December 6 - Saint Nicholas by Nicholas Mynheer
Nicholas Mynheer: Saint Nicholas and Saint Edward
Two Christ-like Saints
by Victoria Emily Jones
Nestled in the small country village of Islip in Oxfordshire, England, is the parish church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, which features a magnificent etched-glass screen by local artist Nicholas Mynheer. Known in popular culture as the prototype of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas was a fourth-century bishop from Asia Minor who is commemorated by the church each year on December 6 primarily for his acts of generosity. The Islip screen depicts scenes from his life alongside scenes from the life of St. Edward the Confessor, who was born in Islip and reigned as king of England from 1042 to 1066. Mynheer brilliantly unifies the stories of these two men of faith through parallel narrative and other linking devices—such as the blessing hands of God the Father at the top of the composition, and the blessing hands of Christ that anchor the base.
Scenes from the lower two corners, based on legendary accounts, depict acts of giving: St. Nicholas gives bags of gold to three sisters in dire financial straits (on the left), and St. Edward gives a beggar his gold ring (on the right). Each saint extends his arm downward in a gesture of mercy. Theirs is a piety expressed by concern for the poor.
Upward-reaching gestures mark the top narrative tier: St. Nicholas intercedes for a group of sailors during a storm (on the left), saving them from death at sea, and St. Edward carries a crippled man on his back to the chapel altar (on the right), where he receives miraculous healing. In both stories there is a feeling of helplessness, but the saints show confidence in God, from whom comes deliverance. The raised arms of Nicholas and the lame man point us to this saving God.
At the top of the screen St. Nicholas, wearing his bishop’s mitre, holds a scale model of St. Nicholas’s Church, while St. Edward, in royal crown, holds a model of Westminster Abbey, which he had rebuilt and which houses his remains. The center of this panel is left undecorated so that it can more clearly reflect the stained glass window opposite it at the east end of the church.
At the bottom center Jesus looks down with joy on three children who have gathered in front of him to receive his blessing—a brief episode recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that served as a lesson for the protesting disciples. This tableau recalls the most famous miracle story associated with St. Nicholas, patron saint of children: his raising three murdered boys from the dead. (Notice how their feet do not touch the ground.) Mynheer localizes both stories, which took place a continent away, by setting them in Islip, whose houses—and church!—are visible in the background.
White crayon on black paper study by Nicholas Mynheer
With the Islip screen Mynheer takes two seemingly disparate saints’ lives and successfully draws them into conversation with each other, showing how they both modeled Christ. May God give us all a heart of mercy like St. Nicholas and St. Edward; eyes that see the needs around us; hands that are not stingy; strength to carry the weak; and boldness to call on God’s miraculous intervention in situations that are more than we can handle.
Nicholas Mynheer: Saint Nicholas and Saint Edward, sandblasted glass screen, Church of St. Nicholas, Islip, Oxfordshire, England. Designed by Nicholas Mynheer and made by Davia Walmsley of Daedalian Glass, 2011.
Nicholas Mynheer studied graphic design at the Hornsey College of Art in London, England, graduating in 1981. After spending several years in advertising he turned to painting full time, then subsequently sculpture and glass design. Largely figurative, his work is almost always biblically based and has a richly expressive quality. He lives and works in Horton-cum-Studley, Oxfordshire, and has fulfilled many church commissions throughout the UK. For more information, see http://www.mynheer-art.co.uk/.
Victoria Emily Jones lives in the Baltimore area of the United States, where she works as an editorial freelancer and blogs at theJesusQuestion.org. Her educational background is in journalism, English literature, and music, but her current research focuses on ways in which the visual arts can stimulate renewed theological engagement with the Bible. She is in the process of developing an online biblical art gallery, a curated collection of artworks from all eras that engage with specific texts of scripture.
This meditation is adapted from an article originally published on theJesusQuestion.org.
ArtWay Visual Meditation December 6, 2015