Gabriel Feather

A single Bird feather housed in El Escorial Palace near Madrid, Spain.

Etymology: Said to have come from a wing of the Archangel Gabriel.

Physical description: A rose-colored feather of extraordinary beauty.

Present status: Acquired by El Escorial sometime after the palace was built between 1563 and 1584 by King Philip II. Seen in 1787 by William Beckford. Apparently, the Monastery of San Lorenzo at the palace no longer owns this relic.

P-'ossible explanations:

(1) A feather of the Resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) of Central America, a bird of the Trogon family sacred to the Aztec and Maya Indians and famous for its plumage. But the prized wing and tail feathers of the male are green, not rose.

(2) A plume from one of New Guinea's Birds of paradise (Family Paradisaeidae). Survivors of Ferdinand Magellan's voyage around the world took back to Portugal skins of these birds obtained from the island's inhabitants in 1522. Count Raggi's bird of paradise (Paradisea raggiana) has rose-colored plumes, which Karl Shuker suggests might account for the Gabriel feather.

Sources: William Beckford, Italy: With Sketches ofSpain and Portugal, vol. 2 (London: R. Bently, 1834); Karl Shuker, "Angel Feathers and Feathered Snakes," Strange Magazine, no. 19 (Spring 1998): 24-25; Karl Shuker, Mysteries of Planet Earth (London: Carlton, 1999), pp. 150-153.

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