Featured card of the day: Shepherds at the Crib / Aoirí ag an Mainséar
Each day for the next two weeks or so we will focus on one of this year’s Christmas card designs and feature it for your particular consideration. We begin with the Shepherds at the Crib (C18) / Aoirí ag an Mainséar (C19).
This seems to be one of Sr Paula’s earliest designs, dating perhaps from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Her typical designs from this period fill the whole frame with detail, right out to the border.
We notice that
- The infant Jesus is in the lowest corner of the card. He who has left the heavens and come down has truly humbled himself and takes the very lowest place, resting in the arm of his mother.
- The shepherds gaze at the infant in awe and reverence. They recognize that this is not just any newborn infant but, as they have heard from the angels, “a Saviour… Christ the Lord”, and they respond with adoration.
- The faces of the three shepherds are distinct, unique; each one has his own personality and story. The older man at the front has a more worn, experienced face; the younger two more innocent and open. The older one clutches his hand to his breast, stunned by the recognition of the divine, unselfconsciously adoring.
- The infant looks back at the shepherds, directing his gaze to them. He also stretches out his little hands slightly towards them – this is a feature of Sr Paula’s earliest depictions of the infant: he is reaching out to his own people, already wanting to touch them, to connect with them, to give himself to them.
- The Virgin Mary is displaying her Son for the shepherds to see, but she is not making eye contact with them. She seems to be lost in her own thoughts, “pondering in her heart” the amazing things that are happening as she brings the Son of God into the world. She is serene and graceful in her role.
- Outside, there are trees. Not so unusual, one might think, just a typical feature of the landscape? Perhaps, but a consideration of Sr Paula’s cards reveals that very often in her nativity scenes there is a symbol of the cross. Sometimes a cross is clearly worked into the design; at other times it is more subtle. Here the wood, particularly as seen in the trunks of the two large trees behind the Virgin Mary, may foreshadow the wood of the cross, where the life of this newborn child will ultimately end. Or rather, not end, for it is his destiny to conquer death and open the kingdom of heaven to all of us; this is why he has come into the world. From his birth he is oriented to this.
The verse inside the card is the text of an antiphon from the liturgy of Lauds (Morning Prayer) for Christmas Day. It takes the form of an imagined conversation in which someone puts a question to the shepherds and they reply: “Shepherds, tell us, whom have you seen? Who has appeared on earth? – We have seen the newborn child, we have heard the choirs of angels praising the Lord!” an answer which conveys both joy and faith, in which we all share.
We will continue this series tomorrow with another featured card.