Parish Hall Symbols

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At Shadyside’s original third church building, explicit Christian symbolism was chiefly manifested on the exterior, as seen in the Greek and Latin crosses on the entrance gable.  It remained for the 1937 remodeling to display significant interior symbols.  This overt use of symbolism continued on the exterior of the 1953 Parish Hall addition, in part with the medallions arrayed across its front wall.  Many of these have Old Testament origins, but all have at least some reference to the Gospel.

 

An Anchor has long represented steadfastness and hope in Christ.  The specific citation is in Hebrews 6:19-20, We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf…”

  

Nautical references are common in such symbolism.  This small representation of Noah on the Ark contains ample detail.  The Ark itself represents the Church of Jesus Christ , as boats often do.  We see Noah releasing a dove, which returned with an olive branch, signifying God’s re-established peace with mankind.  At the back of the Ark , a horse-like animal appears, with its ears positioned perhaps to identify it as an ass.  This humblest of animals may remind us that status is not a qualification to be joined to the Church.  The rainbow representing God’s covenant is above the Ark.

  

We see Jonah, clearly frightened of the Great Fish (depicted inaccurately here as a whale).  Since he is swimming, we may assume this is before he was swallowed – when he was expelled from the fish, it was onto dry land.  However, Christ himself gives us the metaphor for this symbol.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  (Mattew 12:40)  His reference is to the time between His Crucifixion and Resurrection.

The Harp may, at first glance, appear to have only Old Testament meaning.  It is a traditional symbol for David and for the many Psalms he wrote.  Here, we count ten strings on the Harp – which St. Augustine associated, in this context, with the Ten Commandments.  So, we see ample Old Testament references. However, the “column” of the Harp on the left depicts a winged man, the usual symbol for Matthew and his Gospel.  In his opening verse, Matthew identifies Christ as a son of David, and thereafter traces Christ’s lineage through David.  The sounding board on the right displays fourteen round discs – the significance of which, if any, is unclear.

  

The descending Dove is a familiar and ubiquitous signifier of the Holy Spirit.  The origin is John’s testimony concerning the baptism of Jesus in his Gospel  Chapter 1 Verse 32: " I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him."  A similar reference is in Matthew 3:16.

The Fleur-de-lis has a number of symbolic connections.  Often, the three leaves are associated with the Trinity.  It is also connected with purity and, by extension, the Virgin Mary as well as the Annunciation.  This association is also carried sometimes to denote the human nature of Christ.

  

While the Fleur-de-lis carries positive connotations, the Thistle can be seen negatively as well as positively.  Chiefly, it calls to mind the Fall of Man and the cursed ground:  “It will produce thorns and thistles for you…” Genesis 3:18.  As it is a thorny plant, the thistle also calls to mind the Passion of Christ and His crown of thorns.  In a happier vein, it symbolizes Scotland , a center of Presbyterianism and part of the ancestry of Shadyside’s many Scots-Irish founders.

 

The most common association with the Star is with Christ’s birth and the guidance given to the Magi.  More generally, stars symbolize divine guidance or favor.  This particular four-pointed example is sometimes called the Cross Etoile or Star Cross.  The roughly equal point length relates it to the Greek Cross.  In a subtle way, then, this symbol relates to both the birth and death of Christ.

Jesus Christ is called the Bread of Life.  Two medallions feature loaves of bread.  In one, a Loaf is paired with a cup or Chalice, clearly pointing toward the Last Supper and our Sacrament initiated there, the Lord’s Supper.  These two also represent Melchizidek, the Old Testament Priest and King who is seen to prefigure Christ.  Stretching the imagery just a bit, we can see here a baptismal font.  The octagonal base is a traditional shape for such a vessel.  Fonts also often have a wave-like pattern, as here.  The shape interpreted above as a loaf of bread, might represent the cover of the font.  If this is the case, the medallion would symbolize both sacraments.

  

In a second medallion, loaves are joined to fishes.  While this is a specific symbol of Saint Jude, in this context, the Loaves and Fishes most likely reference is to Jesus feeding the multitude.  Thereby it celebrates His miraculous power as well a God’s gracious providence.  Each loaf is marked with a cross.  The vessel that contains them has a cross-hatch pattern, identifying it as a basket – further tying the symbol to the feeding of the thousands.

 

Saltire is a word that means crossed.  Here we see Keys Saltire which is commonly symbolic of Saint Peter.  The keys emblemize the authority of the Church, given by Christ through Peter.  In Roman Catholic context the keys represent Confession and Absolution or Excommunication and Restoration.  These are unlikely references in a church of the Reformed tradition, such as Shadyside.

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