There are many, many descriptions of this legendary bird. Al-Jili considers the phoenix a prime example of unseen things (such as God), which can only be understood through their names and attributes.
Some describe the phoenix as an eagle-sized bird; half eagle and half pheasant. Others say it is heron-like or a conglomeration of the most beautiful parts of all the birds in the world.
Its name comes from the Greek word for "purple" because the phoenix is associated with fire and the sun. It has been described as golden or multicolored. Some say it never eats. Others say it eats only dew. Most believe there is only one of its kind and it lives alone in Arabia or Ethiopia. All agree it is a bird of great beauty.
The Phoenix enjoys immortality, which had to be renewed with fire every 300 to 500 years. When the end of its life cycle drew near, the phoenix would gather aromatic herbs, woods, and spices from around the world with which to build its own funeral pyre or nest.
Sitting in the nest, and having turned to face the rays of the sun, beating its wings, it deliberately fans the flames for itself and is consumed in the fire. Once the old body was consumed, the phoenix would be reborn from a worm, its marrow, or an egg found among the ashes and would embark on another 500 years of life.
According to some legends, the renewed phoenix carried its old bones to the City of the Sun in Egypt where they were disposed of with special funeral rites.
Wherever it is found, the phoenix is associated with resurrection, immortality, triumph over adversity, and that which rises out of the ashes. Thus it became a favorite symbol on early Christian tombstones.
In chapters 25-26 of his letter to the Corinthians, St. Clement, Bishop of Rome, upheld the legendary phoenix as an evidence of Christ's ability to accomplish the resurrection of the faithful. He quotes Job as saying, "Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things."
In numerous ways, the phoenix was found to be a symbol of Christ. In most countries, it was believed that only one phoenix lived at a time. It was born from itself without following the natural laws of reproduction. During the Middle Ages, it was believed to rise from the dead after three days.
Often, as an emblem of Christ, it was found with the palm tree (another symbol of resurrection) or carrying a palm branch (a symbol of triumph over death), or carrying an olive branch (a symbol of God's peace offered to humans).
The Phoenix is symbolic of rebirth, hope, purity, chastity, marriage, faith, constancy, summer, eternity, immortality, and light.
It is an image of the cosmic fire some believe the world began and will end in. The Taoists called it the "cinnabar bird." Romans placed the phoenix on coins and medals as an emblem of their desire for the Roman Empire to last forever.