in Christian art, is a symbol of charity. It is also an emblem of Jesus Christ, by “whose blood we are healed” (Eucherius and Jerome). (See below.)
A mystic emblem of Christ, called by Dante nostro Pelicano.
St. Hieronymus gives the story of the pelican restoring its young ones destroyed by serpents, and his salvation by the blood of Christ. The Bestiarium
says that Physiologus tells us that the pelican is very fond of its brood, but when the young ones begin to grow they rebel against the male bird and provoke his anger, so that he kills them, the mother returns to the nest in three days, sits on the dead birds, pours her blood over them, revives them, and they feed on the blood. (Bibl. Nat. Belg.,
Than sayd the Pellycane, When my byrdts be slayne With any bloude I them renyue [revive]. Scrypture doth record, The same dyd our Lord, And rose from deth to lyue.
Skelton: Armoury of Birdts
The notion that pelicans feed their young with their blood arose from the following habit:- They have a large bag attached to their under bill. When the parent bird is about to feed its brood, it macerates small fish in this bag or pouch, then pressing the bag against its breast, transfers the macerated food to the mouths of the young.
A pelican in her piety
is the representation of a pelican feeding her young with her blood. The Romans called filial love piety, hence Virgil's hero is called pius
AEneas, because he rescued his father from the flames of Troy.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894