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The mythical and the supernatural: Beasts and beings of St John’s College

Statue of a yale at St John's. Image credit: Paul Everest
Sat, 21/10/2017

The yale, a mythical beast found in European mythology, is an iconic symbol of St John’s College. The curious creatures with elephants' tails, antelopes' bodies, goats' heads, and horns which can swivel from back to front, are from the coat of arms of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII who founded St John’s College in 1511.

The treasures from the Special Collections on display for this exhibition feature not only yales, but a wealth of other mythical beasts and supernatural beings. Magnificent illustrations from manuscripts, rare books and magic scrolls depict wonders of the human imagination including sea monsters, chimeras, angels and demons. Early illustrations will show how real animals were often depicted beside creatures with no basis in reality and myths were perpetuated by traveller’s tales. The exhibition will ask why belief in the real existence of mythical beats and supernatural beings was so popular and enduring and will offer an insight into the role they have played in literature, art and nonfiction.