The Pelican in her Piety

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It was once thought that as young pelicans grow, they begin to strike their parents in the face with their beaks. Though the pelican has great love for its young, it strikes back and kills them. After three days, the mother pierces her side or her breast and lets her blood fall on the dead birds, and thus revives them. The myth existed long before Christianity which adopted the idea as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice.

The device was popular in medieval manuscripts

MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 32r, Museum Meermanno, The Hague, Netherlands


ms. 993, Folio 158v, Bibliothèque Municipale, Reims, France


KB, KA 16, Folio 96v, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Brussels, Belgium


Brass plate from the fifteenth century, 51 cm in diameter, and made in Dinant or Maline, Netherlands. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

The pelican in heraldry


The civic arms of Speising, Vienna, Austria.
The arms are a rebus; a pun on the name, from the german speisen, to eat


The arms of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, UK, reproduced on a Wills cigarette card of 1922.

A modern rendering of the arms of Kistokaj in Hungary


And finally, an example of the pelican in stained glass


Chancel, east window, by Morris and Co, 1913, Broomfield, Somerset, UK


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