The Griffin
The Iconography
The Griffin is a mythical beast with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Griffins came into Greek mythology as guardians of the treasures of Apollo. In Christian art, they functioned originally as symbols of Satan but later were used to symbolize the union of Christ's divine and human natures (example).1

A late example of the satanic symbolism is outside St. Anthony's basilica, where two huge griffins grasp men and beasts in their paws (second picture at right). Perhaps the most notable example of the christological symbolism is in Dante's Purgatorio used the Griffin to represent Christ in the (cantos 29:106-114, 31:118-26).

Griffins also appear in heraldry. In the first picture on the right, of a broken fragment from a French monastery, the griffin could have been intended either as a symbol of Christ or as a heraldic reference to a sponsor.

Prepared in 2018 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.


A griffin carved into a tribune in France. (See the description page.)

A ciborium fragment with griffins attacking a lion. (See the description page.)


  • Sometimes spelled "gryphon," or rarely "griffon"



1 Impelluso, 374.