Jim provided the impetus, indeed challenge, for a website. He’s supported it with encouragement and especially photos.
My whole journey with St Nicholas began many years ago when I visited a priest’s apartment at Christmas time. Near the enormous Christmas tree was a statue of a Bishop holding the Book and looking very much like Santa Claus. I was told this was St Nicholas and because of songs like “Jolly Old St Nicholas,” I knew it was the same as Santa Claus. But I certainly had no idea of the history nor did I care anything about the difference between St Nicholas and Santa Claus.
One of my dearest friends is the former Bishop of Chicago, and when I saw [the Duncan Royale St Nicholas] image, I wanted to get one for him. This was years ago and the large statue was quite expensive for a mere youth. I asked my mother if she would help me pay for it, if we could find one. The priest put me onto somebody at the Chicago Merchandise Mart who was able to get it. So, we bought the St Nicholas for the Bishop and I was very proud to give it to him that Christmas.
That image has stuck with me forever. I did nothing about it until a few years later at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. Inside the Christmas shop, to my surprise, was the same statue of St Nicholas. I thought I had better buy it. I was now living in England and I took it to England and put it on the shelf, probably thinking that someday I would give it to a Bishop. The time came. It was the 1991 enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury and our office needed a gift. I said to my boss that I had a very special gift at home that we might like to give to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I brought it to the office but he thought it was too frivolous. I convinced him that it was very appropriate and very beautiful. And indeed the staff gave it to the Archbishop.
The next day the Archbishop called my boss on the telephone, saying, “How can I begin to thank you for the gift?” The Archbishop said there was a pamphlet inside showing all these different St Nicholas and Santa Clauses. He said he and his wife would like to buy all of them and could he tell him where he got it. My boss then handed the phone to me and I think to this day that it started a very endearing relationship between the Archbishop and myself. So St Nicholas did a very good thing for me, to say the least.
In my work I deal with Bishops all the time so somewhere along the line I started to collect images of Bishops, not St Nicholas in particular, but any Bishop. I had statues of Bishops—St Patrick, St Nicholas, St Thomas Beckett, St Benedict—all sorts of people dressed as Bishops were on my mantelpiece. What I hadn’t realised was that I had built up a bigger and bigger collection of St Nicholas items. One day, why I’ll never know, all the other Bishops were taken down and have been given away to friends or to charity shops. What was left was something, to me more priceless, and that was St Nicholas.
Anywhere I would go, I would look for something with St Nicholas. Now I’ve traveled to Holland, Germany, France, and Belgium—all in search of St Nicholas. Everywhere I go, all around the world, I search; I find him everywhere. Now I go out of my way to find St Nicholas churches, St Nicholas windows, St Nicholas statues; I now have St Nicholas around me endlessly.
My secretary puts it very well—”I think you want to be St Nicholas.” Since I can’t actually be St Nicholas I want to be someone who appreciates his legacy and tries to imitate some of his ways. I love Nicholas because he loved our Lord and that was his motivation for doing what he did. To me it’s as simple as that. —Jim Rosenthal
The Revd Canon James Rosenthal served many years as director of communications for the Anglican Communion and editor of Anglican World. From Chicago, he now lives in the UK. Jim has been a church musician and is now an ordained priest in the Church of England. He is also a canon of three Anglican cathedrals. He is currently vicar at St James the Great, Merton, London, following his time as priest-in-charge at St Nicholas Parish Church in St Nicholas at Wade, Kent, and St Mary Chislet.
In 1999 a small St Nicholas celebration was begun at St Matthews Anglican Church, Westminster, London. In 2001 it moved to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, mother church of world Anglicanism. After the first enormously successful fest it became the city’s official Christmas event. Jim, donning a bishop’s outfit created by Covent Garden Opera, London, portrays St Nicholas.
In 2000 he founded the St Nicholas Society, English Speaking Branch, as a sister society to the Sint Niklaas Society of Flanders, and is co-author of the book, St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas. He believes that St Nicholas, as in his legends, can still point people to the babe born of Mary in Bethlehem.