Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Pious Pelicans

Ecclesiastical historian Jaroslav Pelikan died recently, and I've been reading some tributes by bloggers, e.g. at The Bourgeois Burglars and Quid nomen illius?.

Pelikan was of Slovak origin, and I don't know what his last name meant in the Slovak language, but I'm reminded that the pelican is a symbol of Christ. Pelikan is thus an apt name, an aptronym, for a historian of Christianity. Pelikan apparently had a painting of a pelican on the wall of his office at Yale University.

It was thought that the pelican fed its young with its own blood, as Christ feeds the faithful with His flesh and blood. The hymn Adoro Te Devote refers to this belief in the following stanza (tr. Gerard Manley Hopkins):
Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran –
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Pie Pelicane, Iesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cuius una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
See here for a picture from a medieval bestiary of a pelican feeding its young.

Other posts on aptronyms:

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