Part of keeping our kids Catholic is forming their intellects in a Catholic way. This is very important, not least given the poor catechesis over the past decades which has led to large numbers of Catholics not really knowing their Faith.

However, another part is forming their imaginations in a Catholic way. I think this is equally important. Kids’ imaginative lives are very rich and inform their understanding of the wold in complex and subtle ways. If their imaginations are developed solely by the values of TV and Hollywood, then they will always feel Catholicism to be slightly odd and uncomfortable, rather than it feeling like their true home.

One great way to develop this imaginative aspect is through stories of the saints. But the aspect I want to focus on in this post is a very specific, visual and imaginative one: visual symbols.

This was brought home to me by my kids discussing the Pelican on our tabernacle in the Parish Church. They were intrigued by the image, and wondered what it meant. So I explained that in years gone by, people believed that the pelican fed its young by biting off parts of its own flesh. Thus, naturally, it became a symbol for Christ, who feeds us with our own flesh, and a particularly appropriate symbol for the tabernacle. (Later ornithologists have discovered that it is actually searching out insects that live in its feathers and feeding them to its young.)

The kids loved this (not least the fact that it was wrong!), and I showed them the words to the Adoro te devote, which include pie pellicane: Holy Pelican, referring to Our Lord. They thought that hilarious, as it sounds like something out of Batman and Robin. And so it lives on, as part of their imaginative understanding of reality.

The same is true of all the symbols of the saints. We enjoy playing the detective in new churches: identifying the saints in windows, pictures and statues by their symbols: and then, of course, discussing why St Laurence is holding a Grid-iron, or St Catherine a Wheel.

For a fairly comprehensive list of saints and their symbols, have a look at

And have a good week introducing your kids to this fascinating visual world!

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