Since ancient times, the butterfly has been a powerful symbol of life beyond death. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks placed golden butterflies in tombs, as part of the grave goods -symbolising immortality and new life.
For early Christians the symbolism was obviously appropriate: The humble caterpillar changes state, wrapped tightly in a shroudlike chrysalis with no sign of life until weeks or even months later, the shroud is torn open and a new life emerges, unimaginably more beautiful than the first.
…Resurrection…It’s frankly unimaginable for us humans, but the Butterfly -with its extraordinary life-cycle, provides an aid to our imaginations… Echoing the humble earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth -who after being put to death, was wrapped tightly in grave clothes and committed to a borrowed tomb. His reappearance on the third day, still bore all the deep wounds of crucifixion, yet was remarkably changed from the exhausted, beaten and crucified carpenter his friends had last seen -so that they thought him at first a stranger until his words and actions revealed his identity…
Over the weekend , the BBC’s Natural World series presented a documentary on ‘Butterflies: A Very British Obsession’ (Fri 17/12/10 at 8pm BBC Two). As well as featuring a few unusually devoted lepidopterists (people who study Butterflies), it was full of interesting facts and spectacular footage of butterflies and caterpillars; and touched too on the significance that Butterflies continue to hold for so many people – both as beautiful creatures and as symbols of transformation and hope.
Two pieces of information particularly caught my attention; the first, as I had often wondered: What happens to all the butterflies in winter? I knew that some hibernate as adults -when I was very young I first saw Peacock butterflies in the garden shed during winter -wings folded like faded leaves, waiting for warm sun to wake them. Others it transpires, lie dormant as eggs or caterpillars, or even hang snow-covered on frozen branches, in chrysalis form.
The second fact, was that despite living for only an average of two or three weeks, the delicate ‘painted lady’ butterflies, migrate than 1,000 miles from North Africa to Europe and reach the shores of the UK in their thousands. Imagine that.
So I think if a tiny butterfly can use up most of its short life in flying across the ocean. I can walk the countryside of Britain in 73 days.