Explainer: from bloodthirsty beast to saccharine symbol – the history and origins of the unicorn

The unicorn is an enduring image in contemporary society: a symbol of cuteness, magic, and children’s birthday parties.

But while you might dismiss this one-horned creature as just a product for Instagram celebrities and five-year-old girls, we can trace the lineage of the unicorn from the 4th century BCE. It evolved from a bloodthirsty monster, to a tranquil animal bringing peace and serenity (which can only be captured by virgins), to a symbol of God and Christ. TheConversation.com

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Unicorn
The Rochester Bestiary (c late 1200s) draws on Physiologus to represent the unicorn as the spirit of Jesus. Wikipedia Commons

Hidden Edinburgh

The Cabinet

Crowds clog Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more. AtlasObscura.com

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Naked Cooks, Excrement, Rats: The Secretly Disgusting History of Royal Palaces

Louis XV's toilette
Louis XV’s toilette at the Palace of Versailles.
DeAgostini/Getty Images

In July of 1535, King Henry VIII and his court of over 700 people embarked on an epic official tour. Over the next four months the massive entourage would visit around 30 different royal palaces, aristocratic residences and religious institutions. While these stops were important PR events for the king, designed to spark loyalty in his subjects, royal households had another reason entirely for their constant movement. History.com

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Magical seals in an English Book of Hours

In addition to containing the daily cycle of prayer, Books of Hours sometimes include magical spells or incantations, reflecting their lay owners’ concerns over physical and spiritual dangers. Stowe MS 16, a Book of Hours produced in London shortly before 1410, is an interesting example. This manuscript is mainly known to scholars because it includes a miniature of the Annunciation that has been attributed to Herman Scheerre (fl. c. 1388–c. 1422), a Flemish or German illuminator who was one of the most influential artists in early 15th-century England. blogs.bl.uk

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Magic SealsThe Hours of the Virgin Mary (London, c. 1410): Stowe MS 16, f. 9r