As an astrological term, cardinal is one of the qualities which are associated with a sign of the zodiac.

Traits associated with cardinal signs are an ability to come up with new ideas and courses of action. They are self-starters and may enjoy taking charge of projects. On the down side, this may tend to induce a bit of inflexibility or a "control freak" mentality.

These are named cardinal, because when looking at a wheel of zodiac signs, these signs are at north, south, east, and west -- the cardinal points on a compass.

The qualities: cardinal, fixed, mutable
In the Catholic Church, a cardinal is a special advisor to the Pope. Cardinals play an important role in assisting the Pope, but they are best-known as the group of people responsible for electing a Pope when this is necessary. The conclave where a Pope is elected is a very old-fashioned and dramatic event, but it is only a small part of the activity of a cardinal.

The cardinals (the etymology of the word is disputed) were originally the leading members of the clergy of the diocese of Rome. Like clergy in other dioceses, they were responsible to advise their bishop and had various rights, including the right to elect the bishop's successor. During the Middle Ages, as the importance of the Bishop of Rome increased, the College of Cardinals became more and more powerful. Naturally, Catholics outside Rome felt that it was inappropriate for a small group of Roman clergy to control the governing of the entire Church, and so the College of Cardinals became increasingly international. However, a person appointed to the College of Cardinals is still given a symbolic rank within the Roman clergy of "cardinal bishop," "cardinal priest," or "cardinal deacon," and the bishops and priests are assigned dioceses or parishes within Rome (although these offices are administered by full-time pastors).

Although the Pope can appoint anyone as a cardinal, it has become understood that the bishops of major dioceses and the heads of the congregations, or Vatican departments, will be made cardinals. The College was heavily dominated by Roman and Italian members until very recently--and Italians are still significantly over-represented in the College. The balance of cardinals was altered after Vatican II. Various Popes increased the number of active cardinals from 70 to 120, and decided that cardinals over 80 lost their right to vote for a new Pope. Thus, more communities in the Third World are represented in the College than ever before.

A concept of set theory, the primary means of counting the number of items in a set.

A fundamental concept in set theory is the notion of the one-to-one correspondence. As it turns out, "can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with" is an equivalence relation.

Furthermore, the Numeration Theorem (requiring the Axiom of Choice) states that for each set, there is an ordinal that can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with it.

This means that each of the equivalence classes contains at least one ordinal.

The principle of least ordinal number (which follows from the basic definition of ordinals) then leads us to conclude that we can pick a least ordinal number out of each equivalence class. These least ordinals are called cardinals. Notice that this clashes with Webster_1913's distinction between cardinals and ordinals.

Every set is associated with exactly one cardinal.

Each finite cardinal is the same as a natural number, that is, 0, 1, 2, 3, and so on. It's not hard to see how a set with three elements can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with any other set with three elements, but not with any set containing two elements.

It is harder to see how to assign cardinal numbers to sets with infinite numbers of elements. Nevertheless, it can be done.

We can place the set of all integers into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of all even integers: For each integer i, we assign the integer 2*i. Thus:

(0, 0) (1, 2) (2, 4) (3, 6) (4, 8) ....

We are putting a set into a one-to-one correspondence with a proper subset of itself! This is a hallmark of an infinite set.

It turns out that a great many sets can be placed into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of integers. An important one is the set of rational numbers.  However, there are sets that have no such correspondence, the most notable of which is the set of real numbers, which Cantor proved using his famous diagonal argument.

Infinite cardinals are symbolized with the Hebrew letter aleph.   The smallest aleph is the cardinal number for the set of integers.  This is symbolized aleph0, but is often called aleph-null, and since it is the same as the ordinal omega it is also often called omega-null.   Since for each set there exists a larger set, we symbolize the next larger cardinal aleph1. This sequence can be extended indefinitely: , aleph2, aleph3,..., alephaleph-0 ,...

The existence of alephs outside this sequence is a matter of some controversy because some mathematicians are uncomfortable with the axiom of choice and its equivalent, the well-ordering theorem.

A somewhat less-disputed matter is Cantor's continuum hypothesis:  The notion that the cardinality of the real numbers is aleph1.  This concept is in less dispute because it is known that it cannot be proven from the other axioms of set theory.

The original notion of a cardinal came from Gottlob Frege. Frege defined a cardinal as one of the equivalence classes described above. However, we know today that these classes cannot be represented by sets.

Forunately, in 1894 and 1895, Georg Cantor refined the definition of a cardinal to the notion of a least ordinal as stated above. This is also when he introduced the aleph notation.

Although Cantor was able to show that for every set there exists a larger set, he could not prove his assertion that his alephs existed in a strictly well-ordered sequence. This had to wait for Ernst Zermelo to prove the well-ordering theorem in 1908.   This resort to the axiom of choice led to a rift in mathematical thought that was only quelled when Kurt Godel's Incompleteness Theorem showed the dispute to be pointless in 1938.

Serving Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., and intermediate points

Amtrak train number: 50 and 51

Predecessor railroad train numbers: None

Effective October 30, 1977, Amtrak's James Whitcomb Riley became the Cardinal, apparently because the ticket agents were sick of explaining to people who James Whitcomb Riley was and how he got a train named after him. The Cardinal name came from the fact that it was the state bird of every state the train passed through (Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois).

A section of the train that ran between Newport News and Charlottesville was soon discontinued, and then the entire train was discontinued in late 1981. However, intense lobbying by the state of West Virginia and the city of Cincinnati managed to get it reinstated in early 1982, albeit without full dining car service and on a three-day-a-week schedule that continues to the present day; the route was also extended to New York.

On April 27, 1986, the Cardinal was rerouted to serve Indianapolis over a different route than the James Whitcomb Riley had been forced to move off in 1974. A train called the Hoosier State had been running daily between Chicago and Indianapolis, and the Cardinal took over its schedule on the three days of the week it operated. For a brief period in the late 1980s, the four-day-a-week Chicago-Indianapolis train was renamed the Cardinal, but that proved to be too confusing, so the Hoosier State name returned.

On December 17, 1999, it became a daily train between Chicago and Jeffersonville, Indiana, later extended to Louisville, named the Kentucky Cardinal. After the Kentucky Cardinal was discontinued in 2003, the Cardinal name returned to the four-day-a-week Chicago-Indianapolis service.

In 1996, on-board service on the Cardinal was upgraded with the addition of Superliners, which brought a full dining car back to the train but meant the route had to be truncated in Washington, D.C. because the Superliners couldn't run under the Northeast Corridor catenary.

In the spring and summer of 2002, following a derailment on the Auto Train, the Cardinal temporarily became a single-level train again so that its equipment could replace the damaged Superliners in the Auto Train equipment pool.

Condensed historical timetables:

           READ DOWN                                             READ UP
(1979)  (1987)  (1994)  (2002)                       (2002)  (1994)  (1987)  (1979)
 -----   9:45A   9:42A   ----- Dp New York        Ar  -----  11:30P  10:48P   -----
 9:35P   1:50P   1:45P  10:35A    Washington          7:35P   7:05P   7:10P   8:35A
12:02A   4:25P   4:20P   1:13P    Charlottesville     4:37P   4:11P   4:50P   5:47A
11:22A   3:50A   3:55A  11:59P    Cincinnati          5:29A   5:00A   4:45A   6:46P
 -----   7:00A   7:45A   3:50A    Indianapolis        1:55A  11:59P  11:40P   -----
 2:28P   -----   -----   -----    Muncie              -----   -----   -----   3:25P
 6:15P  11:20A  11:25A   8:37A Ar Chicago         Dp  7:45P   7:40P   7:00P   9:55A

The Amtrak Train Names Project

In nautical terms, cardinals are danger markers in shipping channels. There are four types of cardinal, each corresponding to one of the four main points on the compass; north, east, south and west. They are painted black and yellow, have different set flashes at night, and are surmounted by two black triangles which denote the cardinal type. They are identified in the following ways;

     //\\      North Cardinal
     ||||      Two upward triangles
     ||||      Black stem with yellow base
     |  |      Constantly flashing white light
   ./    \.

     \\//      East Cardinal
     ||||      One upward, one downward pointing triangle (an 'East'er egg)
     |  |      Stem is black - yellow - black
     |  |      Flashes white three times per cycle

     \\//      South Cardinal
     |  |      Two downward pointing triangles
     |  |      Yellow Stem with black base
     ||||      Flashes white for six short and one long per cycle (seven altogether) 

     //\\       West Cardinal
     |  |       One downward, one upward pointing triangle (shaped like Mae West)
     ||||       Stem is yellow - black - yellow
     ||||       Flashes white nine time per cycle
   ./    \.

If you encounter a cardinal marker when at sea, you should pass it keeping it on the side it marks. For example, you would stay on the north side of a north cardinal. They are commonly used to mark sandbanks, spits or obstructions in a river channels and are, like most buoys, best identified at night.

for a better picture of the above ascii!

When the redbird spread his sable wing,
And showed his side of flame;
When the rosebud ripened to the rose,
In both I read thy name.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thine Eyes Still Shined"

Scientific Name

  • Cardinalis cardinalis or
  • Richmondena cardinalis or
  • Cardinalis virginianus

    The Northern Cardinal, an American songbird of the finch family (Fringillid[ae]).

    Other Names

    The Northern Cardinal is also known as:

  • Cardinal (the most common referent)
  • Cardinal-bird, or cardinal bird
  • Cardinal grosbeak
  • Redbird, or Winter redbird
  • Virginia nightingale
  • History and Behavior

    In England in the 18th century the cardinal was known as the Virginia nightingale. In the 19th century, cardinals were highly-prized cage birds for their color and song. Thousands were trapped to be sold in northern markets and in Europe. This practice ceased with the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

    The name "cardinal" was given to the bird because of the red color of its plumage bringing to mind the red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.

    The alternative name of Winter redbird comes from the fact that its red color stands out more clearly in the snow and that large flocks often are noted in the winter. The cardinal is nonmigratory, though some movement occurs in the summer and early fall. Oringally a southeastern bird, its range has been steadily increasing northward — having reached southern Ontario by 1910, Massachusetts in the 1950s, and having been spotted in the Canadian Maritime Provinces since then — and, to a lesser extent, westward. It extends south through Mexico to Belize, and has been introduced to Hawaii.

    The cardinal's diet consists primarily of seeds and insects, but also includes leaf buds, flowers, berries and fruit. Typical habitats include thickets and brushy areas, edges and clearings, riparian woodlands, parks, and residential areas.

    Appearance and Identification

    Both adult sexes have a high, pointed crest on the head; short, rounded wings; a long tail; dark red legs and feet; and a heavy, conical, coral red bill. The adult male cardinal has nearly all-over bright red plumage, which is dullest on the back and wings, and a black mask around the base of the bill, eye, chin and throat. The adult female's crest, wings and tail are reddish in color, but not the bright red of the male; her back is brownish gray, and her underside is pinkish brown. The juvenile of both sexes appears like the adult female, but more brown in color, a shorter, darker crest, and a darker bill.

    The cardinal is medium-sized, ranging about 8 to 9 inches in length, with the female slightly smaller than the male. It is the only all-red bird with a crest.

    The bird has a variable call, heard year-round, with local variations and "accents" noted. The song is described in some sources as "a loud 'cheer cheer cheer' or 'purty purty purty'." My own description of the former would note a rising tone on the "purTY purTY purTY," though I tend to hear it as a "tooWHIT tooWHIT tooWHIT," and a falling tone on the "CHEeer CHEeer CHEeer," which I tend to hear as "TYEEeel TYEEeel TYEEeel TYEEeel." The song is distinctive, easy to recognize, and fairly easy to imitate whistling. Both sexes sing (unusual for northern songbirds); after the males have established their territories but before nesting begins, females will duet with the males.

    Popular State Bird

    The cardinal is the State Bird for seven U.S. states, more than any other single bird (second most popular, with six states, is the Western Meadowlark):

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Sports Teams

    Additionally, the Cardinal is the mascot of several professional sports teams and innumerable college and high school teams, as is the Redbird.

    A DAY and then a week passed by:
    The redbird hanging from the sill
    Sang not; and all were wondering why
    It was so still—
    When one bright morning, loud and clear,
    Its whistle smote my drowsy ear,
    Ten times repeated, till the sound
    Filled every echoing niche around;
    And all things earliest loved by me,—
    The bird, the brook, the flower, the tree,—
    Came back again, as thus I heard
    The cardinal bird.

    — First stanza of "The Cardinal Bird," William Davis Gallagher

    Some sources consulted during this compilation

    • Chipper Woods Bird Observatory (
    • Cornell Lab of Ornithology (
    • State of Mine: State Bird of Virginia (
    • Northern Cardinal page at the US Geological Survey site (

    At the Cornell Bird Laboratory, the Northern Cardinal is the “WTF?” bird. That is, hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t call them up and want to know what this gorgeous bird is in their backyard. It’s all red, and has a little peak on its head like a cockatoo and it sings really loud. Man, it must be like, ultra-rare or something, I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it, like has been flying around for several days now…
        “It’s called a Cardinal.” The only reason why they’re calling is that most people aren’t birders, and more children, sadly, can identify a Charizard than a Grackle. With their assertive call, “Tu-Wheet! Tu-Wheet! Tu-Wheet! Cheerbird, cheerbird, cheerbird…” and gaudy coloring, they grab attention of even the most non-bird of people.

        Or the caller has heard of one, but the Wisdom of the Street is that they’re really rare, or almost extinct, and they’re calling it in so they can get a reward.

        They’re not. Common as dirt, really. The reason why you haven’t seen more than one at a time is their extreme territoriality: if you’re a male Cardinal, you don’t dare come within sight or earshot of another male Cardinal without a fight. Even hen Cardinals will fight, now and then, which leads to an old custom of putting a decal of a Cardinal on a window, to attract others. Sometimes they will tolerate each other in extreme conditions of cold or drought, or when between broods, but mostly, they aren’t social. 
        Which brings up the other part of the Cardinal equation: hen Cardinals are…shall we say, more subtle. Their red feathers are overlaid by olive-colored ones, and their bills are likely to be yellow or green, as well. The crests on both sexes are expressive: up for interest, down to rest. Oddly for a hen of any feather, they also sing, and will often be heard happily chirping away, while on its nest, waiting for Mr. Cardinal to come home and feed them a grub or something.They'll even sing duets! So cute! So you’ll probably see just one of them, unless you know what to look for. 

    They’re not shy of humans, and easy to feed, since they basically eat almost any kind of bird food. They especially like sunflower seeds, and a treat of peanut butter or nutmeats cut small. In a garden, they like holly berries, and watching Cardinals feed on a holly in the snow is one of the loveliest sights of Winter.  People used to cage them like canaries, but it’s illegal, and they’re happier outside your house than in it. With a window feeder, and good feed, it's almost like they're pets, anyway, so?Towards Spring and in the Fall, the hens will gorge in advance of their brood, three or four brown-specked eggs in a low nest, preferably in a bramble bush or other undergrowth, which rules out heavy urban areas, but are just as happy in a park, or some overgrown vacant lots for them to nest in as The Forest Primeval, and so they’ve invaded the Rust Belt and any number of places where they haven’t been seen before. Once you have a pair in the backyard, expect them all year round for at least ten years.  

      And get yourself a bird book, OK? Sibley wrote some good ones.

    Car"di*nal (?), a. [L. cardinalis, fr. cardo the hinge of a door, that on which a thing turns or depends: cf. F. cardinal.]

    Of fundamental importance; preeminent; superior; chief; principal.

    The cardinal intersections of the zodiac. Sir T. Browne.

    Impudence is now a cardinal virtue. Drayton.

    But cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear ye. Shak.

    Cardinal numbers, the numbers one, two, three, etc., in distinction from first, second, third, etc., which are called ordinal numbers. -- Cardinal points (a) Geol. The four principal points of the compass, or intersections of the horizon with the meridian and the prime vertical circle, north, south east, and west. (b) Astrol. The rising and setting of the sun, the zenith and nadir. -- Cardinal signs Astron. Aries, Lidra, Cancer, and Capricorn. -- Cardinal teeth Zool., the central teeth of bivalve shell. See Bivalve. -- Cardinal veins Anat., the veins in vertebrate embryos, which run each side of the vertebral column and returm the blood to the heart. They remain through life in some fishes. -- Cardinal virtues, preeminent virtues; among the ancients, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. -- Cardinal winds, winds which blow from the cardinal points due north, south, east, or west.


    © Webster 1913.

    Car"di*nal, n. [F. cardinal, It. cardinale, LL. cardinalis (ecclesiae Romanae). See Cardinal, a.]

    1. R.C.Ch. One of the ecclesiastical prince who constitute the pope's council, or the sacred college.

    The clerics of the supreme Chair are called Cardinals, as undoubtedly adhering more nearly to the hinge by which all things are moved. Pope Leo IX.

    The cardinals are appointed by the pope. Since the time of Sixtus V., their number can never exceed seventy (six of episcopal rank, fifty priests, fourteen deacons), and the number of cardinal priests and deacons is seldom full. When the papal chair is vacant a pope is elected by the college of cardinals from among themselves. The cardinals take procedence of all dignitaries except the pope. The principal parts of a cardinal's costume are a red cassock, a rochet, a short purple mantle, and a red hat with a small crown and broad, brim, with cards and tessels of a special pattern hanging from it.


    A woman's short cloak with a hood.

    Where's your cardinal! Make haste. Lloyd.


    Mulled red wine.


    Cardinal bird, or Cardinal grosbeak Zool., an American song bird (Cardinalis cardinalis, or C. Virginianus), of the family Fringillidae, or finches having a bright red plumage, and a high, pointed crest on its head. The males have loud and musical notes resembling those of a fife. Other related species are also called cardinal birds. -- Cardinal flower Bot., an herbaceous plant (Lobelia cardinalis) bearing brilliant red flowers of much beauty. -- Cardinal red, color like that of a cardinal's cassock, hat, etc.; a bright red, darket than scarlet, and between scarlet and crimson.


    © Webster 1913.

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