Flag of Louisiana

The flag of the State of Louisiana was originally adopted in 1912 and revised in 2006. This rectangular flag features a blue background with a “pelican in her piety” in the center: a mother pelican feeding three baby pelicans in their nest.  The mother pelican has three small drops of blood on her chest and is using the blood to feed her children.  This symbol is also used on the Louisiana state seal.  The state motto is included on a white ribbon below the pelican of piety and reads: “Union, Justice, and Confidence.”

The drops of blood on the pelican of piety on the Louisiana state flag might seem disturbing, and it is not surprising that their inclusion on the flag was inconsistent throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  It wasn’t until an eighth grade student at Vanderbilt Catholic High School in Houma, Louisiana brought the issue to the attention of the Louisiana State Legislature that it became a requirement that all versions of the Louisiana seal and flag include the three drops of blood on the pelican’s breast.

The pelican of piety has been a Christian symbol of charity since the Middle Ages.  Medieval Europeans thought that pelicans were particularly caring for their babies. Because of the way the pelican presses its bill into its chest when feeding, it was thought that a pelican mother would injure herself to feed her young her own blood in the absence of available food.  Other legends about pelicans hold that the pelican mother kills its young, only to resurrect the babies with her own blood, symbolic of the Passion of the Christ. Both versions of the pelican mother support self-sacrifice and generosity in the Christian faith.  In addition to its use on the Louisiana state flag and seal, the pelican image is featured in Great Britain on the emblems of the Corpus Christi College in both Cambridge and Oxford.

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