Coming up soon, on December 6th, is the Feast of St Nicholas, a bishop of yore, who became known as ‘Old St Nick’ and then latterly, as everyone will know, as Santa Claus. In some countries of the world, children are even given presents on his feast-day.
Of course, Marga respected saints far too much to poke any seasonal fun in her depiction of St Nicholas (in Newport RC Church in Shropshire) – but … there is an odd little story connected with her window of him.
Restoring the legends
As you will see, if you visit Newport SS Peter & Paul Church, St Nicholas is depicted (see right) with two golden balls at his feet. Now, that is all wrong. The legend goes that St Nicholas gave three bags (or balls) of gold to a poor young girl, one of the stories that later turned him into Santa Claus.
Has Marga misread the story?
Well, of course not. However, it seems that the person in charge of restoring the window some years ago, wasn’t as familiar with medieval legends, and omitted the third ball. (There’s a joke here somewhere, but I’m cleverly steering clear of it).
(Incidentally, the Newport Church windows have had to have a deal of work on them. The face of the Virgin in another window is clearly not Marga’s work; this is a result of hasty replacement following some vandalism.)
But this creates a conundrum. What does the postcard-maker do? Does one faithfully reproduce the St Nick window as it is – knowing that purchasers of the postcard will be puzzled by the apparent lack of reverence for the legend? Or does one correct the restorer’s mistake?
Well, the publisher of the last set of postcards of this window decided on the latter course, inking in the extra ball between the saint’s ankles – and so St Nick’s legend is preserved in the card… if not in the window!
Seeing St Nick
If you do want to buy some of the afore-mentioned St Nicholas cards, I’m told there may be a few left in Shrewsbury RC Cathedral shop, which is open on Saturdays 10-3pm during the winter. The profits from the sales of the card go towards paying for the restoration processes with these windows.
And, if you want to see the many Marga windows in SS Peter& Paul (and they are glorious), well, Newport is not a so-called ‘open church’, but the priest there is amenable to enthusiasts phoning ahead to request a visit.
Interestingly, the St Nicholas window does have another little story. It’s almost certain that the face is a portrait of Marga’s brother Michael, who was her model for a few other windows too.
And lastly, the second most famous legend of St Nicholas is the second reason he transformed into Father Christmas. He managed to bring back to life three children who had been killed and then pickled in brine, thus making him the patron of children. So, you will often also see children in depictions of him – and, sure, enough, just below him in his window, Marga has put in a depiction of children playing.
Happy St Nicholas Day!