The Pelican as a Symbol of Christ's Redemption
from the Catholic Encyclopedia
A medieval hymn, written by Saint Thomas Aquinas, says:
Holy Pelican, Jesus, Lord,
Cleanse me, who am unclean, with Your blood,
Whose one drop can save the whole world
From all its uncleanness.
The Pelican is said to feed its young with blood from
its own breast, if there is no other food available.
Jesus is likened to the Pelican,
giving us His Body and Blood in Sacramental form.
On the painting to the right, blood flows into the Chalice from the Cross
and from the breast of the Pelican. The rays of light and the
sailing ship (Barque of Peter) both represent
Hope given us by the
Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
The Pelican is thus a symbol of Atonement and the
Redeemer. According to legend, it was supposed to
wound itself in order to feed its young with
its blood and to bring to life those who were
dead -- the "Pelicane who stricketh blood out of its owne
bodye to do others good" (John Lyly, Euphues). Also, allusion is made to this belief in
Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (Act iv): --
To his good friend thus wide I'll ope my arms
And, like the kind, life-rendering Pelican,
Repast them with my blood.
Therefore it was deemed a fitting symbol of the Savior,
the Nostro Pelicano of Dante,
Who shed His Blood in order to give
Eternal Life to the children of men. Skelton in his
"Armorie of Birds" says: --
Then sayd the Pellycan:
When my Byrdts be slayne
With my bloude I them revyve.
Scripture doth record
The same dyd our Lord
And rose from deth to lyve.
Adoro Te Devote
(13th Century by St Thomas Aquinas)
Sung on the Feast of Corpus Christi
|Adoro Te devote, latens Deitas,
||I adore You devoutly, O hidden God
|Quae sub his figuris vere latitas:
||truly present under these veils:
|Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
||my heart subjects itself to You
|Quia te contemplans totum deficit.
||without reserve; for in contemplating
You it feels utterly powerless.
|Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,
||Sight, touch, and taste are deceived concerning You
|Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.
||But hearing alone suffices to confirm my faith.
|Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius,
||I believe whatever the Son of God has said;
|Nil hoc verbo veritatis verius.
||nothing is more true than this word of Him Who is the Truth.
|In cruce latebat sola Deitas,
||On the Cross Your divinity alone was concealed;
|At hic latet simul et humanitas:
||but here Your humanity also is hidden:
|Ambo tamen credens atque confitens,
||yet believing and confessing both,
|Peto quod petivit latro poenitens.
||I pray for what the penitent thief asked of You.
|Plagas sicut Thomas non intueor:
||I do not see Your wounds, as Thomas did:
|Deum tamen meum te confiteor.
||yet I acknowledge You as my God.
|Fac me tibi semper magis credere
||Increase daily my faith,
|In te spem habere, te diligere.
||my hope, and my love for You.
|O memoriale mortis Domini,
||O memorial of the Lord's death,
|Panis vivus vitam praestans homini,
||living Bread that gives life to us,
|Praesta meae menti de te vivere,
||grant that my soul may live of You,
|Et te illi semper dulce sapere.
||and always taste the sweetness of Your presence.
Pellicane, Jesu Domine,
Pelican, Jesus my Lord,
|Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
||wash away my sins in Your Blood:
|Cujus una stilla salvum facere
||one drop of it can save
|Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
||the whole world from all its crimes.
|Jesu quem velatum nunc aspicio:
||Jesus, Whom I now behold under a veil:
|Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio:
||I beseech You, may this happen which I so desire:
|Ut, te revelata cernens facie,
||may I, beholding You with Your face unveiled,
|Visu sim beatus tuae gloriae.
|be for ever happy in the vision of Your glory.
Scenes from the Passion of Christ and the
Pelican with Her Young - by Hieronymus Bosch
1485. Oil on panel. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.
A recent icon of Saint Padre Pio depicts a mother
her three chicks, a subject dear
to Saint Padre Pio, who dwells on it in letters dealing
with the infinite love of God for His children.