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.
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.
Doctor of the Church, Benedictine monk, Abbot, Philosopher and Theologian
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.
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.
In January 2017, the current Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, blessed the icon at St Mary’s and annointed it with holy oil.
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.
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.
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.)
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.