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February 4, 2022

The Elephants of Constantinople That Would Make the Sign of the Cross With Their Trunks

In the Ecclesiastical History of John, Bishop of Ephesus (Bk. 2), we have a historical record of a resident of Constantinople in the late sixth century. There he gives an eye-witness account of the following miracle that took place with elephants in Constantinople:

There were at that time at Constantinople some elephants, whose conduct excited wonder and astonishment. Now it may easily happen that those who are given to ridicule will find only an occasion for derision in lighting upon a narrative of the acts of irrational animals in our histories: but we do not record it without reason, or, so to say, foolishly, but first of all for the glory of God, and secondly for the refutation and conviction of heathens and Jews, and of all other mistaken persons, who deny the cross, and reject the dispensation of our Savior, the sign of which is the cross upon which it was wrought.

These elephants then were part of the spoil captured after a victory, which God gave the Christians over the accursed people of the Magians; and being sent to Constantinople, continued there a long time; and whenever they passed a church, the foremost elephant, who was marching in their front, turned round towards the east, and bowed down his head and trunk, and made obeisance; and then, raising up his trunk, he waved it round, and made the sign of the cross, and signed himself, and so passed on. And next, the second would raise his trunk, and act in the same manner; and the rest in order unto the last. And this we have often seen with our own eyes, while we wondered and praised God, Who had given the knowledge of Christianity even to dumb animals, for the rebuke of those who have the gift of reason, and yet neglect Christianity, and despise the grace of Him Who has saved our sinful race.

And there was another similar practice of these animals equally wonderful and astonishing, and which they never failed to perform whenever the customary horseraces were held in the Hippodrome. For these elephants were always brought in, each with his conductor on his neck; and standing in the Hippodrome opposite the emperor, they bowed down, and made their obeisance to him to the best of their ability, and as far as their nature would permit. And then each one of them made the sign of the cross with his trunk, and signed himself before the emperor: while the crowds assembled there were amazed and astonished to see them use the sign of the cross exactly like men. And finally, the emperor made them presents, and they retired.