Christ the Unicorn, Christ the Pelican
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Christianity’s rich use of symbolism is one of greatest draws- whether in its liturgy, history, architecture or art, it stirs the heart in ways that words and logic fail to accomplish. As the Easter season unfolds, we witness the many symbols of the season, particularly for Christ himself: the “passover lamb”, the “good shepherd”, the “Alpha and Omega”… the list is long and plentiful.
And now, here is the Easter hymn Unicornis Captivatur from the 14th century Engelberg Codex, in which Christ is symbolically portrayed in a number of ways- a unicorn, a sleeping lion, a phoenix, and… a pelican! We’ll unpack these portrayals, but first let’s listen:
Lieselot de Wilde, voice
Catalina Vicens, organ
The Unicorn is captured,It’s presented to the royal courtIn the hunters’ snare;Creeping, it freed itself from the pole;Because it’s wounded, it heals itselfWith the viper’s venom.Sing AlleluiaTo the dying lamb;Sing Alleluia,Cry AlleluiaTo the victorious Lion.Life returns to the wounded PelicanAfter miserable deathIn its nest for the sins of the world.The Phoenix’ light is burnt out,The ancient sins of the worldAre utterly consumed by flame.[Sing Alleluia…]The Hydra enters the crocodile,Deprives it of its entrails, kills it,And comes back alive.Three days longthe Lion slept till the KingAwakened it with a roar.[Sing Alleluia…]
Lord Jesus, Good Pelican, clean me, the unclean, with Your Blood,One drop of which can heal the entire world of all its sins.