Apostles in the Pulpit




The carving on Shadyside’s limestone pulpit is more than purely decorative.  It is an example of the  church’s extensive use of symbolism - unusual in the Reformed tradition.  The architectural design was the work of Charles Marcus Osborn as part of Shadyside’s extensive sanctuary remodeling of 1937-38.  Six round arched panels form the pulpit enclosure.  In the triangular shaped spandrels on either side of each panel, bas-relief carvings represent Christ’s Apostles.  (The abstracted style of the symbols is entirely in keeping with the Art Deco fashion of the 1930s – as is low relief carving and the use of light color in the selection of limestone.)

There does not seem to be a single authoritative list of who is considered an Apostle – and Shadyside’s line-up of twelve is not exhaustive:  Nine original Disciples are included (Phillip, Andrew, Bartholomew, Peter, James (the Greater), John, Matthew, Simon and Thomas) leaving out Judas, James (the Less) and Jude.  To this, the two Evangelists who were not Disciples (Mark and Luke) are added, as well as Mathias (the replacement for Judas).  

In Christian tradition, there are numerous symbols associated with each Apostle.  As many as a dozen are listed for some individuals as delineated in Church Symbolism by F. R. Webber and Ralph Adams Cram (1938, J. H. Jansen), source of the shields below.  Many of these are confirmed and supplemented by George Ferguson in Signs and Symbols in Christian Art (1959, Oxford University Press).  Symbols relate to the characteristics, the ministry and the martyrdom of each Apostle.  As such, some seem quite gruesome.  Much that is attributed to the Apostles derives from non-canonical writing, tradition and legend.  


James the Greater refers to a Disciple who was one of the sons of Zebedee (along with John).  He engaged in extensive missionary travel and is believed to be buried in Spain at Santiago de Compostella.  Santiago (from San Diego or Saint James) became a major destination of pilgrimages and the scallop shell is found in abundance in the region.  Three such shells symbolize James and are associated with the pilgrimage site.  The shell’s converging lines may represent the many paths of travelers to Santiago .

A winged lion recalls Mark, the Evangelist, and the royal divinity of Christ.  This is one of the so-called "beasts of the Evangelists."  A legend also claims that lions are born dead and come to life on the third day, an allusion to the Resurrection.  Shown here is one of four stained glass windows in Shadyside's transepts depicting the four Gospel writers.
A Greek letter Tau and a pilgrim’s staff tell something of the traditional story Philip’s life.  He traveled widely in his missionary work and died on a T-shaped cross. A “pilgrim’s staff” is a walking stick with a crutch-like hook at the top.
John, like Mark, is depicted as one of the beasts of the Evangelists – an eagle.  As a Disciple and Apostle, symbols for John include a sword, a pilgrim’s staff, a pilgrim’s scallop shell, a boiling cauldron, a chalice or a serpent.  Legend says an unsuccessful attempt was made of John’s life with a poisoned chalice and the poison departed in the form of a serpent.  In the stained glass depiction, he holds a chalice.
The Gospels tell us little of Mathias, except his selection by lot to replace Judas as one of the Twelve.  His symbol on the pulpit is easily confused with that of Paul (which is a sword behind a Bible).  Here, we see a scimitar in front of a Bible.  There are at least six symbols for this Apostle, and most contain stones, a spear, a halberd, or some other instrument of martyrdom.
Luke is depicted as a winged ox, referring to Christ as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world in his Gospel.  Luke was not a Disciple.  He is sometimes shown painting a portrait of Mary and the Christ Child (from life), an anachronistic reference to the legend that claims he was an artist as well as a physician.  Luke is also seen in stained glass in the transepts
The crossed (or saltire) keys are a familiar symbol for Peter.  They represent the authority Christ gave to the church through Peter.  Often, they are combined with an inverted cross as seen at the left, as Peter wished to be crucified upside down, considering himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord
Matthew appears in his symbolic form as an Evangelist, a winged man.  This may represent Christ’s Incarnation, a subject of Matthew’s Gospel.  Typically, when he is depicted as a Disciple, symbols make reference to his former occupation as a tax collector (three purses or a money chest) or his death (a battle-axe).
Saltire fish symbolize Andrew:  He was a fisherman and legend has it that he was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
Legend claims that Simon was one of the shepherds whom the angels told about the birth of Jesus.  If so, he must have been young at the Nativity: which might identify the younger shepherd in Shadyside’s Tiffany Nativity window as Simon (seen here looking upward).  His symbol, however, refers to his later occupation as “fisher of men” who traveled by boat as a missionary with Jude.  Here, a fish is impaled on a boat hook.  Other symbols for Simon include an ax or a saw, in reference to two supposed methods of his death
Tradition has it that Thomas carried the message of Christ to India , where he built a church with his own hands.  Thus, we find his symbol includes a builder’s square – and the reason he is the patron saint of builders.  A spear indicates his method of death at the hands of a pagan priest.  Legend says that before death, he was also attacked with arrows and stones, which are found in some symbols for Thomas
Common to many symbols for Bartholomew is the flaying knife, a stark reference to his method of martyrdom.  Here, the knife appears with a book, representing the Apostle’s faith in scripture.  Bartholomew is thought to be Nathaniel of John 1:43-51, who was told of Jesus Christ by Philip, under a fig tree.  Some symbols for Bartholomew include a fig branch.