Dean’s Letter: Our Patron Saint

Hello St. Paul’s,

On Sunday we will celebrate our patronal festival, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The official date of this commemoration is today, January 25, marking the end of the week of prayer for Christian Unity, a week which began with The Confession of St. Peter on the 18th. We are allowed to transfer our patronal feast to the nearest Sunday, which means that each year we celebrate Cathedral Day and hold our annual parish meeting on the Sunday closest to January 25.

It’s appropriate that we focus our prayers on the unity of the church in a week bracketed by two apostles who disagreed profoundly on the qualifications for being part of the Christian community, but who ultimately came to an agreement that allowed the Gospel to spread and flourish across Asia and Europe and to be embraced by both Jews and Gentiles. You can read that story in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

The story of the dramatic conversion of Saul, the Pharisee persecutor of Christians, into Paul, the international preacher and founder of Christian communities, is well known: it is narrated in the 9th chapter of Acts, and Paul himself witnesses to his conversion experience in the 22nd chapter. Phrases from the story like “the road to Damascus” and “scales fell from his eyes” have made their way into our secular culture. It’s a tale that lends itself to dramatic interpretation: when I taught 1st grade religion I used to have the children act it out.

Many, many churches and cathedrals are dedicated to St. Paul, to the point that we regularly receive emails asking about weddings or funerals, only to realize that the inquirer meant to send their question to a different St. Paul’s in another part of the country. But I doubt if any St. Paul’s church tells the story of their patron in quite the way our cathedral does. There is an ancient tradition of telling Bible stories in churches through images, whether painted on the walls, as statuary, or incorporated in stained glass: this tradition developed when most people were illiterate and had little access to the words of Scripture. The faithful people who built our cathedral followed the tradition in the design of our nave windows. Let me take you on a mental tour.

Saul participates in the persecution of a Christian (who is wearing a white baptismal alb).

Imagine you are in the cathedral, standing by the pulpit, looking at the first lancet window in the south wall. This is where the story begins, with images that show Saul persecuting the first Christians. The next window illustrates Paul’s dramatic confrontation with the risen Christ and his temporary blindness before he was baptized. The story continues as you walk down the south aisle towards the columbarium, and then on the north side returning to the chancel end; each window contains three panels that illustrate events of Paul’s career. They include some dramatic moments, such as when he escaped from Damascus by being lowered down outside the city walls in a basket; or when he was shipwrecked on Malta and bitten by a venomous snake. If you look very closely, most of the panels include the chapter and verse of Acts where the story is told.

Saul encounters the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

The artists who created our windows included a subtle detail: the first illustrations show Saul in a green robe and yellow scarf. After his encounter with Jesus, the colors are reversed.

Paul escapes from Damascus in a basket.

Our windows not only beautify our worship space; they also help to tell the story of who we are and who our patron was. It’s worthwhile to spend some time with them, seeing how Scripture can come alive in image and color. Studying our windows is also a painless way to brush up on your knowledge of the book of Acts.

Detail showing citation from the Acts of the Apostles.

A final detail: over the Dean’s stall is the cathedral shield with a motto, “Predicamus”, which means “We preach”. It is a reference to Paul’s own words in his first letter to the Corinthians: “We preach (or proclaim) Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:23)

I hope to see you at our celebration of Cathedral Day on Sunday and at the luncheon and annual parish meeting that follow the 10:30 service.

Your sister in Christ,

You can see the whole series of Paul windows, captured by our peerless cathedral photographer Susan Forsburg, on our Flickr account (Click Here).

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2 thoughts on “Dean’s Letter: Our Patron Saint”

  1. My sincere congratulations on the celebration of our Cathedral’s “Birthday”!! I was there that evening and the memory will live with me till He calls me home. I am so encouraged by the work you’ve all done to bring the Parish into the 21st Century and assure the life of the Cathedral far into the future. Thank you, Dean Penny, for your vision and your leadership.
    PS: please pass on my gratitude and thanks for treasured memories to Canon Anne Chism. I so enjoy seeing her doing what God has called her to do. Peace & Love to all, Shirley


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