Paschal Candle for a Double Dominican Jubilee

2021 is a Jubilee year for the Dominican Order and for our English Dominican Province. For in 1221, our holy father Saint Dominic sent a band of preaching brothers to England, and they set out from the university town of Bologna to the university town of Oxford. On the day they set foot on the shores of England, the 6th of August 1221, our holy father Dominic passed from this world, and, as it were, he set foot on the shores of the heavenly realm. The Order, therefore, observes this year the
800th anniversary of the death and thus the ‘dies natalis’, the heavenly birthday, of Saint Dominic. 2021 is also the 450th anniversary of the Feast of the Holy Rosary which commemorates the victory at Lepanto, thanks to the power of prayer through the Rosary Confraternity of the Order.

So, when I decided for the second time ever to paint the Paschal candle for my church, St Dominic’s Priory, the Rosary Shrine church in London, I wanted to incorporate these significant milestones that we celebrate this year into the design of the candle. My post about last year’s candle explains the paints I use, and those practical and technical issues about painting a candle which I won’t repeat here. 

In the centre of the candle is the black and white Dominican cross, and radiating from the middle of the cross are four stylised lilies, a symbol associated with St Joseph, in reference to his purity and chastity; 2021 is also the Year of St Joseph, as declared by Pope Francis.

The Alpha and Omega, as well as the numbers, are decorated in a style reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon monastic illuminations, as a nod to the ancient Christian heritage of England which the Dominican friars encountered and benefited from when they arrived 800 years ago. Indeed, it is this Christian culture that drew them to this country, to the University of Oxford, where they hoped to engage in the philosophical and theological questions of the day, and to recruit new friars from among the students at that University. The friars still remain at Oxford, of course, at Blackfriars

Near the top of the candle, just to the right of centre, is a map of Italy. I consulted a satellite image of Italy to ensure I accurately depicted the colour of that country. Marked on that map, with a red cross is Bologna, in Latin, ‘Bononia’. 

At the bottom of the candle, just to the left of centre, is another map of Britain, and marked with a red cross is Oxford, in Latin, ‘Oxonia’. Three Dominican friars are shown here, and scattered across the candle are twelve friars in total because in 1221 St Dominic sent a band of twelve friars, led by fr Gilbert of Fresney, to establish a Dominican priory in Oxford. 

The journey of those friars, from Bologna to Oxford, is shown on the candle by a blue Rosary that spirals down the candle and connects these two cities. The Rosary, of course, is a reference to this anniversary year of the Holy Rosary and a reminder that we Dominicans, as itinerants, would pray the Rosary as we travel. The Rosary, in my experience, is the perfect form of prayer and meditation for travellers. The Rosary beads are blue, in honour of Our Lady, and also in reference to the sea: Lepanto was a naval battle, and the friars crossed the sea to come to England. 

At the top of the candle, close to the wick, is a dog carrying a torch. This is a popular symbol of St Dominic, whose mother had a dream of a dog carrying a torch and spreading the light of Gospel truth throughout the world. In Latin, ‘dogs of the Lord’ is ‘Domini canes’, so there is also a pun of these dogs of the Lord being a reference to Dominican friars. This particular depiction of the Dog of the Lord is by Eric Gill, an English Dominican tertiary and artist.

At the Easter Vigil, the Paschal Candle was duly pierced with five grains of incense, shaped like pine cones in a traditional Roman custom. 

The Paschal Candle is lit throughout the fifty days of the Easter season, and at Baptisms and Funerals throughout the year until Easter 2022, a sign of the Risen Christ present among us. The living flame currently burns just above the painted flames from the torch held by St Dominic’s dog, a lovely reminder that we Dominicans are called to bear the light of Christ through our preaching and our teaching. Please pray for us!

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