After seven days, the rain begins and Noah and his household embark onto their Ark. For “forty days and nights”, it rains so heavily that the entire earth is flooded, it’s inhabitants drowned. Noah’s Ark, meanwhile, carried by the deluge, is lifted higher and higher. After the rain stops, the earth remains flooded for another hundred and fifty days before the waters begin abating and the mountaintops can be seen. Noah’s ark ends up resting on the mountains of Ararat.
The mosaics of San Marco illustrate the rain accumulating into a body of water amassed with drowned people and animals. The window of Noah’s Ark can subtly bee seen in the background, persevering through this fatal cataclysm. The San Marco artists might be alluding to the subtle nature of Arks of Ancient Wisdom, overlooked by the majority of their own age and recognized only posthumously.
To ascertain whether the coast is clear and whether it is time to disembark, Noah opens a window and sends out a raven and a dove. The raven passes “to and fro”. In the San Marco mosaics, it is shown feeding on floating carrion. The dove, however, returns, not having found clear grounds on which to alight. After seven more days, Noah sends the dove again, and it returns bearing an olive leaf, indicating that there was, indeed, dry land. After another week, when Noah sends the dove a third time, it never returns.
This is a pivotal moment in the Ark myth. Preserving the forms of an age, its literature, art, architecture and technology, while certainly a large undertaking, in fact, is relatively simple. Being physical, these forms require only physical preservation and periodic restoration. But preserving the spirit that inspired these creations–preserving the spark that appeared to Noah in the first place–is an altogether different effort. In esoteric Christianity, the white dove represents this spirit. Its presence in Noah’s Ark signifies that both the ancient forms and the spirit from which they were created–the Ancient Wisdom they convey–are in need of preservation from Time. Furthermore, form lasts much longer than spirit–or perhaps because of the difference in their respective natures, form is slower than spirit–and thus, the dove is the first to leave the Ark once the waters abate.