Symbols of the Christian faith have been combined with elements from the seas of the world to form the unifying designs of the needlepoint kneelers placed at the chancel rail at St. Simon’s-on-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Undertaken as a project of the Women of St. Simon’s, the kneelers were made by a committee of communicants and are dedicated to the memory of Josephine Cooper, whose generous gift made them possible.
Knowing that she would probably not live to see the kneelers completed, Mrs. Cooper made her generous donation to grace the church she had attended for the thirty years she had lived in the Fort Walton Beach area. The Alabama native moved here with her Air Force husband and was herself a civil service employee until she retired in 1975. Over the years, she was an active member of the Women of St. Simon’s and many civic and service organizations in the community.
The colors of the kneelers were inspired by natural surroundings: the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico adjacent to our shores and the unclouded blue of the local sky. Five shades of green were used to achieve the color of the waters. Water, depicted in the design as waves, is the symbol of cleansing and as an element in the Eucharist, has come to denote Christ’s humility. The waves provide a unifying design element with their rhythmic undulations; their white foam suggests purity. The strength and vigor of the waves, in contrast to the placid Gulf waters provide not only a mixing force for the waters of the earth but also suggest the power to be derived from the Eucharist.
The central element of each design is a significant Christian symbol. Completing the designs are shells of the waters of the whole world and portions of such local shells as sand dollars. The shell, as used in Christian art, is the emblem of the pilgrim, significant in this area of transient population and the proximity of the church edifice to a thoroughfare heavily traveled by modern day pilgrims.
The intensity of the shell symbol is magnified by its use as the Communion rail because in the pilgrimage through life, Christians seek spiritual renewal by coming together for the Holy Eucharist.
A description of each of the central symbols follows.
Center ALPHA AND OMEGA
This monogram is composed of the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet. Always together, usually superimposed as they are here, these letters symbolize the everlasting nature of Christ’s divinity.
Left 1 EASTER LILIES
The spray of three white Easter lilies suggest the three days that Christ spent in the tomb and are a symbol of the Resurrection. A single lily, the symbol of purity is an attribute of the Virgin Mary and is associated with the Annunciation.
Left 2 INRI
The monogram INRI are the initial letters of the Latin inscription “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Indacarum” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) and was the title written by Pilate and nailed at the top of the Cross on which Christ was crucified.
Left 3 CROSS AND CROWN
Combined in one unit, the cross and crown symbolize the sovereignty of Christ, the Lord and King. The crown of gold with its diamond shaped finials, symbolizes highest achievement, the mark of royalty and the very idea of pre-eminence and eternal life. The Latin Cross, worked in brown, suggests the cross of wood on which Christ was crucified.
Left 4 CHI RHO
The Chi Rho is one of the oldest and best known Chrismons or Christograms. It is composed of the two Greek initial letters of the Greek word for Christ – “X” and “P”. It is reputed to have been emblazoned on the war banner or Labarum of the Emporor Constantine and therefore is sometimes referred to as the “Labarum Cross.”
Left 5 CROWN OF THORNS
The Crown of Thorns is a passion symbol signifying grief, tribulation and sin. The Crown of Thorns which the soldiers placed on the head of Christ was a parody of the Roman Emperor’s festal crown of roses. The thorn of evil is entwined in a circle of eternity, suggesting that evil is everlasting; because it is also related to the symbolism of the cross through the Crucifixion and to Christ’s passion, salvation may be achieved only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Left Corner CALVARY CROSS
The Calvary Cross, sometimes called the Graded Cross, is erected on a base of three steps with each step representing Faith, Hope and Charity.
Left 6 THE ROSE
Traditionally among the Romans, the single rose was a symbol of joy, victory and perfection and when it became a Christian symbol, it continued to carry the same meaning. Because of its color, the red rose became the symbol of martyrdom. Its round shape corresponds in significance to that of the mandorla and its eight petals symbolize regeneration. The four gold points probably refer to the four corners of the earth or to the four Evangelists.
Left 7 THE SCROLL
The Scroll or rolled manuscript is used in Christian art to suggest authorship and is emblazoned here with gold letters from the Greek Alphabet, Mu, Omega. This symbol of Our Lord uses the initial letters of the Greek words, “Yesterday”, “Today” and “Forever”. (Heb. 13-8)
Right 1 THE DOVE
The single descending white dove represents the Holy Spirit. This Symbolism appears first in the story of the baptism of Christ when John saw the Holy Spirit descending from heaven like a dove. It also recalls Pentecost. It symbolizes purity and peace.
Right 2 IHS
IHS is a sacred monogram, the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus. Sometimes IHS represents the first letters of the Latin Phrase, Jesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, Savior of Men).
Right 3 THE FISH
The Fish, one of the most common Christian symbols of Christ, was a code sign by which early Christians identified themselves. The five letters of the Greek word for fish (ICHTHOS) are the initial letters of the words: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”. The three fish, placed in the circle symbolizing eternity, represent the Trinity.
Right 4 THE ANCHOR
The Anchor, one of the early Christian symbols used in the catacombs, is the symbol of Salvation, of Hope and of Steadfastness. It is especially appropriate in this area of commercial and sport fishing.
Right 5 THE LAMB
The Lamb is another of the catacomb symbols for Christ, manifesting purity. Here, the lamb takes the form of the Lamb of God holding the long staff of the processional cross bearing a white banner with a red cross symbolizing the victory over death won by the martyrdom of Christ.
Right Corner CROSS CROSSLET
This modified cross crosslet is composed of three Latin crosses equal in length, mounted on a longer upright.
Right 6 POMEGRANATE
The Pomegranate alludes to the unity of the Church because of the orderly unity of countless seeds closely placed inside the fruit. From ancient times, it was known as the only fruit incorruptible by worms. It became the symbol of the Resurrection because Christ burst forth from the tomb on Easter, as the seeds burst from the ripened pomegranate.
Right 7 IX
The central chrismon is composed of an “I” and the Greek cross “X”, both meaning Jesus. Superimposed, they form a double cross.
Worked in white, the color of purity, this kneeler features as the central motif the Alpha and Omega monogram worked in gold. Extending from it on both sides are graceful sprays of lily of the valley, the first flowers of spring. They symbolize the Advent or birth of Christ and are also an attribute of the Virgin Mary. They herald the spring, as the wedding nuptials herald a new family union.
Each of the four acolyte kneelers features a representation of an angel, the spiritual attendant of God who serves as a messenger and carries out God’s commands, just as the acolyte assists the officiant and serves as an attendant and messenger during the worship services. Each angel carries a golden musical instrument that heralds good news and produces heavenly music. Appropriate quotations from the Bible referring to the sea are worked into each kneeler.