Why I broke the design rules for St. Joseph on the mantel


January 19, 2021

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I’m taking down the ornaments, wrapping up the créche, and laying the garland gently back into the storage bins when my three kids shriek in unison: “MOM WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I explain, and the unanswerable questions roll in: “Why is Christmas over?! How did our Christmas tree become DEAD?! How many more minutes until next Christmas?” 

I love the holidays as much as anyone, but goodness it feels so refreshing to get the house back to normal when the liturgical season ends. I put our ordinary decor back in place, slightly rearranging the knick knacks on the shelves and the books on the end tables to give the house a fresh feel when my husband suggests we move our olive wood St. Joseph statue from the entryway to the middle of the mantel. 

It’s the year of St. Joseph,” he explained. “I thought it might be neat to have him front and center.” 

My first frivolous thought was, “Olive wood doesn’t match the framed painting above the mantel.”

And then, perhaps to rationalize my ridiculous concern for the clashing wood tones, I justify the statue’s current position as already being in a place of prominence. “Maybe. I like him in the entryway, though. After all, you see him right when you open the door.” To me, that felt pretty front and center (and aesthetically appropriate to boot).

A few days went by, and I’d go up and down the stairs, passing our front door, seeing St. Joseph perched on the foyer shelf thinking about my husband’s suggestion. And for some reason it kept nagging at my heart.

“This shelf needs rearranging anyways,” I thought to myself. And I took the olive statue up to our fireplace. 

I put St. Joseph on the mantel, front and center as could be. And I thought my husband (heaven bless his ever-patient soul) was undoubtedly right: if you want to make something prominent, the middle of the mantel is the place to put it.

And ever since then I’ve been wondering why.

How can something that may not make a whole lot of sense design-wise make sense in our hearts? After all, a mantel is not the dining table around which we gather or the nightstand by which we rest. It’s an altogether unnecessary bar above a fireplace. It doesn’t seem obvious why it would signify a place of importance, so I felt called to think about it and look deeper. 

For much of human history, fire was our only source of light. It was our only method of cooking food. It was the place around which we gathered for warmth and for companionship after dark. It was genuinely life sustaining. And perhaps in an age when central air and electricity have dampened our dependence on fireplaces, we’ve lost a bit of just how central a hearth was to life in the home. 

Nevertheless, whether in our subconscious minds or our evolutionary instincts, a place of light, warmth, and sustenance still calls out to our imagination as a place of importance. It’s life sustaining nature enlivens a primordial component within us that still knows its significance.

To station something above the place that sustained physical human life for so long is to identify a place of preeminence, of something even more essential to our survival than visible light, physical warmth, and bodily sustenance. 

And I can think of no better place for our St. Joseph in this coming year than on the mantel where he can remind us daily of that otherworldly light, direct us toward the warm embrace of Trinitarian love, and bring us closer to his Son, who gives us the only bread that can sustain us forever.

So, even if the wood tones clash, I invite you to break the “design rules” with me and put an image of St. Joseph on your mantels this year. In physically placing his image above the fire, I pray our families will be reminded to value the things of heaven above all else. Let’s honor this Year of St. Joseph in our domestic churches, and enthrone him front and center on the mantel as well as in our own hearts.  

St. Joseph, glory of family life, pray for us. 

Comments +

  1. Tricia Eilers says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Kelli Podraza says:

    Oh how I needed this reminder! We don’t even have an image of St. Joseph, having recently moved; will be scouring the interwebs today.


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