Surprised by Belfast: Significant Sites in the Life of C.S. Lewis, Part III, St. Mark's Church, Holywood Road - page2

 


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From the Fall 2016 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Surprised by Belfast: Significant Sites in the Life
of C.S. Lewis, Part III, St. Mark's Church, Holywood Road

by Sandy Smith
Author of C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth

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The Lion

  The church rectory, which was the home of Jack’s mother, Flora, and his grandparents, was immediately adjacent to the church when it was first built. The old rectory, as it is now called, is still standing much as it was in 1878. Even after his grandfather retired from his post, Jack undoubtedly would have stood at the front door of the rectory looking intently at the doorknob just above the letter box. On any other rectory door, the pattern of the door furniture might be merely an accidental or an incidental detail, but not on here. This is the rectory of St. Mark’s. The church icon for St. Mark is the lion, and the church locally was called the Lion on the Hill,1 a reference to that part of the Holywood Road known as Bunkers Hill. The church magazine is called The Lion, and appropriately the brass knob on the rectory door is cast in the form of a lion’s head.   That is where Jack no doubt encountered the first image of a lion that impressed him—on the front doorknob of his grandfather’s rectory and his mother’s former home.
  In a letter to his publisher in response to a request for some information regarding the origins of the images that bring the Narnian Chronicles to life, Jack indicates that many had been there from his teenage years or earlier, in his childhood. He says in Surprised by Joy that “at the age of six, seven and eight—I was living almost entirely in my imagination; or at least that the imaginative experience of those years now seems to me more important than anything else.”2
  Was the lion part of this imagery? Certainly yes; he tells us: “I pored endlessly over an almost complete set of old Punches which stood in my father’s study. Tenniel gratified my passion for “dressed animals” with his Russian Bear, British Lion, Egyptian Crocodile and the rest.”3
  Did he know about the association of the lion with St. Mark? Evidence indicates yes, because he included the image of a lion, wrapped around the shoulders of St. Mark, in the memorial window he had installed in the church in 1933 in memory of his parents. The image of the lion that so dominates the Chronicles of Narnia undoubtedly stems from the church of his childhood, St. Mark’s in East Belfast.

Memorial Window

  While winding up their father’s affairs in Belfast, Warnie and Jack agreed to commission a stained-glass window in St Mark’s to the memory of their parents. The window was installed in 1933.
  As the photograph shows, the window is in three panels. The top of each panel features an image of a building. The central portion of each panel is dominated by the portrayal of a male figure, and beneath the feet of the three male figures there are various small details, mostly of small buildings characterized by pastel color gable walls and mono-pitched roofs constructed from red roof tiles. There is no difficulty about the identity of the three male figures. Their names are written in the glass. They are, left to right, St. Luke, St. James, and St. Mark, an unusual trio.

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