An icon of Mary Dyer has been painted by William Hart McNichols. It shows Dyer in a plain dress, a thin red cross clutched in her right hand, a halo surrounding her head, sunlight bursting through the clouds above. At the top appear the words, “Hagia Maria” (Holy Mary). Dyer’s face is imaginary; it is unknown what she looked like. The painting is acrylic on wood.
Mary Dyer (c. 1611-1660) was a Quaker who was hung in Boston. The Massachusetts Bay Colony authorities killed her because Quakers were not allowed in the colony. A statue of her rests now in front of the Massachusetts state capitol building.
William Hart McNichols (b. 1949) is a prolific painter of icons and children’s book illustrations. He is also a poet and writer. His books of icons include The Bride: Images of the Church, Christ All Merciful, You Will Be My Witnesses and Mother of God Similar To Fire. As a Jesuit priest, he was active in the Vietnam antiwar movement and in AIDS hospice work. He left the Society of Jesus after he spoke out as a gay man, though he remains a priest in the Archdiocese of New Mexico.
The Mary Dyer icon is a poignant depiction. Icons are not meant to be worshipped. They are like snapshots in scrapbooks, remembrances of people who are important to us. This icon does that. I felt I was in Dyer’s presence. Spending time with the painting is a tender experience.
A quote from McNichols:
“You gaze on the icon, but it gazes on you, too”.