The Mary Dyer Icon

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”.

Gary Sandman

March 2022

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