“Please do not sit on the chair”
That’s what the sign next to this chair says.
Made as a ceremonial chair in the second half of the eighteenth century, today its role is more that of a sculpture than a seat. So, it goes without saying that we don’t test it for comfort.
I must say that it looks rather strange to me. It’s almost as if the back belongs to a totally different creature from the seat and legs. And the sign tells us that it is made of mahogany oak, which hardly makes things much clearer. Presumably this is a description of American red oak that has been treated with a dark stain to give the wood the appearance of mahogany.
Be that as it may, this chair is nevertheless impressive in its own way. It is thought to have been made in Dublin from imported hardwood and decorated with emblems that allude to the Order of The Friendly Brothers of Saint Patrick. Founded in the seventeenth century, this benevolent fraternity strove initially to promote moral virtues and to suppress the “barbarous practice” of duelling.
Saint Patrick is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland, and he certainly lived an adventurous life. At the age of 16 he was kidnapped by pirates from his home somewhere on the west coast of England and taken to Ireland as a slave. There he was forced to tend animals – sheep, most likely – for six years, before he was able to escape and return to his family. After long years of training in France he was ordained as a priest and returned to Ireland as a missionary, later becoming Bishop of Ireland. His faith was strong and sustained him throughout his life.
Legend has it that it was Patrick who for ever rid Ireland of its snakes, and he is also remembered for his use of the three-leafed shamrock as a metaphor to explain the mystery of the Christian Trinity: three persons in one God – Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Patrick probably lived between 386 and 461 A.D. The year of his birth is, however, a subject of much speculation, with different sources citing different dates.
But let us return to this most unusual ceremonial chair. Immediately above the centre of the backrest is a circle within which, if I’m not mistaken, is carved the cross pattée of Saint Patrick with a heart at its centre. At the base of the backrest is a shell or scallop, a popular element in the ornamental vocabulary of the day.
The seat appears to have seen so much use that it is quite worn out, and the leather seat pad and the armrests seem so very slight and tiny in comparison with the lofty backrest. Are they dolphin heads that embellish the knees of the front legs, and sinuous dolphin bodies that extend backwards to support the armrests? The dolphin is a symbol not only of strength, but also of Christ. They surely can’t be snakes, for they, as we know, were banished by the saintly Patrick. Whatever they are, they certainly look scaly.
The flag of the United Kingdom is a combination of the crosses of three of the nation’s patron saints: Saint Andrew of Scotland, Saint George of England and Saint Patrick of Ireland.
Ireland’s national flower is, understandably enough, the shamrock, a small clover. Is it perhaps the shamrock’s tiny trefoil that forms the decorative frieze around the high backrest?
If the idea of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day, which is also Ireland’s National Day, on 17 March appeals to you, you’ll find no end of appropriate outfits and apparel for sale online. What do you say to a dress in Irish green, covered in prints of even greener shamrock? Or perhaps a top hat sporting a shamrock on the front? Green wigs, green spectacles and even green paper plates in the shape of a shamrock are also available to make sure that the day will be as green and as gleeful as can be.
Gun Bjerkander Handberg
Note From The Editor:
A very Happy St. Patrick’s Day ☘️
We have been so thrilled and delighted to see that this blog is being read all over the globe. We hope our chair blog brings some joy and light relief in this stressful time across the globe.
Do please leave a comment saying where you are from and what chairs you have in your home and share your favourite chair tales.
You can find books by the author Gun Bjerkander Handberg online featuring more historic chair tales.