St Oswald, King of Northumbria

Oswald (c.604 – 642) is made known to us through the chronicles of Bede, although written a century later, in which he tells about the King who united the two kingdoms of Northumbria to become a powerful leader, who was generous to the poor and welcoming to strangers.

St OswaldPrior to an important battle, we are told that Oswald experienced a vision on a Constantinian scale of St Columba, who told him that God favoured Oswald. This understandably caused Oswald – and his army – to convert to Christianity and a victory was duly wrought over the King of Gwynnedd.

Oswald requested help from St Aiden of Ireland in preaching and converting his Northumbrian subjects and according to legend, Oswald is reputed to have died at the battle of Maserfield at Oswestry (‘Oswald’s Tree’) where his dismembered right arm (which had been blessed by St Aiden) was taken by a raven into an ash tree. Having invigorated the tree, the arm fell to the ground, causing a healing spring to appear. Both the tree and the spring were soon associated with miracles.

Oswald is also known to us through a fragment of 12th century wall painting in Durham Cathedral, which is in the same niche and opposite to the well-known image of St Cuthbert. This may be no accident, as apparently Oswald’s head is in the same coffin as St Cuthbert.

This image is based on a 13th century manuscript illustration.

St Francis and the Hazelnut

st francis & hazelnutThis devotional  piece was inspired by my on-going study of Franciscan art and made in the late Medieval Italian style, using the same (700 year old) methods. It was created  specifically for a parish priest in central London who has a devotion to St Francis of Assisi.

But somehow Julian of Norwich’s famous motif of the hazelnut crept into this composition – and happily seemed to fit. (Hopefully the meditative theme of the Unity of Creation eclipses any anachronism…)

Although Mother Julian was born 116 years after the death of St Francis in 1226, there is for me something inherently Franciscan in her deep desire to seek unity with the God who is “…the creator and protector and the lover” of all things. As Julian explains in ‘Revelations of Divine Love’:

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand….In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it.

But what did I see in it? It is that God is the creator and protector and the lover. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have perfect rest or true happiness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me.”*

(1st Revelation, chapter 5)

*Source: Michael Marsh:

‘The Universal Trinity’

Oil on canvas with 23ct oil gilding, 107 by 86.5 cm

Commissioned by Holy Trinity Church, Potten End, Berkhamsted, Herts.

Within the underlying geometric structure of Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity,  I was able to discern and make explicit the symbols of the three main Abrahamic religions; The Christian Cross, the Jewish Star of David and the Islamic Crescent Moon. To the best of my knowledge this ‘epiphany of symbols’ within this famous icon  have not been noted before.

Diagram: the Star of David (blue), Three crosses – Slavic, Greek and Latin (yellow) and the Islamic crescent (green) within a universal circle (red).

There are also three types of Cross that can be seen in this image and which represent the main Christian denominations; the Latin Cross of the West, The Russian Orthodox Cross (but without the angled foot bar) and the equal-armed Greek Orthodox Cross.

The purpose and function of revealing these symbols was to emphasise the message of universal spiritual unity, tolerance and a co-dependence borne of  a shared spiritual ancestry  –  all of which could be argued to conform to the essence of Rublev’s vision. This is a work to promote interfaith dialogue.

St Anselm of Canterbury

Doctor of the Church, Benedictine monk, Abbot, Philosopher and Theologian

St Anselm of Canterbury

St Anselm was born in 1033 at Aosta, Italy. He arrived in England in 1070 to undertake the Gregorian reform of the church and align it with the papacy. He held office as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 until his death on 21st April, 1109. His tenure was not without controversy between himself, the King and the Pope, with two episodes of exile in 1097 and 1105.

St Anselm and Harrow on the Hill

In 1094, St Anselm consecrated the Saxon chapel dedicated to St Mary on top of the hill at Harrow. This icon was commissioned to occupy a new prayer space dedicated to the church’s founder in the South Transept.

St Anselm in situ

The unusual panel shape was designed to fit with the extant irregular stonework around the window.

The saint holds the crozier of office and carries a model of the church he founded (based on a reconstructed image by Dan Secker). He also holds a small phial of holy oil. This very specific motif refers to the legend that on the day of consecration, a spy working for the Bishop of London (Anselm’s clerical rival), stole the Oil of Chrism that was to be used for the occasion. However, the thief was unable to leave the site and found himself miraculously immobilised, enabling the theft to be exposed and the consecration to proceed.

blessing detail

In January 2017, the current Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, blessed the icon at St Mary’s and anointed it with holy oil.

Crucifix (after the Master of St Francis)

 A Franciscan Cross?

master of st francis crucifix
Measuring 46 by 33 cm with 23ct burnished and punched water-gilding, egg tempera (inc lapis lazuli). Private commission (Atlanta, Georgia). Scale version after the original crucifix in the collection of the National Gallery, London (NG 6361) attributed to the ‘Master of St Francis’ (active in Umbria, c. 1260 -1272).

The figures are a distinctive fusion of the Byzantine and Romanesque in their mix of elegant, flowing forms with more abstracted stylisation, and typical of late 13th century painting in central Italy. The corpus is the emotive Christus Patiens type; a form which provided the evangelising Friars of the 13th and 14th century with a potent preaching motif on Christ’s humanity and transcendence of death.

The ‘three Maries’ on the  left of the apron form a uniquely lyrical group , with the Magdalene supporting the ‘Swooning Virgin’ as she collapses at the moment of Christ’s death. Opposite is the grieving Evangelist John, who in his turn, will care for the Virgin. Behind John, stands the Centurion, depicted at the moment he recognises Christ.

Original, National Gallery
Original late 13th crucifix, National Gallery, London

The function of this type and size of crucifix (croce dipinte) was probably two-fold; originally double-sided, the piece would have been carried in a procession (e.g. on Good Friday) and at other times, venerated on a chapel altar. The uppermost roundel, as seen in the original , may have contained a relic of the True Cross.

The Master seems to have produced several very similar crucifix (another example being in the collection of the Louvre) and must have had a workshop based in the Perugia/Assisi area, judging by the surviving works attributed to him. His notable works being the unique fresco cycle paralleling the lives of Christ and St Francis in the lower church of the Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi and the monumental crucifix  (signed and dated 1272) painted for San Francesco Al Prato, Perugia (now in the collection of the National Gallery of Perugia).

Whilst the ‘Master of St Francis’ is known to have worked for the Franciscans in their most important Umbrian churches, it is not known if this particular crucifix was likewise intended for the friars use. Therefore it should be acknowledged in the light of scholarship, that this piece, along with other works, are not necessarily ‘Franciscan’*.


* Bordua, L., The Franciscans and Art Patronage in Late Medieval Italy, Cambridge, 2004 and Bynum, C.W., ‘Fransciscan Spirituality: Two Approaches’ Medievalia et Humanistica,Vol.7 1976, pp. 195-197.

Bomford et al, Art in the Making, Italian Painting before 1400, Yale University Press, 2000, Catalogue No.1, pp. 54-63.

St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi

This image of St Francis is taken from the famous ‘Bardi Dossal’, the massive gable-topped Vita panel in the main Franciscan Church of Santa Croce, Florence and is often attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo, circa 1263.

It was one of the earliest Vita panels in Europe to depict a full-length saint, surrounded by 20 scenes from his life and post-mortum miracles. (The format being based on Byzantine models such as the Vita icon of St Katherine of Alexandria, St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai.)

Icon Adventures Students visiting the St Francis vita panel
Icon Adventures Students visiting the St Francis Vita panel, Bardi Chapel, S Croce, Florence

Previously, only Christ had been shown in such a way, which confirms Francis’s role as alter Christus. It is thought that the Bardi Dossal influenced the subject matter and iconography in some of scenes from the St Francis Cycle in the Upper Church of the Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi.

This panel was painted in Assisi as part of a 12-day icon painting pilgrimage based in the historic centre of Assisi.

For dates of upcoming retreats in Assisi 2018, please visit the sister website:

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