Lady Chapel

The main altar in the first Saint John’s at Semmes and Spottswood was moved to this location in 1948. The wooden altar, now in the Lady Chapel, provides continuity between the former church building and the present one. The murals in this chapel illustrate three important events in the life of the Virgin Mary: The Annunciation, The Visitation, and The Incarnation. Each mural measures 15 feet by 10 feet.

Holy Mother Enthroned

This mural, the first to be painted, represents The Incarnation. It depicts the Holy Mother, her arms outstretched, with the Christ Child seated in her lap. His hand is raised in blessing. The Madonna is not holding the Child to herself, but in such a way as to present him to the world and to say, “I gave him to you.” The position of her arms is symbolic of prayer.

Mary is seated on a purple cushion and the purple again at her feet symbolizes royal majesty. The throne on which the Holy Mother is seated is surrounded by rocks with mountain peaks in the distance, a symbol of paganism. Above and behind is an immense night sky filled with stars, recalling the night of his birth. (Luke 2:1-20)

The colors of the Mother and Child drapery represent fidelity, truth, loyalty and purity. Red is symbolic of love, energy and courage. Behind the Madonna’s head is a solid gold nimbus bordered by a circle of precious alternating red and blue stones. Christ’s bejeweled nimbus is not solid like Mary’s and contains a cross, foretelling His passion.

Unarmed angels stand on either side. In Saint John’s Bulletin, September 16, 191, the Rev. Alfred Loaring-Clark said, “Mr. DeRosen arrived October 1 to prepare the dried plaster surface for painting. Our Lady will be attended by St. John and St. James on either side.” Whether they are named or unnamed, the angel to her left bids the congregation to worship. The angel to her right is holding a white falcon , or tercel, with a broken wing. Falcons are often referred to as the bird of kings and the king of birds and are used as a symbol for pilots. The falcon is rising to life again in the presence of Christ who restores life. Note the use of both gold leaf and that of imitation gold leaf, which is not as brilliant.

This mural honors the memory of a young parishioner, an aviator, who was killed in a plane crash. It is presented by Mr. and Mrs. Jules Rozier, to the Glory of God and in loving memory of her son, James DuBose Swearenger, Jr.

The Annunciation

This mural is the artist’s depiction of “The Annunciation.” He was influenced by a fresco found in the catacomb of South Praxeda in Rome, which was probably from the second century.  If not the first image of the Annunciation, it surely is one of the earliest Christian images known. The mural shows the Blessed Virgin dipping water from a stream with the Archangel Gabriel approaching. This mural is a return to the early tradition of iconography.   “And the angel came unto her, and said, ‘Hail, thou that are highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.’ And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” (Luke 1:26-38) 

The archangel Gabriel is dressed in white, a symbol of purity, wearing a golden belt signifying chastity, and a cloak of fiery red, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. He holds the traditional staff or scepter, which all archangels carry in Byzantine tradition. The Blessed Virgin is dressed in white and pink, symbols of her purity and youth. Near the brook, the vase is a Syriac vessel of the first century, probably similar to those used in Galilee at the time of our Lord. While the landscape is bare and rocky, representing the outside world, it provides an enclosed space where the Blessed Virgin is kneeling on a green meadow covered with spring flowers.

The Archangel Gabriel is shown announcing to Mary that she is to become the Mother of our Lord. The golden rays coming from above are symbols of the Holy Ghost descending upon the Blessed Virgin. Both Italian Renaissance and Baroque styles and the influence of painters Bryn-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rosetti can be seen here. 

This mural is given to the Glory of God and in loving memory of Gertrude Alcorn Russell. It is the gift of three of her children: Edward P. Russell, Mrs. Percy M. Wood and Mrs. Giles A. Coors.

The Visitation

This mural depicts the visit of St. Mary to her cousin, St. Elizabeth, as told in the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 1:39-56)

“And Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste into a city of Judah: And entered into the house of Zechariah, and saluted Elizabeth. And she (Elizabeth) spoke out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed are thou among women, and blessed be the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” 

Gazing upward in a mood of somber ecstasy,  Mary replied with the beautiful song of the Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,My spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.From this day all generations will call me blessed;The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.He has mercy on those who fear him in everygeneration.He has shown the strength of his arm,He has scattered the proud in their conceit.He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy,The promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.”“And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.” (Luke 1:56) 

At the time of The Visitation, Elizabeth and Zechariah, although advanced in age, are awaiting the birth of their child who is to be John the Baptist. Elizabeth is hesitant and shy in the presence of the one who is to be the Mother of Our Lord. The Blessed Virgin is dressed completely in white, the symbol of purity. On her heart can be seen the cross, foretelling the sorrow, which will come to her. In the background are mountains, which represent the “hill country” of Elizabeth’s home. In Eastern iconography, a drapery generally denotes a human dwelling or house; hence, the drapery and porch indicate the home of Elizabeth.Only two colors are used in the mural, blue and white, the colors of the Virgin. This is the only mural done in just two colors. 

This mural was given by James Dinkins Robinson, whose influence was important also in acquiring the cemetery for Saint John’s. He is buried in the southwest corner of the cemetery. 

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Saint John’s Episcopal Church
3245 Central Avenue | Memphis, Tennessee 38111
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