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:

Hokusai and Mt Fuji


Hokusai (1760-1849), Fine Wind, Clear Morning (or Red Fuji), as it may appear at sunrise


One of the most well known Japanese wood block print artists, Hokusai, has left a large legacy of much admired prints almost as well-known in the West as in Japan. He was a master of the medium and could produce some incredibly detailed images. Hokusai may be best known for his series of prints, Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji, several of which I am featuring here. Having grown up in Japan, in Tokyo and Yokohama, seeing Fuji-San, as the Japanese refer to the (inactive) volcano, was a frequent and pleasing sight in good weather.

Among his Mount Fuji series, Hokusai’s image of The Great Wave off Kanagawa (below) is perhaps his most famous.

What strikes me about many of Hokusai’s prints was his willingness to produce a graphic simplicity that now looks distinctly modern, especially when depicting Fuji, even though many of his prints are 200+ years old. Unlike his Red Fuji (top image) he often decided to portray the mountain in a diminished scale or in a secondary way relative to the wider context depicted in some of his prints.

Here, above, is an example featuring a graphically simple rendering of the volcano. It is titled The Inume Pass, from the same Mount Fuji series. The image below is another from the set, once again illustrating his juxtaposition of attention to sometimes complex visual details alongside an appealing, almost flat or two dimensional simplicity when depicting Fuji. Hokusai’s portrayal of the contrast between white snow cover and the dark volcanic rock of the mountain is just how I remember it, with the dappled overlap between its upper and lower regions.

One of my favorite prints captures what appears to be an evening view of men in a boat (below), afloat above wind or current-stirred waves, with a great arching bridge and Mount Fuji again standing serenely in the distant background. With the sun having set in the west, the foreground of the mountain is in shadow – in this, the land of the rising sun.