Love of Things Invisible
All that We Have: The Chrismons of Saint Andrew’s
Published on December 28-29, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
The ornaments that hang on our Christmas trees in the sanctuary were brought to Saint Andrew’s by the Rev. Henry B. Schuhmann (1919-1989) when he was pastor here from 1983 to 1989. They were once featured in an article in the December 22, 1988 issue of the Harrodsburg Herald in which the reporter Grace Moore identified them as ‘chrismons.’ The word chrismon comes from the Latin phrase Christi monogramma, literally, a monogram of Christ. It usually refers to traditional symbols of Christ, but, it also came to be used in the twentieth century to signify various Christmas tree ornaments.
The chrismons of Saint Andrew’s were made by Fr. Schuhmann’s sister, Margaret Mary S. Dumstorf (1913-2006). She had bought the forms, covered them with fine white chamois-like material, and decorated each with fabric trims, sequins, and some costume jewelry that she had inherited from their mother, Louise Catherine Bosler Schuhmann (1879-1952). She had made them for Queen’s Daughters, a Catholic women’s organization in Louisville, Kentucky, but, Fr. Schuhmann had convinced her to let the parish borrow the set for Christmas. After his untimely death in 1989, Margaret decided to donate this collection of chrismons to Saint Andrew’s, the first and only parish where her brother had been pastor.
There are forty-nine ornaments in this collection: fourteen are crosses of various styles and sizes, three are shapes meant to signify the Blessed Trinity (a triangle, a circle, and a triquesta), two are flowers (a rose and a lily), three are fruits (a pomegranate, a cluster of grapes, and a stalk of wheat), four are monograms (for Christ and the Blessed Mother), seven are images from Sacred Scripture (the tree of life, Noah’s ark, a dove with an olive branch, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the star of David and two of his harps), four are images from the Lord’s Nativity (the star of Bethlehem, the manger, a shepherd, and a lamb), and the rest are symbols for the Blessed Mother (a fleur-de-lis), the Holy Spirit (a dove), God the Father (His Creating Hand), or Christ (a lamp, a fish, a Bible, a crown of thorns with nails, a shepherd’s staff, a crown, a bell, a butterfly, and a chalice).
These chrismons though are meant to be more than just decorations on our Christmas trees. In the Middle Ages, artists depicted the images of the ancestors of Jesus on a Jesse tree to trace the history of our salvation. In our own time, these chrismons serve as the reminders of the mysteries of our salvation: the birth of our Savior (the manger and the star of Bethlehem), His suffering and death (the crown of thorns and the cross), and His resurrection from the dead (the butterfly). These ornaments then not only beautify our evergreens; they tell of the everlasting beauty of our Faith and proclaim to every beholder that ‘in the mystery of the Word made flesh, a new light of [His] glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in Him God made visible, we may be caught up through Him in love of things invisible” (cf. Preface II of the Nativity of the Lord).