Friday, September 27, 2013


Here’s the sketch for the hand-carved gold-leafed door of our new Tabernacle, which is being carved by in the hill town of Ortesei in Northern Italy.  The door will, like the present tabernacle, feature a mother Pelican feeding her young.

This is an ancient symbol for the Holy Eucharist, rooted in the ancient legend which tells the story of how, in time of famine, the mother pelican would pull bits of flesh and blood from her own breast to feed her young.  Thus does the pelican symbolize the Lord Jesus, who gives us his very Body and Blood to eat and drink that we might live forever with him in glory.

This Eucharistic analogy appears for the first time in the Physiologus, a late second century Alexandrian text which contained allegories for animals like the phoenix, the unicorn, and the pelican.  Saint Epiphanius, Saint Basil and Saint Peter of Alexandria all make reference to this work, which was a favorite of medieval artists.

Saint Thomas Aquinas’ great Eucharistic Hymn, Adoro Te Devote also makes reference to the pelican.  Here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ translation of the sicth verse:

Like what tender tales tell of the Pelican
Bathe me, Jesus Lord, in what thy Bosom ran
Blood that but one drop of has the pow’r to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.