Prayer Cabinet holds surprising history – Hays Daily News



Sue Bickle at Northglen Antiques has been in the antique business for 16 years, but that doesn’t mean she’s seen it all.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Bickle said of the prayer cabinet that takes residence at the front of her store at 4945 General Hays Road.

Bickle used to travel to Scotland twice a year to bring back containers full of her treasures. Through her travels, she now has connections there who contact her if they find anything of interest.

The prayer cabinet first caught her attention when her “picker,” Andy, in Scotland contacted her more than a year ago. He bought it from an antique collector who was letting go of his treasures. The collector believed the cabinet to be from the 1700s and did not think it was from Scotland, but rather that it was central European.

Once Bickle saw a picture of it, she just had to have it.

The cabinet arrived in Hays on July 2, 2015. Bickle has spent the last year researching the cabinet and the different carvings that adorn it. Last Saturday, Bickle located information that allows her to date the cabinet from 1500 to 1546.

The entire piece is hand-carved and made from mortise and tenon joint construction. Bickle said every carving on the cabinet has a meaning.

In the peak of the cabinet rests a medallion, which includes a five-petaled flower known as the Rose of Sharon. The Rose of Sharon is the flower that represents Jesus in the Bible. Below that is a carving Bickle believes to depict the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

A wreath at the center of the panel was commonly used to depict either eternal life or a crown. Hyssop plants, mentioned throughout the Bible, are carved several times on the cabinet, and the top scene depicts Jesus Christ on the cross with Mary and John the Apostle kneeling on each side of him.

Palm trees anchor both sides of the scene to reference the events leading up to the crucifixion.

“The carvings that are raised are related to Christ, and everything recessed is man-related,” Bickle said.

Notches that represent the books of the Bible are carved in the center of the cabinet above the drawer with “new” hinges that are 200 years old.

“Here (on the drawer), we have a (relief) carving of two nails, the hammer that drove the nails, a hyssop stalk with a sponge on the end which they dipped into the wine, the Roman spear that pierced Christ’s side, and over everything is the crown of thorns,” Bickle said.

A serpent’s tail follows the Roman spear as a symbol for sin or for Satan.

Twenty-five lines representing the day people celebrate the birth of Christ also appear, as well as 27 carvings Bickle said can either depict the books of the New Testament or Matthew 27, which is the full story of the crucifixion beginning with the betrayal by Judas.

Down each side and around the front of the cabinet are 66 lines, which Bickle believes to represent the books of the Bible. It was these specific carvings which led Bickle to date the cabinet.

Many believed the piece had to be of Catholic origin due to the age and the Pieta (the image of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus in her arms) on the door, but the Catholic Bible has 73 books. Bickle had to research when those books were added.

“At one point, they removed seven books because they were Greek and not Hebrew,” Bickle said. “In 1546, they brought seven books back, so the cabinet had to be constructed sometime between 1500 (because of the Pieta on the door) and 1546.”

The prayer cabinet is nearly 500 years old.

There are a few key construction errors with the piece that led Bickle to believe the prayer cabinet might have been constructed by peasants for a church in order to gain passage into heaven. This was a common practice in the 1500s.

The hand-forged lock was added later, 200 or 300 years ago, probably to secure church valuables like silver, gold or even the scriptures.

The sides of the cabinet contain carvings known as “cathedral windows,” with the Rose of Sharon at the center of each one.

After the piece had been in Bickle’s store for a week, she realized she never had seen the back of it. She pulled it away from the wall to reveal how the cabinet was constructed.

“You can see every stroke of the saw blade that cut these two timbers,” she said.

“There are several rough-hewn boards, which is common for that time.”

Wood worm holes cover the back of the cabinet.

The prayer cabinet was most likely constructed for a church or abbey, but it’s actual purpose is unknown. Bickle believes it could have been displayed at the front of the church to hold the sacraments.

“I would like to find a special place for it where it can be enjoyed by many, but I absolutely have to sell it,” Bickle said. “It’s been a lot of fun to have this in the store.”

Bickle encourages the community to come look at the piece while it is still in Hays as she plans to sell it as soon as she finds a buyer.


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