The symbol features three hares or rabbits chasing each other in a circle. The three hares appear on le Moyen-Âge fantastique. Antiquités et exotismes dans l’art gothique PDF century Mongol metalwork, and on a copper coin, found in Iran, dated to 1281. Another appears on an ancient Islamic-made reliquary from southern Russia. Another 13th or early 14th century box, later used as a reliquary, was made in Iran under Mongol rule, and is preserved in the treasury of the Cathedral of Trier in Germany.
One theory pertaining to the spread of the motif is that it was transported from China across Asia and as far as the south west of England by merchants travelling the silk road and that the motif was transported via designs found on expensive Oriental ceramics. This view is supported by the early date of the surviving occurrences in China. Some claim that the Devon name, Tinners’ Rabbits, is related to local tin miners adopting it. The mines generated wealth in the region and funded the building and repair of many local churches, and thus the symbol may have been used as a sign of the miners’ patronage. Where it occurs in England, the three hares motif usually appears in a prominent place in the church, such as the central rib of the chancel roof, or on a central rib of the nave. This suggests that the symbol held significance to the church, and casts doubt on the theory that they may have been a masons’ or carpenters’ signature marks. In Judaism, the « shafan » in Hebrew has symbolic meaning.
The hare frequently appears in the form of the symbol of the « rotating rabbits ». Yet every one of them has two. Not only do they appear among floral and animal ornaments, but they are often in a distinguished location, directly above the Torah ark, the place where the holy scriptures repose. Der Hasen und der Löffel drei und doch hat jeder Hase zwei. Drei Hasen und der ohren drei und doch hat Keiner mehr ais Zwei.