Celebrating the 12 Days

Brother Martin Erspamer, OSB


Having driven through my neighborhood yesterday and seeing two Christmas trees already put out onto the road edge, I am once again mindful of how the traditional Church calendar observes the Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord, or Christmas, for a full 12 days. I am therefore especially appreciative of the above image by Brother Martin Erspamer.

Martin Erspamer is a member of the Benedictine community at St. Meinrad’s Abbey in Indiana. His evocative black and white prints, sometimes referred to as ‘clip art,’ have been widely used on worship bulletins and in Sunday school materials.

The popularity of his images, and their widespread use in media such as Sunday bulletins, should not lead us to devalue the beauty of his handiwork, which evidences a studied sensitivity to medieval imagery as much as it does to the possession of a modern graphic artist’s temperament.

I especially like his image of Abram counting the stars, based on Genesis 15 (below). The image and its theme arises from God’s challenge to Abram to go out into the dark of the night and count the stars in the heavens – if he can. For one of God’s promises is that, while Abram is despairing of being without an heir, he will eventually have as many descendants as he can count the stars in the night sky.

Genesis presents three covenants between God and Abram, in chapters 12, 15, and 17, each of which is relevant to our celebration of these 12 Days of Christmas. In various ways, God promises Abram many descendants, a new land for him and those that would follow, and that through him a blessing would come to all the people of the world. This third promise, fulfilled for us in the child born in Bethlehem, is the most relevant to our observance of this holy time of the year.

From Psalm 147:

1 Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God! * how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2 The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; * he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3 He heals the brokenhearted * and binds up their wounds.

4 He counts the number of the stars * and calls them all by their names.

5 Great is our LORD and mighty in power; * there is no limit to his wisdom.

6 The LORD lifts up the lowly, * but casts the wicked to the ground.


For those able to visit the Abbey, St. Meinrad’s has an exhibit of art by Brother Erspamer in the Archabbey Library Gallery until January 15:

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