We were honored to be invited to exhibit at the historic St. Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, United Kingdom. It is a church of many symbols, but we narrowed it to just a few to focus on for our mini series, specifically created for the church, to thank its many stewards and volunteers.
The prominent feature in our exhibit at St. Mary’s was our Symbols Series, which is an exploration of archetypal symbols that arise from a community’s collective unconscious, and how we can strategically use the appearance of these symbols in art to better understand community needs.
As we were exhibiting at the historic St. Mary’s church here in Shrewsbury, prior to delving into the 6 pieces we specifically created for the exhibit, we will provide a brief reference of some symbols from our original series that often appear in Churches around the world.
“It is the role of religious symbols to give a meaning to the life of man… It gives ample space for the unfolding of personality and permits them a full life as complete persons. Their plight is infinitely more satisfactory than that of a man in our own civilization who knows that he is (and will remain) nothing more than an underdog with no inner meaning to his life.” – Carl Jung
With that, let’s go through a few symbols that you are likely to spot various representations of, not only in the stained glass and carvings at St. Mary’s, but also in many churches and cathedrals around the world.
To start us off, we have the symbol of Creation, which is perhaps the most fundamental of all archetypal motifs — virtually every mythology is built on some account of how the Cosmos, Nature, and Man were brought into existence.
This design is a surrealist approach to the Ostrich Egg symbol, with a part of a piece by Giovanni Bellini central to it. The original Bellini piece has the ostrich egg in the middle, but many paintings from the period actually feature the ostrich egg.
In medieval times, the ostrich — a much admired bird at the time — was commonly believed to bury its eggs in sand and allow the heat of the sun to carry out the incubation. On account of the young emerging without parental involvement, it was thought that the ostrich egg was an ideal symbol of the virginity of Mary — a theologically tricky concept for which parallels in nature were sought. So the ostrich egg was a symbol of Mary’s virginity.
This piece is all about the palm leaf, which tends to symbolize triumph and victory. In the classical era, palms were used as symbols of success.. The Romans awarded palm branches to celebrate military successes and the Latin word “palma” even eventually became almost synonymous with “victory”. In this context, the palm leaf is also a symbol of eternal life and abundance.
The Fish Cross was an ancient symbol of Jesus and considered as a secret code for Christianity during the 1830s to prevent being persecuted. The fish is also a symbol of baptism – as a fish cannot live without water, so a true Christian won’t find salvation without passing through the waters of baptism.
Union of Opposites
The symbol, Union of Opposites, specifically depicts both the caduceus and the ouroboros.
The Ouroboros is the snake that eats its tail and is an alchemical symbol that expresses the unity of all things, material and spiritual, which never disappear but perpetually change form in an eternal cycle of destruction and re-creation.
The Caduceus are the wand-like in the hands of the subjects with two snakes that intertwine the handle and in Greek and Roman mythology is actually mostly closely identified with thieves, merchants, and messengers, not as a protector of physicians.
This is a collage of various artworks and paintings in which immortality is the central theme. The dilemma of time and immortality is considered to be an age-old archetypal motif, representing human being’s preoccupation with the passage of time, abandonment and death.
The Gordian Knot
This symbol depicts the story of how Alexander the Great overcame the challenge of the Gordian knot, “solving” the ancient problem by cutting it with his sword instead of spending more time untying an impossible knot. The gordian knot also connects to sacred geometry, and actually has three clear ovals shapes which represents the Holy Trinity and its union, and the three forces – positive, negative, and neutral – that comprise the universe.
St. Marys – Specific
Now we finally arrive at the series specifically created for this exhibit, for the Stained Glass Festival. This one here is a compilation piece taking from elements of the other pieces.
This is titled Faces and combines historic interpretations of the saints, parishioners, clergy, and prophets who can be found in the glass around the church.
Identity – highlights various heraldry as a representative fashion choice. As heraldry is various colorful shields and symbols, and is all about showing people who you are, it’s a fitting form of identity evident throughout the glass. If you look around the focal point of this piece, you can also spot silhouettes of symbolic animals that are commonly used in heraldry.
Here we have – Morality – which explores the philosophical, religious, and cultural complexities between right and wrong. It also highlights various imagery symbolized in The Book of Tobit. Other elements here are a staircase, symbolizing the arrival of a decision, a heart to symbolize emotions, a hand with a snake to symbolize influences by others, and a moral compass right at the center.
Margaret Agnes Rope
This one explores the work of Margaret Agnes Rope who lived between 1882 and 1953, and was a renowned stained glass artist born right here in Shrewsbury. Her alter carvings are also featured around St. Mary’s.
Last but not least, this piece explores the work of David Evans who was alive between 1793 and 1861. He had an immense appreciation for medieval drawing and coloring and his work heavily influenced the glass arrangements around the church.
Exhibiting Around The World
We are working hard to shift the perception of the impact potential of the arts, and would love to extend our exhibits elsewhere. We can create custom series, unique to your location and/or subject-area. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in hosting our exhibit!