Pelican carving, Old Vicarage, Great Chesterford, Essex
This small wooden panel has a late 15th-century carving of a “pelican in her piety”, a suitable Christian symbol for the exterior of the timber-framed former vicarage next to the church. Passers-by can easily see this from the street or the adjacent churchyard.
It was popularly supposed that, because of the way the pelican fed its young with regurgitated food from its beak, it was removing flesh and blood from its breast to nourish them.
An added element of this grotesque notion is that it did this to revive its young which had been killed by a serpent. From this fiction grew the idea that the pelican somehow symbolised or even prefigured Jesus redeeming mankind by shedding his own blood and defeating the devil.