Object of the week: The Pelican Shamrock Banner c. 1900
With the celebration of St Patrick’s Day today, (17th March), our chosen object has an appropriately Irish theme. This processional banner comes from a collection with 7 others, which were used at Stonyhurst on the Feast of Corpus Christi.
On that Feast Day, through much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the College would make a procession with the Blessed Sacrament from the Fronts to an altar placed in the gardens to celebrate Mass. Along with a guard-of-honour from the CCF and OTC, many banners were carried by the boys. In the photograph, dating from around the First World War, this banner is the second one carried in the procession.
The main subject of the banner is the pelican, feeding her young with the blood from her own breast; a common symbol used to represent Jesus’ sacrifice of himself for mankind. Surrounding this is a motif using the shamrock. According to tradition, St Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three parts of the one God – when converting the Irish to Christianity. Through this association, the shamrock has become one of the most recognised symbols of Ireland. By using this symbolism, this banner represents those cornerstones of Christian doctrine, the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Trinity.
The collection of banners was only recently rediscovered, due to the efforts of Greg Mann, SMH’s Head of Music, during the clearing out of the Music Department from the attics at St Mary’s Hall. Photographs from St Peters in the early 20th century show a much larger collection of banners on display. However, as these 7 were so carefully stored decades ago and have lain undisturbed, they need only minor conservation work, before they might be able to be displayed again.