▪St Nicholas’ golden number

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.

St Nicholas windowOf 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.)

St Nicholas cardBut 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!

5 thoughts on “▪St Nicholas’ golden number

  1. According to the legend the three bags of gold were given to the father of THREE girls, not one.
    This is how the story goes. Nicholas’s parents had died and left him well off. He had a neighbour who had once been rich but had fallen on hard times. The neighbour had three daughters of marriageable age, but without a dowry they were unlikely to marry and might have to turn to prostitution to support the family. Nicholas heard of their plight and one night secretly dropped a bag of gold through a window of their house. When he found the gold in the morning their father was delighted because he could use it as a dowry for the eldest girl. A few nights later Nicholas did the same with a second bag of gold, and the second daughter was provided for. The girls’ father was determined to find out who the benefactor was, and kept watch. A few nights after that he saw Nicholas putting a third bag of gold through the window. He thanked him – but Nicholas asked him to keep the whole affair secret and to thank God for the gifts.

    Marga has included a scene from the story in the window. Just above and to the left of St Nicholas’s head is a castle (obviously the neighbour had once been VERY rich!). Just to the right of the doorway you can see St Nicholas with his arm through a window, and to the left the girls’ father is watching from behind a bush.

    Roger Hall


  2. The more one looks at one of Marga’s windows, the more one sees. In the borders to this one she has included some small pictures, including one of the three children emerging from the pickling tub.
    Roger Hall


  3. Quote;”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.” I don’t know what the source for this is. It doesn’t look so much like Michael Rope to me but it could be another of her models – Ambrose Moriarty. A family friend, he first served at Shrewsbury Cathedral as a newly ordained curate (1894-1908), then parish priest from 1908 to 1935 and Canon from 1910 and finally Bishop there (1935-1949). He spent his entire priestly life at the Cathedral. If I knew how to, I would copy a contemporary photo of Fr. Moriarty here.


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