During the Middle Ages, merchant and craft guilds sprang up across Europe. They became an important part of medieval life because a man could attain a higher social status if he belonged to a guild. The English word “guild,” first used sometime in the fourteenth century, meant “payment, tribute, or compensation.” The merchant or craft guilds in towns and cities held exclusive rights to do business in their communities. As they monopolized commerce, they often took over the governance of the same townships.
A guild from that era caught my attention because the artistry continues to influence us today. The Woodcraftsmen’s Guild in England took as their motto the words of Christ, “I am the door” (John 10:9). These carpenters followed the governing practices of other guilds, and apprentices began working with woods as young teenagers, serving five to nine years. At this training stage, the teens remained single and did not receive pay (only room and board). Those who honed their skills could advance to the next level of “journeyman,” with that title came the freedom to marry.
A journeyman received pay for his labor, and during this stage of time, work on a masterpiece to present to the top artisans in the guild. The masterpiece could show special skills and expertise, and if judged superior could possibly make the journeyman eligible to become a “master.” If he achieved the status of “master,” he could open his own shop and begin to train apprentices.
Many craft guilds existed: candle makers, bakers, apothecaries, masons, cloth makers, tanners, and cobblers. However, the one I’m fascinated with is the carpenter guild because you may have a product in your home that still reflects their purpose, work, and motto. That product is a door, and it could become an ever-present reminder of Jesus Christ who said, “I am the door.”
If you have a four-paneled door or even a six-paneled door, look at it closely, most have the design of a cross in relief. The cross design in your door is not an accident. The Woodcraftsmen Guild chose to include the sign of the cross in each door. The beautiful pattern has stood the test of time, and its use continues today, pleasing to the eyes.
The lyrics of “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” includes the phrase “the cross before to guide me.” The hymn and that lyric first came to my attention because of the group L’Angelus (www.langelus.com), who performed Cajun music at the Catfish Festival in Conroe, Texas. My friend Eddie later gave me a CD of their hymns. That specific hymn quickly became a favorite because the lyrics mirror those of Psalm 23. You may recall hearing this Irish melody hymn at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Westminster Abbey, London, 1997.
That most familiar psalm of David’s says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” A parallel verse in the hymn of consideration says, “In death’s dark vale I fear no ill With Thee, dear Lord, beside me; Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me.”
Another verse depicts Jesus as Shepherd, “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, But yet in love He sought me, And on His shoulder gently laid, And home, rejoicing, brought me.” Often in childhood, I saw the picture of Jesus with a lamb across his shoulders, and I know it had early influence over my thinking, long before I could read.
When I studied the Bible in later life, I discovered how accurately that picture portrays the Christ. I saw further evidence of that care in additional scriptures and especially in the tender care experienced in life. We’ve all had times when our wobbly lamb legs will not hold up the weight of life. That’s when, bigger than life itself, more powerful than any natural force on earth, the Savior Shepherd bends to scoop us up, taking our burden upon his shoulders, similar to how he carried his own cross for our sakes. This week, watch for the cross symbol in doors, and allow them to remind you, “Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me.”
Hunger for Humility (Week 34) “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11)