What does pelican symbolize in the Bible?

What does pelican symbolize in the Bible?

In ancient Israel, David roamed the sun-scorched land, caring for his flock. But when trouble came, David was left wandering in the lonely wilderness. His heart filled with sorrow.

One day, David looked to the sky for comfort. There, he saw a pelican soaring above him.

Seeing the pelican, David understood their shared sense of desolation.

The pelican’s majestic flight across the wilderness matched David’s lonely journey. Yet behind its beauty, he saw a creature deeply alone, much like himself.

David felt a deep connection with the pelican, realizing its significance in biblical stories.

In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the pelican is briefly noted. It is called an abomination because of its eating habits. Still, there’s more to it than just that.

In Psalm 102:6, the pelican takes on profound meaning. Here, David compares himself to a pelican in the wilderness, longing for a brighter future despite suffering.

Isaiah and Zechariah also mention the pelican in tales of desolation. This links it to stories of hardship and the hope for renewal.

What does pelican symbolize in the Bible? The pelican’s role in the Bible isn’t just metaphorical. Its actual behavior, like how it feeds its young, provides powerful symbolism. This act of care has been likened to Christ’s sacrifice and redemption.

From the 12th century, the pelican became a notable Christian symbol. The Physiologus and later works offered theological insights into its meaning.

By the 14th century, the pelican appeared widely in Christian art and texts. Thomas Aquinas’s hymn even calls Christ “Pie Pelicane.” This underscores the pelican’s connection to Christ’s sacrifice.

Even Queen Elizabeth I saw the pelican as a symbol. She likened herself to it, a caring mother, like the pelican who feeds her young with its own blood.

But as time went on, the pelican’s meaning might have evolved with different beliefs. Bible translations even vary in their description of the pelican.

The biblical word “qaath” has led to debates over what bird it truly refers to. Some think it could be a swan, a goose, or a kingfisher.

Today, the pelican’s symbol is still debated. It merges myth and science, inviting questions about the nature of symbolism.

The pelican’s image, with its selflessness and grace, remains a strong biblical and Christian symbol. It stands for sacrifice and love, echoing Christ’s ultimate act of love.

May the story of the pelican inspire us to selflessly love and care for others. Just as Christ did for us, let us offer care and love.

The Symbolism of the Pelican in the Bible

The pelican is a significant symbol in the Bible, with deep roots in both ancient tales and early Christian texts. Its famous act of feeding its young with its blood symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice. This symbol shows how Christ died for the sake of humanity.

The pelican feeding its young is a symbol of giving, in both Christian art and teachings. It reminds Christians of Christ’s own giving through the Eucharist. This act is seen as life-giving for the soul.

The idea of the pelican standing for Jesus is not new. Even early Christian writings, like the Physiologus text from the second century, touch on its symbolism.

Biblical References and Christian Literature

The Bible does talk about the pelican, not in a good way, in Leviticus 11:18 and Deuteronomy 14:17. Pelicans are called abominations because of their habits. This might have seemed dirty to the ancient Israelites.

However, Christian writings see the pelican as a positive symbol. Notable authors like Dante and Shakespeare used the pelican’s meaning in their works. They highlight themes of love and sacrifice important in Christianity.

The pelican’s imagery is also common in Christian artworks and hymns. Art such as altar frontals often feature the bird. Hymns like “Adoro te devote” use the pelican to talk about sacrifice and nourishment.

A Powerful Reminder of Christ’s Sacrifice

The pelican stands for charity and love, reminding people of Christ’s sacrifice. It inspires believers to show the same love in their actions.

Its large size and wingspan of over 12 feet underline its symbol of protection. Just as the pelican protects its young, Christ’s love is for all of mankind.

In end, the pelican’s symbolism in the Bible is about selflessness, sacrifice, and redemption. Whether from old stories or current Christian teachings, it continues to inspire people. They strive to live by the values of giving and love the pelican represents.

The Pelican in Christian Iconography

The pelican is a key symbol in Christian art, dating back to medieval times. It became more popular in the 12th century along with animal-themed books. These included bestiaries, which showed the pelican and its symbolic meanings.

By the 14th century, the pelican showed up in other religious texts too. It often appeared near scenes of Christ’s suffering. This shows how the pelican’s meaning grew, moving beyond just animal books.

A special mention of the pelican comes from a hymn by Thomas Aquinas, around 1260. In it, he calls Christ a loving pelican. Aquinas sees the pelican as a symbol of Christ’s blood cleansing believers’ sins.

“O loving Pelican! O Jesu Lord! Cleanse thou me, sinner, in thy blood, that poured Thou forth in pure love’s mingled tide, and feed This hungering soul of mine with that pure bread.”

The pelican is also found on the coats of arms of religious schools and places. For example, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, includes it. Archbishop Matthew Parker did too for Cambridge in the 16th century.

People also used the pelican as their symbol. Thomas Cranmer, a 16th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, made his personal emblem three pelicans. This change showed his willingness to self-sacrifice for others.

Even Queen Elizabeth I saw the pelican as meaningful. She chose it as a symbol to show her care for her people, like a mother.

In Christian art, the pelican is sometimes not shown as a typical bird. Searching for medieval representations of pelicans brings up many bird images. Few of them look like real pelicans. This shows how the pelican came to symbolize more than just a bird.

There’s debate about which bird was really meant in the Bible’s mention of a pelican. This lack of clarity has led to different understandings of the pelican’s symbol in Christianity.

The pelican’s meaning, mixing myths with birds, has sparked debates. Some see it as the merger of science and faith. Yet, its symbol continues to inspire Christians about sacrificial love, following Jesus’ example.

Biblical References to the Pelican

The Bible mentions the pelican several times, showing it in different lights. Leviticus 11:18 and Deuteronomy 14:17 label the pelican as something to avoid. It’s believed this is because of what the pelican eats and how it acts.

In Psalms 102:6 and Isaiah 34:11, the pelican represents sadness and trouble. These verses show that the pelican is linked to hard or bad times.

“The pelican has been mentioned in biblical verses with diverse interpretations. Leviticus 11:18 and Deuteronomy 14:17 list the pelican as an abomination, possibly due to its behavior or diet. In Psalms 102:6 and Isaiah 34:11, the pelican is used metaphorically to describe desolation and affliction. These references reflect the pelican’s connection to challenging or difficult situations in biblical contexts.”

But not all mentions are negative. Zechariah 2:14 features the pelican in a list of birds that live in Jerusalem. This tells us about the bird’s location without any negative symbolism.

It’s interesting to note that, in some cases, translations call the pelican a cormorant. This happens in Isaiah 34:11 and Zephaniah 2:14. These changes don’t affect the pelican’s biblical role.

“The biblical references to the pelican include varied interpretations. In Zechariah 2:14, the pelican is mentioned alongside other birds dwelling in Jerusalem, providing a geographical context rather than a symbolic one. Additionally, specific translations have rendered the pelican as cormorant in Isaiah 34:11 and Zephaniah 2:14, without significantly altering its representation in the biblical context.”

These verses show us the pelican meant something different to ancient people. It was a notable and meaningful part of their writing and culture.

Legends and Interpretations

The legend of the pelican feeding its young with its own blood is very old. It came before the time of Christianity. This story has always been a powerful one. It has lead to many different views and ideas throughout the years. Some see the pelican as a mother who would give her life for her children. They say this shows the highest form of love and care.

Others look at this story as showing rebirth. They say when the pelican feeds its young with its blood, it’s like a new life beginning. It’s a story that tells about getting a fresh start. Even when things seem bleak, this tale says there’s always a chance for things to get better.

“The legend of the mother pelican feeding her young with her blood is an ancient tradition originating before Christianity. The pelican’s act of self-sacrifice has been interpreted in different ways throughout history, highlighting themes of sacrifice, redemption, and new life in Christian teachings.”

These stories have become a part of Christian traditions. They speak to those looking to understand sacrifice and making things new. The idea of the pelican giving everything for its children still touches people. It makes them think about love, giving, and helping others.

Interesting Fact: Early Christian writings, like the Physiologus from the second century, used animal stories to explain deeper truths. They talked about creatures like the pelican. These writings helped give meanings to the stories of animals. They made the pelican story about more than just birds.

What does pelican symbolize in the Bible?

The Pelican as a Symbol of Charity

The pelican has long been seen as a symbol of charity in Christian teachings. It’s because of the bird’s unique way of feeding its young. It uses its own blood, showing selflessness, giving, and love.

The story of the mighty mother pelican giving her blood to nourish her babies is older than Christianity. Many ancient cultures also told tales of the pelican’s great sacrifice. Early Christian texts, like Physiologus, highlighted the pelican. They spoke of it as a symbol of charity and its deeper meanings. This early spotlight cemented the pelican’s image of selfless giving for centuries to come.

In the Renaissance period, the pelican became a common symbol in both writings and art. Poets like Dante, Lyly, and Shakespeare used it. The bird also appeared in religious paintings and songs, such as St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Adoro te devote.” These works reinforced the pelican’s spiritual role in Christianity.

The pelican is more than just a visual symbol. It reminds Christians of Jesus’s sacrifice and the power of the Holy Eucharist. By giving its blood to its young, it epitomizes the love and charity Christians strive to practice.

Outside of Christianity, the pelican symbol is part of the Knight Rose Croix Degree in Freemasonry. Here, it represents charity and sharing, values that transcend religions. This shows the pelican’s broad influence beyond its Christian roots.

The pelican’s meaning goes beyond charity. Some see it as a symbol of life after death, linking it to resurrection. This wide range of meanings allows each person to find their connection to the pelican symbol.

The pelican’s role as a symbol of charity and selflessness continues to be studied. At the 2022 Double-Headed Eagle Convention in Chicago, experts explored its deep meanings. They discussed its ties to charity and its broader significance in spiritual themes.

In the end, the pelican stands for many things, from charity to renewal. It has inspired countless acts of kindness across cultures and time. The pelican symbolizes a daily choice to offer love and give back to others.

Pelican in Christian Art and Literature

The pelican is a key symbol in Christian art and literature, illustrating Christ’s sacrifice and the value of giving without expecting in return. It appears in various art forms like paintings and stained glass, communicating deep spiritual messages.

In the Renaissance, the pelican became notably important in Christian allegory. Authors like Dante and Shakespeare used it to symbolize Christ’s love in their writing. They showed how the pelican feeds its young with its blood, paralleling Christ’s sacrifice for humanity.

“Like the pelican, who feeds her young with her blood,
Christ is a giver of life, his love like a flood.
His selfless sacrifice, a testament to grace,
Symbolized by the pelican, who’s always in his embrace.”

The pelican also features in Christian hymns as a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice. A famous hymn, “Adoro te devote” by Aquinas and translated by Hopkins, uses the pelican to represent the Eucharist. It shows Jesus’ ongoing spiritual nourishment of believers.

The Pelican’s Presence in Christian Art

This symbolism extends to Christian art. The pelican is seen on altar frontals and tabernacles. In Durham Cathedral, it’s depicted feeding its young, metaphorically pointing to Christ’s sacrifice and spiritual nourishment of believers.

Since the second century, the pelican has symbolized Christ’s sacrifice in Christian teachings. The Physiologus mentions the legend of a pelican feeding its chicks with blood, which became a common theme in Christian works. This story underpins the idea of the pelican as a symbol of unconditional giving.

The use of the pelican in Christian art and literature highlights its lasting importance. It stands for Jesus’ sacrifice, redemption, and ongoing spiritual nourishment. The pelican serves as a powerful emblem of Christian teachings.

The Pelican in Modern Christianity

The pelican has deep roots in Christian symbolism. It represents sacrifice, charity, and Christ’s love. This symbolism is widely used in teachings and worship today. It reminds believers of the faith’s core values and the importance of helping others.

It has long been linked to sacrifice and redemption. Early Christian and medieval writings tell of the pelican feeding its young with its own blood. This act of self-sacrifice fit well with Christian beliefs.

The well-known hymn “Adoro te devote” by Thomas Aquinas praises Christ as the “Pie Pelicane.” This title highlights Christ’s blood that cleanses believers. It enhanced the pelican’s symbol in Christian teachings.

In the 16th century, the pelican appeared on the coats of arms of Bishop Richard Foxe and others. This linked them to the pelican’s symbolism of faith and Christ’s teachings.

Today, the pelican’s symbol remains important in Christianity. It has sparked discussions about how science and religion align. Both historical and modern interpretations discuss nature and spirituality.

Throughout Christian history, theologians have used nature to explain spiritual truths. The allegorical meaning of the pelican points to Christ’s sacrifice. This use of nature in teaching shows God’s love and redemption.

Pelican symbols are common in churches and its image often found in Christian items. It is a strong symbol in Christian worship, including on church artwork.

In the United States, Lutheran churches use the pelican as a faith reminder. Pelican symbols are available on religious items to help people connect with their faith.

In 2016, a church in Florida chose the pelican as its symbol. It was a Lutheran mission aiming for a diverse congregation. They used the pelican to show unity in faith.


The pelican has a huge meaning in the Bible and Christian texts. It stands for giving, kindness, and the deepest form of love shown when Jesus suffered on the cross. By feeding her babies with her own blood, it shows the new life thanks to Christ’s sacrifice.

For years, people have used the pelican’s image in their Christian work and stories. Its example pushes us to do good and be kind, just like Jesus. Whether in old tales or today, the pelican’s lesson about giving and renewal is still very powerful.

Looking at the pelican’s actions and body teaches us a lot. Its throat pouch and flying skills show great strength and the ability to change. Just like the pelican does so well, we should see life’s tests as chances to do better and move forward.

In summary, the pelican is a powerful symbol of love and good deeds in Christianity. It encourages us to give, help others, and learn from challenges. Thinking about the pelican in stories, art, and nature helps us see how to make Christian values a part of our every day.


What does pelican symbolize in the Bible?

In Christian teachings, the pelican means sacrifice, charity, and Christ himself. It shows acts of selflessness and redemption. So, the bird holds a lot of importance in these beliefs.

How is the symbolism of the pelican portrayed in the Bible?

Often, it’s shown as a bird feeding its chicks with its blood. This clearly symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice. It shows how he gives life and nourishment. This powerful image is linked to the Bible.

Are there biblical references to the pelican?

Yes, the Bible talks about the pelican in several verses. Leviticus and Deuteronomy call it an abomination, maybe because of its diet. In Psalms and Isaiah, it stands for desolation and affliction in poetic language.

How have legends and interpretations shaped the symbolism of the pelican?

Over time, legends showcased the pelican as a mother who sacrifices for her young. These stories talk about revival and resurrection. They underline the Christian themes of sacrifice, redemption, and a fresh start.

What does the pelican symbolize in terms of charity?

The pelican is known for feeding its chicks with its blood. This is why it’s linked to charity in Christian beliefs. It stands for selflessness, giving, and Christ’s profound love for people.

How is the pelican portrayed in Christian art and literature?

The pelican shows up in many Christian art forms. It’s in paintings, sculptures, and stained glass. These artworks reflect Christ’s sacrifice and the value of selflessness. It’s also found in hymns and poems. Here, it’s a symbol of Christ’s love and how he redeems people.

Does the pelican’s symbolism hold meaning in modern Christianity?

Yes, the pelican’s meaning is still alive in modern Christianity. It reminds believers of the faith’s key values. These include selfless service to others. So, its symbolic role continues today.