The St. Margaret Banner

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By Gary Jennings and John Poynter

David Boysel
Photo: ©2012 by Frederic Larson, The San Francisco Chronicle. Used by permission.

The artist, Mr. David Boysel of San Francisco, was entrusted with creating the banner of St Margaret of Scotland and provided with biographical information generally available in print. Mr. Boysel is well-known in art circles in the Bay Area and in the Diocese of California for earlier banners he has created – among them a gift banner from Grace Cathedral, San Francisco for St. Georges Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa, commemorating the end of apartheid – as well as his accomplishments in restoration of historic structures, murals, frescoes and like décor. He provides the following information on the present banner: “The frontal image is based on the window in the St Margaret Chapel [in the Edinburgh, Scotland Castle], adapted from leaded glass to a textile surface with a paint medium.”

St. Margaret Banner FrontWe do not know what Margaret actually looked like or how she appeared, and it was the artist’s desire for the representation of the image to have as human and inviting face as well as a more deepened skin tone suggesting diversity. “I decided to render her in layers of translucent color, so she has a glowing, fresco secca aspect, in the tradition of Christian art. The gilded background has a glow and reflective quality, and is the material often used to denote saintliness, or as not of the world. The [washed] silk is purple because it denotes royalty, and because as a Christian color, it denotes penitence. Margaret was both of these, so it seemed an obvious choice…the cross on the book Margaret is holding [suggests it is a holy book such as St Margaret’s Gospel Book] is a budded, or Bottony Cross, with nimbus.

St. Margaret Stained Glass“Photos of the St Margaret Chapel window provided limited guidance for this project. I could not discern what, if anything, was [meant to be] rendered there. The budded ends of the Cross form a trefoil, symbol of the Trinity.”

St. Margaret of ScotlandFor the back of the banner, the artist offers the following: “The single most important information are the left-hand words, ‘St Margaret of Scotland’ which are therefore large enough to be read as the banner passes in procession. The vine decoration down the left edge is a pomegranate border, often seen in ancient Christian manuscripts. The pomegranate stands for the Church, the seeds protected within are the souls of Christians (occasionally the red juice of the fruit represents Christ’s blood, depending on the context of the symbol).  The ‘M’ for Margaret is on a pearl, the meaning of the name Margaret. I could not resist adding a thistle someplace, but the Scottish thistle as a national symbol would have been unknown to Margaret, it came after her time. I therefore added a small thistle to the ‘O’ in Scotland, rather than on her name or person. If a thistle is used as a Christian symbol, it denotes earthly snares and sin, hardly appropriate for Margaret herself.

St. Margaret Story, 1 of 2“The right rear panel encapsulates a brief biography of Margaret  [c.1045-1093], explaining her significance. I think that because it has text, it is fairly self-explanatory. It reads from top to bottom with illustrations drawn from various sources, rather like an illuminated manuscript might be. At the top is the ancient symbol for the House of Wessex, the Wyvern. Margaret was a royal princess, daughter of exiled King Edward of England. In her time, this symbol would have been understood as her family’s heraldic emblem. Next down is a ship, taken from a book of Christian symbols. There are three resurrection banners on the masts. The ship symbolizes the three sea voyages of Margaret’s family 1) the voyage into exile, 2) then back to England to reclaim the throne, and finally 3) the escape during the Norman invasion after King Edward’s death, with the accidental landing in Scotland during a storm. The ship is also often used in Christian text as “guiding the Church”. Margaret helped consolidate Christianity in Scotland guiding Christians in Scotland. She influenced her husband, King Malcolm III, by reading to him from the Bible, by persuading him into doing good things such as the re-opening of the monasteries, and establishing free ferry service for pilgrims. They brought up their six children in the Christian faith; three of their children became rulers, living by the Christian faith, reigning accordingly with fairness and justice. The image of Margaret and Malcolm is based on an illustration from 1591 in Seton’s Armorial.

St. Margaret Story, 2 of 2“Next is the armorial device for Margaret. This one is based on the 1591 armorial, of which the heraldic emblem on the window in the St Margaret Chapel window is a variant. The chapel window is a 19th century piece, I deferred to the much earlier version of this device.

“Last is the St Martin Cross at Iona Abbey. Margaret re‑founded this ancient monastery, after it had been closed following its destruction by Viking invaders some decades earlier. There are very few objects or structures remaining which Margaret herself would recognize, but this ancient cross is one of them. Legend has it that she visited the abbey herself, but this cannot be verified. If she did visit, she would have seen this Celtic cross. Political and religious upheavals, centuries and vandalism have erased most of the world Margaret would have known. I am reminded of words from a hymn, ‘Time, like the ever-flowing stream, bears all our years away.’

“I have been careful in my selection of images and symbols appropriate to Saint Margaret, so as to tell her story truthfully and sincerely.”

The Feast of Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 2012

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