This weird sculpture is in the vestibule of St Michael Cornhill in the City of London, near the Royal Exchange. Weird, but not uncommon, because if you keep your eyes alert, you’ll see this image in stained glass, prayer books and other media carrying the Christian message. So what’s going on here?
The carving is of a pelican feeding her young from what looks like grapes on her chest. What’s actually going on is the bird has pecked a wound in her own chest and her young are feeding on her blood. This is what was actually believed in former times, making the pelican an important and obvious beast in Christian iconography, strongly representative of the Passion of Christ.
Our ancestors had strange idea about many animals. From ancient times, salamanders were thought to be fireproof and hence were depicted engulfed in flames as in this logo of the Gas Light and Coke Company on a war memorial in Brentford.
For some reason, it was thought that the staple diet of ostriches was iron, the disastrous consequence of which was that the first two ostriches in the royal menagerie at the Tower of London, having been force-fed nails and the like, perished immediately. The Worshipful Company of Ironmongers used this ostrich with a horseshoe in its beak to decorate their ceremonial barge.
These three examples are just some that come to mind. Please add in comments if you know of others.