Wednesday 29 May 2013

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, Circus Road NW8

One would expect the figures over the entrance of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth to be, well, John (the Baptist) and his mother Elizabeth.
But Elizabeth was so old she had despaired of ever having a child, and this mother is young. Her baby raises his right hand up in blessing and in his left holds an orb, a symbol of kingly power usually reserved for Jesus.
So they must be the Madonna and Child.
This wing of the hospital was designed by Edward Goldie in 1902 as an extension to the main 1898 building, also designed by Goldie. The chapel front has a Maltese cross, a symbol of the Knights Hospitaller whose successor order runs the hospital today, and also of St John the Baptist.


Capability Bowes said...

I would imagine that, in Biblical times, any woman over 35 was considered to be well past her prime and therefore "too old" to bear children, given that the average life expectancy was in all likelihood 50 or less. So this woman, who looks "mature" by our definition, was probably "old" by theirs.

And St. John is often shown carrying some form of cross and with his hand raised in blessing.

There would be no point in having the Virgin and Child over the door of a hospital dedicated to Sts Elizabeth and John. Sorry, but I think you are wrong on this one.

Chris Partridge said...

You may be right, but I'm still not convinced about the orb. John the Baptist should be carrying a lamb, a shell or a cross made of reeds from the banks of the Jordan. In one very peculiar image, he carries a chalice with a tiny little Jesus swimming in it. But never an orb, which is a symbol of kingship and reserved for Christ (I think).

Capability Bowes said...

Well, I emailed the archivist at the hospital for their thoughts on the matter.

Chris Partridge said...

Excellent - why didn't I think of that?

Capability Bowes said...

OK, the official line from the Chief Executive's Office.

The door you featured in the post was once the main entrance to the Convent (now apparently the entrance to Outpatients) and therefore does represent the Madonna and Child (appropriate for the entrance to a Catholic Convent). The hospital's Main Entrance at 60 Grove End Road has statues of St. Elizabeth and John the Baptist over it.

So we were both right. Kind of.

Chris Partridge said...

Thanks for that, Russell. Next time I'm in Grove Road I will take a picture.