As we toured Stirling Castle in May of 2008, we viewed the incredible set of Unicorn Tapestries. These really deserve–and probably will eventually get–a topic to themselves. Suffice it to say for now, what struck me was our tour guide’s comment that what is merely a pretty, crowded picture to a modern viewer was an entire story to a medieval viewer.
While we see simply men hunting a unicorn, they saw a secular story of “the search and capture of the lover bridegroom” (quote from the Metropolitan Museum’s site, linked above), or a Christian allegory of Christ’s persecution and suffering. We see a garden like any other; the red and white roses tell the medieval viewer of Mary’s charity and virginity.
For more on symbolism in medieval life, see Laura’s Blog.