Hand Illuminated Altar Cards of Nina Somerset

In the liturgical arts, there is both a place and necessity for mass produced items that can be quickly procured to stock a church and sacristy with the necessary items for the execution of the sacred liturgy. That said, once that is done there is great value to be found in commissioning original, qualitative craftsmanship and artistry, whether it be of vestments, statuary, or anything else.  This activity not only helps to support liturgical artisans, it also helps to create works of art that move beyond "catalogue cliches" into original works that can both inspire interest and pride and also draw attention to them as unique works.

An example of the sort of thing I am thinking of can be found in a set of altar cards that were designed and executed by Nina Somerset for the Anglo-catholic parish of St Silas the Martyr in Kentish Town.  Mrs. Somerset trained as an art student in the Bournemouth in the 1920's and died in 1982. The cards incorporate various Old and New Testament figures that are of symbolic value both ecclesiastically and liturgically, as well as for the local parish church for which they were made.

I am pleased to report that these altar cards still adorn one of the altars of St. Silas the Martyr. Let's take a look at them.

The Central Altar Card

On either side of the central panel are the figures of St. Peter (right) and St. Paul (left).  The central panel has an image of Christ crucified surrounded by angels and the figures of Blessed Virgin, St. John the Baptist and St. Silas. Beneath them are St. Joseph and three Old Testament figures. 

Christ crucified. St. Silas, the patron saint of the church in which these are found, is seen kneeling, St. John the Baptist beside him. To the left is the Blessed Virgin and beside her the figures of Adam and Eve.
St. Joseph (upper left), Abel (lower left), Melchizidek (upper right), Abraham and Issac (lower left)
St. Paul
St. Peter

The Lavabo Card


The Annunciation
King David

The Last Gospel Card


The Nativity
St. John

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