleansing properties. A symbol of purity and spiritual awakening in Asian religions, the lotus starts its life in the mud at the bottom of a pond but grows toward the light and emerges from the water as a beautiful flower. The oak tree grows taller than most other trees and has the hardest bark. Therefore, it was seen as an indication of internal contemplation of heaven.


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
The children of God are at peace with themselves because they have pacified the discord within themselves between the flesh and the spirit. They also strive to make peace between others, recognizing that peace must be made by mutual understanding, not won by conquest.
The kingfisher's original name was halcyon, and in ancient legend was believed to nest at sea at the time of the winter solstice and to calm the waves during its incubation time. The male kingfisher here perches on an olive branch, a symbol of peace from both pagan and biblical sources. The peace lily acquired its name because its flowers resemble flags of truce. The rainbow, God's message of peace to mankind after the flood, is represented by the rainbow trout and the iris flower, named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow.


Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
For those with great faith, their desire to do right translates into virtuous action that may bring them ridicule and persecution. This is the summit of the Beatitudes and those who ascend to this height will reach the kingdom of heaven.
In medieval bestiaries the heron was noted as consistent in its diet and not easily tempted by alien foods. It was therefore used as a symbol of the faithful believer who was steadfast on the correct path. The guinea fowl flower and the cactus represent persecution. The lily of the valley flower is also known as the ladder to heaven plant. The trumpet creeper vine flowers represent the trumpets that announce an entrance into heaven. The hyacinth is a symbol of rebirth and resurrection.

Special thanks to Fr. Francis V. Ferrier, S.J., whose homily on the Beatitudes planted the seed for these drawings.

©2008 Mary Lee Eggart
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