Saturday 22 September 2012

A Pelican in its Piety

The Oxford Guide to Heraldry contains the above illustration of the arms of Thurstan Tyldesley, taken from the records of the College of Arms and apparently dating from around 1560 [FN1].

Thurstan Tyldesley is included in the Tyldesley Pedigree published by Gillow and Hewitson and was the father of Sir Thomas Tyldesley 1557-1635, the prominent lawyer of Gray's Inn.

The arms are quartered and reflect the marriage of Thurstan Tyldesley's father Thomas Tyldesley to Jane Birkenhead.  Tyldesley (1 & 4)  is argent, three molehills vert, and Birkenhead (2 & 3) is sable, three garbs Or, a bordure Argent.

Also shown is the Tyldesley crest of a Pelican in its Piety. Here the pelican is vulning—tearing at its own breast to release blood to feed its young. It was long believed that the pelican would behave in this way and consequently the pelican came to symbolise the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist. Hence in Adoro te devote, St Thomas Aquinas wrote:
Pie pellicane, Iesu Domine!
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine
Cuius una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere. 
O loving Pelican! O Jesus Lord!
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood!
Of which a single drop, for sinners split,
Can purge the entire world from all its guilt.
At Fox Hall in Blackpool, built by Edward Tyldesley 1635-1685, there was a stone carving of a pelican in its piety. Unfortunately all traces of Fox Hall were lost in the 1990s when it was demolished and replaced with this hideous building

1. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry, Thomas Woodcock and John Robinson, 1988 (Plate 10).