Today, May 27, 2018 is Trinity Sunday, one of the seven yearly principle feast days of the Episcopal Church, and the only one that addresses squarely what we believe as Christians. Trinity Sunday celebrates the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three Persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate this most fascinating, and often controversial Christian doctrine, I am reminded of my recent Lenten discipline, where I built prie dieux for the four priests at my church. Building four distinctly different styles of furniture, I incorporated subtle references to the Trinity, without altering the overall designs.
My recently completed Lenten journey started in 2015 with a folding prie dieu for Fr. Fabio, the Hispanic Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. I chose a folding design thinking it would travel well as he visited the Hispanic congregations across the diocese. Fr. Fabio hails from Colombia, thus, my choice to use jatoba along with the English oak, which represents the Episcopal Church’s English roots. The kneeling platform of this prie dieu consists of two separate boards held together with butterflies. The jatoba butterflies go all the way through the two pieces of 4/4 English Oak as to be seen from both top and bottom. There is a gap between the oak pieces of 1/32 of a inch to 3/16 of an inch, from one side to the other. I did this to represent the many historical and current schisms within the church. The jatoba butterflies, in and of themselves, represent the Trinity, holding everything together.
My journey continued into 2016 with the construction of an Arts & Crafts style prie dieu for Rev. Caroline, the Assistant Rector at St. Bede’s. Rev. Caroline hails from California, and is fond of Arts & Crafts and Mission style furniture. I thought what better lumber to represent California than California black oak. I chose the hackberry strictly for the contrast. The hackberry tusks along with the large appliques represent the Trinity. I experimented a bit with the finish, using Napa Valley red wine to dye the black oak a beautiful burgundy color. This is the same prie dieu presented in yesterday’s post, A Simple Gift.
Continuing, I constructed a William & Mary style prie dieu for Rev. Lynnsay, the Director of the Julian of Norwich Center, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Rev. Lynnsay loves this style of furniture, so there was really no other consideration. I searched and found photos of an extant William & Mary desk on frame and figured out how to add a kneeling platform. The legs were turned with a spring-pole lathe. Not wanting to take away from the design of the original desk on frame, the references to the Trinity are quite subtle. The dovetails are grouped into threes, and there are three mahogany niches inside the cherry desk.
The niches needed to be adorned with some sort of trim at the top … just because. Using a coping saw I cut out said trim from a 7/8 inch thick piece of mahogany. After resawing the 7/8 inch mahogany piece into thirds, I noticed that the center piece was somewhat scratched-up compared to the two smooth outside pieces. So what better piece to use for the center niche!
As you look at the niches and think of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that center niche becomes rather appropriate. After all … It is by his wounds that we are healed.
I then went onto a Reformation Era Prie Dieu for Fr. Chad, the Rector of St. Bede’s. Having degrees in both English and Art History, Fr. Chad was a museum curator prior to becoming a priest. He and I have had many conversations about Anglican church history and the traditions of the Episcopal Church. So much so, I felt a Reformation Era prie dieu quite à propos. The style/details of this solid walnut prie dieu are based on existing pieces of church furniture seen on my recent trip to London. As with the William & Mary prie dieu, references to the Trinity are quite subtle and can be found in the three cocobolo butterflies in the kneeling platform, and the two sets of three lambs tongue stopped chamfers at the side corners.
Whether your particular faith tradition accepts or rejects the Doctrine of the Trinity, I hope you can appreciate the prie dieux, in and of themselves.