Recently I received an inquiry about a symbol of a pelican which was embroidered on the back of a chasuble. When the priest celebrated Mass with back facing the congregation, the beautiful embroidery work was always displayed in the orphreys and vesica on the back of the vestment, often a cross or a symbol of an animal or flower, an object, or sacred monogram. A sign or icon, such as the Pelican , is an object, character, figure, or color used to represent abstract ideas or concepts – a picture that represents an idea. A religious icon, such as the Pelican Christian Symbol, is an image or symbolic representation with sacred significance. “The meanings, origins and ancient traditions surrounding Christian symbols date back to early times when the majority of ordinary people were not able to read or write and printing was unknown. Many were ‘borrowed’ or drawn from early pre-Christian traditions, however the symbol of the pelican, unlike many early Christian symbols, is almost exclusively a Christian icon”. (Catholic Saints)
The pelican can often be seen in stained glass windows, an altar reredos
vestment vesicas, or carved in pew ends or other church architectural elements.
‘Pelican in her piety’ in heraldry and symbolical art, is a representation of a pelican in the act of wounding her breast in order to nourish her young with her blood a practice fabulously attributed to the bird. The pelican cutting open its own breast represents Christ’s death on the cross, and the shedding of his blood to revive us and therefore adopted as a symbol of the Redeemer and of charity. An explanation of this is that the pelican’s bill has a crimson red tip and the contrast of this red tip against the white breast probably gave rise to the tradition that the bird tore her own breast to feed her young with her blood.” (Catholic Saints)