Saint Paul and the Huia

by admin on August 29, 2010


Regan O'Callaghan St Paul and the Huia 2008, Saint Paul's Cathedral London, art residency, Koru, tent, religious icon, egg tempera, gold leaf

Saint Paul and the Huia

In 2008 I had the great privilege of being based in a studio at St Paul’s Cathedral.  The Canon’s had commissioned me to write an icon of Saint Paul and so for the next year I worked away in a room in the north of the cathedral accessed by entering a cleaning cupboard in the Minor Canon’s vestry and climbing a winding staircase up into a room that seemed quite hidden and forgotten by time.

Regan O'Callaghan Saint Paul's Cathedral London stair well

The icon was dedicated on the 16th November 2008 at Evensong by the Bishop of London and is displayed in front of the high altar of the Cathedral.

Below is a description of the icon.

“Saint Paul is seen holding his letters upon which Saint Paul’s Cathedral is carried.  Above him is his tent and on his shoulder an exotic bird.  The Huia, an indigenous bird of Aotearoa ( New Zealand ) is clearly not a typical orthodox image, but I have included it for an important reason.  The Huia, above all other species in the forest, was sacred to Maori.  It was believed a gatekeeper to the seventh heaven and was also closely associated with the great chiefs of the land and only chiefs of distinction could properly wear its tail.  When it became rare, Maori declared it ‘tapu’ (sacred) but sadly this was not enough to save it as its tail feathers became sought after in Europe as well.  The Huia became extinct in the early part of the 20th century.  As well as its plumage, the Huia’s call was very beautiful.  The Huia that sits on Saint Paul’s shoulder, reminds us that even though its song has been silenced, we are all still called to listen for the inspired beauty of God’s song found in creation and Holy Scripture.  The flowers on St Paul’s tent encourage us to smell the sweet scent of heaven.  St Paul himself looks directly at you the viewer.  He waits to hear what you have to say.  His hand which is about to bless points towards heaven and also appears to be waving.  The swirling pattern on his right side is the ‘koru’.  This is an image inspired by an unfolding fern frond and it symbolises eternal life.

Regan O'Callaghan High Altar Saint Paul's cathedral london, Saint Paul and the Huia, icon gold leaf

High Altar St Paul’s Cathedral.

Patronal festival Saint Paul, icon, huia, gold leaf, saint paul's cathedral


St Paul Patronal 2011 – Day of the Phoenix

Photo by Graham Lacado.

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