Animals birds and fish are common motifs amongst early graffiti inscriptions, but it is rare to be able to assign a likely meaning to them.
In the Bible and in medieval art there are references to a number of specific types of bird, such as the Holy Spirit symbolised as a dove and St John the Evangelist as an eagle. Most inscribed birds, however, are stylised and cannot be identified as a particular type, and we do not know if they represented spiritual or earthly beings. The example of a bird shown here has a cross on its back so presumably had a religious meaning.
As the image of a fish (or the acronymn ICHTHYS – Greek for ‘fish’) was an early symbol of Christianity, it seems possible that fish inscribed in churches could also represent the faith in some way. Although It has been suggested that the Christian association with the fish image was lost by the middle ages, its current use among Christians deriving from its re-adoption in the late 20th century.
It is notable that the animals that would have been most familiar to the majority of people, farm animals, horses, rabbits, dogs and cats are rarely found as graffiti, whereas deer and hunting dogs are more common.