The Transmission of the Three Hares from East to West
The map above shows sites associated with the three hares across Eurasia. The easternmost marker is Dunhuang in China and the clusters in Western Europe and in Britain can clearly be seen.
The three hares motif may have travelled from east to west along the Silk Road and through the medium of textile. In the medieval period, precious silks from the Orient, many woven with gold thread, were used in western churches for wrapping holy relics, for vestments, as altar cloths, palls for shrines and as linings in holy books. It is known that designs from these silks influenced medieval artists and church craftsmen. In Exeter Cathedral, the tomb of Bishop Walter Bronescombe, who died in 1280, is painted with a representation of an oriental textile.
The capture of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204 also released a wealth of oriental artistry into the West.
Whatever the mode of transmission, the journey of the three hares is remarkable indeed.
C13 Tomb of Bishop Walter Bronescombe, Exeter Cathedral, Devon. © Chris Chapman